A classic children’s cartoon is getting a modern update, including an LGBTQ factor.
In the mid-90s, Nickelodeon was a celebrated channel for children’s programming. From cartoons like Doug, Rugrats, and Hey Arnold, to live-action shows like All That, Clarissa Explains It All, Kenan & Kel, and more.
One such beloved cartoon from this era is Rocko’s Modern Life. The cartoon series follows an Australian-immigrant wallaby named Rocko and his friends in a fictional town. Despite being placed on a kids’ channel, the series was often in the midst of controversy over adult humor such as double entendre, innuendos, and social commentary.
And now the show is returning with even more topics to cover. A new 45-minute special has arrived to Netflix today and it offers a return to form for Rocko and the gang. But while this is a continuation of the original series, the series creator Joe Murray says the new special is Rocko’s Modern Life like never seen before. The main reason is that by being distributed on Netflix instead of Nickelodeon, the show can shed it’s “kids’ cartoon” label and truly tackle the mature topics Murray dreamed of handling.
“When I started writing [Static Cling], I really started latching onto the idea of change and how society has changed and what’s gone on in the last 20 years and the development of our characters and how they would react to change,” said Murray to Entertainment Weekly. “It felt natural, because it was not only about change, about somebody finding who they are and making that courageous choice to go through that change.”
And what’s one topic the special handles? LGBTQ existence.
In a July 1996 episode called “Closet Clown,” a character named Mr. Bighead dealt with the need to hide his identity as a clown while in a town of clown haters. Murray later revealed that the story was an allegory for a gay person’s coming out experience. But because of the show being children’s programming, and in the mid-90s to boot, the message had to be hidden as subtext.
“We were still playing by the rules, so to speak, and still trying to interject those situations [into the cartoon],” explained Murray.
But now, it’s Mr. Bighead’s daughter Rachel who will be the true LGBTQ representation the show couldn’t provide before. Since the original series’ end, Mr. Bighead’s child Ralph has happily transitioned into Rachel, and she is a key figure in this new special. Murray is trying to tackle LGBTQ life as a front and center focus of the story to make up for the limitations of tv making before. In fact, this is the very reason that Murray agreed to come back to the series two decades later.
“I told them I needed to think about it, and I started thinking of some ideas about stories that we could do and a story that I wanted to do,” he explained. “It has to be the story that I want to do and not watered down. I was concerned about that. I wanted it to be as strong as the show and as much satire and as much social commentary as we could do in the times that we live in now.”
But how did the story turn out? Is this representation that Murray wanted to present worth the 23-year wait? You’ll have to check out for yourselves by watching Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, which is available on Netflix now.