The overwrought wallaby, the derelict steer, and the paranoid turtle are back following a 23-year hiatus. "Rocko's Modern Life," which ended its run on Nickelodeon in 1996, returned to Netflix this Friday as a 45-minute special — only this one comes with a helpful serving of social justice with the inclusion of a transgender story arc.
According to Entertainment Weekly (EW), "Rocko's Modern Life: Static Cling" features Rocko and his two friends, Heffer and Filbert, adjusting to modern life after floating around in space for two decades. The show reaches an emotional climax when one of the characters comes out as transgender. Here is the full description from EW:
The wallaby and his buddies Heffer and Filburt have been floating around in space since the original series finale. Now they’re back on earth in the events of Static Cling, but everything is different. The trio try to adapt to this new world of smartphones, food trucks, and print kiosks. One thing Rocko can’t deal with is the loss of his favorite show, The Fatheads, which Rachel created.
Mr. and Mrs. Bighead lost touch with their child, who went off on a mission of self-discovery. Thus, Rocko goes on a search to save his show and finds Rachel, now working out of a mobile Fatheads-inspired ice cream truck (as shown in EW’s exclusive clip above).
Creator Joe Murray said he included the transgender storyline in the special to reflect how society has changed over the past 20 years.
"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," Murray told EW. "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."
The Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) has long been seeking more LGBT representation in G-rated, kid-friendly material. Nick Adams, GLAAD's director of transgender representation, even consulted on "Static Cling," which he says tells a beautiful storyline about coming out as transgender.
"'Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling' tells a beautiful — and hilarious — story about accepting change," Adams told EW. "The younger characters accept Rachel immediately; recognizing she’s still their friend. And while Rachel’s father is slow to accept change within his own family, even he realizes that loving your child should be unconditional. This story of inclusion and acceptance is so needed in our current climate."
"When I read the story outline, I was happy to see that Rachel’s gender was treated as a non-issue by Rocko and his friends, and that Rachel’s father finally realized that he loves and supports his daughter," Adams continued. "I worked with the show’s creators to ensure that Rachel was drawn in a respectful way, so that her femininity wasn’t a joke. We also talked about how to portray the moment Rachel reveals her transition to the boys so that it wasn’t sensationalistic. From story outline to storyboards to animatics, to the final show, Nickelodeon kept GLAAD updated every step of the way."
Nickelodeon originally approached Joe Murray for a 45-minute special that was set to air in 2018. Netflix picked it up shortly after the network shelved the project. "It has to be the story that I want to do and not watered down. I was concerned about that," Murray said of the creative process. "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."
LGBT representation in children's shows has been on the uptick this past decade, beginning in 2014 on the Disney show "Good Luck Charlie," which featured a character with a lesbian mom couple.
"In the storyline, parents Amy and Bob Duncan (Leigh-Allyn Baker and Eric Allan Kramer) set up a playdate for preschooler Charlie (Mia Talerico) and one of her new friends," TV Guide reported at the time. "When the kid arrives, the Duncans learn that Charlie’s pal has two moms. That’s fine, but the potential new friendship is put to the test as one mom chats with Amy, and the other is stuck listening to Bob’s dull stories."
Earlier this year, the PBS television show "Arthur" made waves when a beloved character came out as gay by marrying his male partner. That was later followed by the Disney show "Andi Mack" featuring the first teenage gay couple on the network.