Revival explores abundance of reboots
Reboots have been quite the rage this past decade; while nothing new to entertainment, the 2010s have been abundant with reboots and revivals of relics from the 80s and 90s. Shows like “Fuller House” and “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” have found home not only in the hearts of nostalgic fans, but also on Netflix. And now, the 90s Nickelodeon hit show “Rocko’s Modern Life” can join the stage.
Set twenty years later, lovable wallaby Rocko and his friends, Heffer and Dilbert are introduced to audiences having been drifting in space. The three crash back down to their hometown of O-town, where the world has changed around them; from new technology to Rocko’s favorite show, “The Fatheads” no longer being on the air. After his neighbor, Ed Bighead, loses his job, Rocko suggests bringing his favorite show back to save the company, Conglom-o. But when the team assigned to the job prove to be incompetent, it’s up to Rocko, Heffer, and Dilbert to find the show’s creator, Ed’s son Ralph.
Everything about the special highlights the changes between when the original show ended and when it takes place. Rocko and the gang are swamped with modern technology, such as smartphones, hoverboards, and drones. References to cultural artifacts of the present day stand out as clever visual and verbal jokes about things like the popularity of food trucks, Starbucks and its frequent franchise locations, and Heffer and Dilbert’s wide-eyed joy towards the shiny new toys they have is akin to the world’s fascination with Marvel toys and movies. Despite being displaced in time, they try to make the most of the new decade.
On the flip side, Rocko’s attempts to make sense of time having moved on without him is a solid foil to their optimism. His stubbornness to embrace that things are different pushes his pursuit to get his favorite show made, to obtain that sense of familiarity. But even when he gets his show back, he gets upset that it’s not the same as it used to be, and he’s forced to accept that he can’t keep living in the nineties.
Technology and pop culture aren’t the only signs of progress in the show. Near the end of the second act, Rocko and the gang finally find Ralph. However, they learn that “Ralph” is a transgender woman named Rachel. Their reaction to the revelation is accepting; as was the reception to Rachel. The character does an excellent job to show a trans woman transitioning as done here. And the character’s reaction to Rachel being positive works with the theme of embracing change. Nowhere is this more powerful than when Rachel must confront her father, Ed, about being trans.
People have grown fatigue towards reboots and revivals in the last few years, but this special stands out as one-part love letter, one-part moving on. The characters embracing the evolved world is a joy to watch that leads to so many clever jokes. And the message of not living in the past is an important message that needs to be delivered more. Within forty-five minutes, this should be the model for all revivals and reboots; celebrate the nostalgia but not enough that it consumes the work.