It’s a surreal feeling talking with voice actors and the people who’ve created your favorite animated shows. On one level, they are consummate professionals who dedicate their lives to the work and craft before them. So, when they do interviews, like the round table interviews at Comic Con, it’s merely a transactional experience: promoting a new work. Yet, there is also an undeniable surreality to the proceedings when a voice over actor performs one his (or her, though not in the case) characters in front of you. In a moment’s flash, you’re not interviewing an actor. You’re talking to an old friend.
These paradoxical feelings occurred to me while having a genial chat with Carlos Alazraqui, Charlie Adler, and Joe Murray—voice of Rocko, Ed and Beverly Bighead, and the creator, respectively—of Rocko’s Modern Life, a staple of 90s Nickelodeon animation which is getting a reboot television film next year. It’s been over twenty years since we’ve seen the wallaby from O-Town and his eccentric group of pals Heffer Wolfe (a steer – voiced by Tom Kenny) and Filburt (a turtle – voiced by Doug Lawrence), but their relevance is greater than ever. Creator Joe Murray recalls that the seed of the reboot began with a question from Nick: “They called and asked if I was interested in doing a special. I didn’t want to it at first. I didn’t want to mess with what we did. But then, I thought about ideas and I said, ‘If you go along with this idea, then I’ll do it.”
And with full creative freedom, and no interference from Nickelodeon, the sky was the limit.
The ensuing ideas for the reboot morphed into Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling. And in true postmodern form, the story involves Rocko, Heffer, and Filburt returning to Earth after two decades in space. While Heffer and Filburt easily adjust to the splendors of contemporary culture, Rocko yearns to go back to the golden days of twenty years before.
It’s odd: Rocko’s Modern Life has a major presence at the Nickelodeon Booth (and the con generally) this year. But even more so, it was underrated during its original run. Why does the continued legacy of the show only grow? Was the show possibly ahead of its time? “It’s thrilling,” said Adler. “We didn’t want to fall into the trap” of nostalgia or regular reboot tropes. “Rocko always had a certain edge to it. But it wasn’t ahead of its time. It was of its time and found its audience then, and will find an audience now.”
Alazraqui (dropping in and out of his inimitable Rocko voice [a real thrill!]) recognized that there was interest in the series even years after the show ended its run in 1996. Whether performing stand up or having the idea to do a live script reading, tickets moved, shows were sold out, and people were reciting lines of dialogue from their favorite episodes. (Murray, with a laugh, says he originally thought the script readings were a bad idea).
As for Static Cling, fans needn’t worry about a new direction in aesthetics. “It pays homage to the old stuff, but also goes into new places,” said Murray, who also noted that many of the artists and crew from the original show returned for the special.
“It’s a multigenerational show,” Adler said, continuing on that thought. And that’s true. Not too long ago, I remember quoting some lines with my mom who knew instantly what I was talking about. And as I walk around San Diego, I see many younger kids proudly displaying their Rocko swag. It’s strange and awe-inspiring.
But, possibly, is there a future beyond the reboot? Perhaps even a new series or some other form of adventure? “I’m open to it,” says Murray mysteriously. Everyone nods in agreement.
Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling premieres in 2018.
UPDATE: Nickelodeon released a special sneak peak during their dedicated panel.