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Rocko's Modern Life Tells Surprisingly Poignant Transgender Story in New Netflix Special Static Cling (Grade It!)

Rocko's Modern Life

After 20 years of floating in space with but a single VHS tape of their favorite cartoon to keep them entertained, America’s premier wallaby-cow-turtle trio returns to Earth — albeit a slightly different version than the one they remember — in the new Netflix special Rocko’s Modern Life: Static Cling, which hit the streaming service on Friday.

Unfortunately, not all of the classic Nickelodeon characters acclimate to their new surroundings with ease. While Heffer and Filburt immediately embrace this strange world of cell phones, energy drinks and 3-D printing, Rocko suffers from a bout of culture shock, desperate to regain any semblance of the simpler life he left back in the ’90s. (And, honestly, aren’t we all?)

Rocko’s solution, naturally, is to convince Mr. and Mrs. Bighead’s son Ralph to reboot The Fatheads, a cartoon series he created in the ’90s (and the aforementioned VHS tape that Rocko and his friends have watched religiously for two decades). Unfortunately, as Mrs. Bighead explains, “Ralph went off to find himself years ago,” leaving Rocko & Co. with only one choice: find Ralph!

They eventually do track down the person they’re looking for — selling off-brand Fatheads ice cream bars out of a truck in the desert — where they learn the rest of Ralph’s story: “Since the last time I saw them, I’ve changed,” Ralph says, stepping out of the truck to reveal a pair of heels and long, flowing locks. “I’m not Ralph anymore. I’m Rachel.” Her news is met with overwhelming support by the open-minded trio (“Wow, cool!” remarks Heffer, to which Filbert adds, “That’s awesome!”), and Rachel agrees to bring back the show.

Rocko's Modern LifeMeanwhile, Conglom-O — which basically owns everything in O-Town, including the rights to The Fatheads — slaps together an uninspired CGI reboot of the series, employing an army of soulless worms to speed up the process. (“Welcome to the 21st century. We can make anything in a passion-less and cheap way!”) It’s clearly terrible, however, so everyone at Conglom-O welcomes Rachel’s arrival to help fix the problem. Well, almost everyone.

Rachel’s reunion with her father goes over pretty terribly, with her explaining, “I’m not your son — I’m your daughter — and I’m finally happy,” only to have Mr. Bighead reply, “I can’t do this. I have no daughter. My son made the show. No son, no show.” (This moment is a callback to the 1994 episode “I Have No Son!” in which we first meet Ralph. Mr. Bighead and his then-son have have become estranged because Ralph chose become a cartoonist, rather than joining Mr. Bighead at Conglom-O.)

Fortunately, Mr. Bighead’s wife is far more accepting of their daughter. “Oh, Ed, I wish you’d be more openminded,” she tells him. “I think it’s great what Rachel has done. I’m sure she’s much more comfortable with herself. Plus, I just found these shoes in her size!” Rocko also offers some words of wisdom to Mr. Bighead, who claims to be suffering from T.M.C. (“Too much change!”) Rocko says, “You can live without your old job, and you can live without your house, but you can’t live without a relationship with your child.”

One last piece of advice comes from the literal Winds of Change, which show up to inform Mr. Bighead that “embracing change is the key to happiness,” words Rocko realizes he must also learn to live by. Mr. Bighead finally comes to his senses after seeing his beautiful family reflected in Rachel’s cartoon, choosing to accept her for exactly who she is.

“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,” series creator (and Rachel’s voice actor) Joe Murray told EW prior to the special’s release. “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.”

Did you enjoy Rocko’s return? Grade Static Cling below, then drop a comment with your full review of the Netflix special.