There were handstands in the hall and gym socks in the coffee filter. Baby carriages were raced; knives were hurled. One writer worked in his pajamas in a foldout bed. The P.A. system, accessible by anyone, was used primarily for comic monologues, non-sequiturs, and insult contests. Staff members would return from vacation to discover everything in their office covered in fake cobwebs, or wrapped in aluminum foil, or strewn with dozens of Twinkies. One writer frequently left the office to find his VW Bug had been picked up and carried to a different parking spot. There was an incident involving a gun and an executive.
Despite—or partly because of—this chaotic atmosphere, the team behind Rocko’s Modern Life managed to create one of the most significant and enduring television series of its era. The series, which premiered on Nickelodeon in 1993, centered on Rocko, a long-suffering wallaby with an overbite and a loud shirt; his dog, Spunky; and Rocko’s friends: a bloated steer named Heffer, and an anxious turtle named Filburt. The animation style was Salvador Dalí meets mid-century mod, all zig-zags and odd angles with a boisterous palette. Its fever dream of an opening sequence was accompanied by a theme tune written in the campy style of the B-52s; from the second season on, it was performed by the band itself.
The show’s effervescent lunacy appealed not only to the network’s ostensible target audience of 6- to 11-year-olds but the adults and college kids who’d been tuning in to Ren & Stimpy. (Twilight-era Kristen Stewart appeared to be a fan, fondly name-dropping Rocko at Nickelodeon’s Kids’ Choice Awards two years in a row.)
But for many, Rocko’s Modern Life is mainly remembered for the breathtakingly adult content its creators somehow snuck past the censors.
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