Nicktoon Classic Double Review: The Ren & Stimpy Show and Rocko's Modern Life

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Ah, Ren & Stimpy...honestly, what else can really be said about this show that hasn’t already been said before? Coming out in almost the exact turning point from the 1980s to the 1990s (1991, to be exact) and very suspiciously running for literally the EXACT same number of episodes (52, to be exact, as in B-52’s) that its ridiculously vastly superior so-called “competitor” Rocko’s Modern Life did, this show revolutionized the art of gross-up close-up animation in a way that countless cartoons since then would later go on to annoyingly try to imitate even though it was never actually that funny in the first place (just to name a few otherwise really good ones from Nickelodeon ALONE: Spongebob, Invader Zim and the aforementioned Rocko series).

And if you were to ask me what ELSE the show revolutionized notably enough to warrant the utterly absurd amount of nostalgic fanboy praise that CONSTANTLY gets heaped onto it by its fans (many of which are outright anti-Rocko nazis, need I mention)...well then, I quite honestly don’t think I would even be able to answer, at least not with a straight face.

Well, in all fairness, I will admit that this show isn’t quite what I would call a COMPLETE overrated turd; much like Invader Zim, it also has a rather surprising amount of redeeming qualities to it if you know where to look.

The show’s plot (more accurately its incredible lack thereof) consists of the daily misadventures of the hilariously ugly, freakishly skinny, skitting-bats-insane, horrifyingly violent-tempered, gratuitously Peter-Lorre-impersonating chihuahua Ren Höek (who looks more like a hideously deformed rat with human toenails and fingernails if anything) and his almost literally brainlessly naive mad-scientist best friend and literal “fat cat” Stimpson J Cat (who naturally looks like more like a grossly obese blue-nosed dog) as they exchange ridiculously overglorified Looney Toons slapstick sight gags and hilariously overacted lines of dialogue with each other.

Okay, granted, Rocko’s Modern Life COULD actually be described in a pretty similar manner without even sacrificing a terribly large amount of accuracy, but the fact (yes, FACT) that Rocko was actually written (read: WRITTEN) by someone who wasn’t a completely pretentious, nostalgia-blinded, dialogue-hating pillock like John Kricfaluski is what really makes the difference between the two.

Don’t get me wrong; the show IS visually one of THE most jaw-droppingly beautifully animated Western cartoons I honestly think I’ve ever seen in my entire life (certainly for its time, at least), and to give John credit where credit is due, the characters DO surprisingly manage to say more about themselves through mere facial expressions and body language than most modern-day cartoon characters can through actual words (that, and even when the characters actually DO talk, the voice acting for them is nothing short of awe-inspiring, ESPECIALLY regarding that of the hilariously psychotic yet deeply relatable Ren himself)...

but at the end of the day, a social-commentary cartoon of this abrasively forcedly dark and edgy nature lives and dies on whether or not it can make an actual, properly structured, non-gross-out, non-LOL-so-random joke (let alone episode plot) to save its life, and for the most part, this show fails spectacularly in this regard in almost every possible way that you could think of.

Overall, even when considering how innovative it was for its time, this show retrospectively gets a solid 5.4/10; watch it for the parts where Ren goes buffalo-diarrhea insane (and other closely related memes), skip basically everything else.

Now let’s move on to Joe Murray’s almost equally legendary nostalgic cult classic Rocko’s Modern Life, a much smarter, MUCH funnier, ironically more adult-themed and infinitely better-written show that came out roughly two years later in 1993, ended in the exact year as its predecessor (1996), had an annoyingly similar emphasis on “forcedly weird and grotesque art-style” shenanigans and majorly overdone gross-out humor (which later went on to infect MANY of the other Nicktoons after it, most definitely including Spongebob Squarepants, which was basically just a higher-budget and ironically less good version of THIS show despite being made by quite a few of the exact same people) and was understandably widely accused of outright John K copyright theft as a result.

However, fret not, furries; while I certainly won’t deny that the show’s art style LOOKS startlingly like the inbred, equally deformed bastard child of Ren & Stimpy and Rugrats (and is executed nowhere NEAR as masterfully as that of the former), I simply cannot stress enough that where the show REALLY shines (and more importantly stylistically separates itself from its competition) really does lie very much in the often far-beyond-exceptionally creative and on-point way that it’s written (through improv, no less). While I wouldn’t exactly call it PURE concentrated genius like a lot of people do, the insufferably, blatantly deadpan “Spongebob meets South Park” social satire of this show in particular is a very, VERY special kind of brilliant that Nickelodeon doesn’t give it NEARLY enough credit for.

Basically a darkier and edgier counterpart to Doug, RML’s plot (mostly its lack thereof) revolves around the insanely bizarre and shamelessly postmodern life of a ridiculously ugly-shirted anthro wallaby named Rocko (who also looks a bit like a genetic fusion of the two title characters from Wallace & Gromit, oddly enough) as he goes through an astonishingly wide, relatable and often disturbing variety of “mundane made awesome” misadventures ranging from exploding-piano golf to tattoo application (of a can of baked beans, onto a giant anthro rhinoceros’ uvula, with a jackhammer, while standing atop his tongue). And yes, the positively ridiculous amount of furry-fanservice undertones and flat-out “adult show cleverly disguised as a kids’ show” overtones more-often-than-not running through the show’s veins just adds to the overall hilarity of it all.

But Rocko’s hilariously dumb dog Spunky having his own sitcom WITHIN a sitcom (starring the tick-and-ringworm duo feeding off of his body, no less) aside, where the show REALLY shines is in its side characters. Between Rocko’s morbidly obese, hysterically bird-brained, probably-gayer-than-One-Direction steer buddy Heffer Wolfe (who was literally raised by wolves and still lives in their basement during what is implied to be AT LEAST his mid-twenties) and his creepy, four-eyed, stereotypically Jewish, Woody-Allen-impersonating Doug-Lawrence-voiced weeaboo turtle friend Filburt ALONE, there is seriously almost NEVER a completely dull moment (character-wise) in this show, its countless done-to-death sitcom clichés notwithstanding (in fact, if you want to see some of the funniest pre-Squidward “angry neighbor” characters to ever grace television, look no further than the Bigheads).

Overall, while the show DOES have quite a bit of forgettable filler scattered throughout it, is honestly quite rough around the edges in its Season One portion, very rarely even begins to approach the astonishing memorability and genuine shock-factor level of some of the things that happened (to Ren) in Ren & Stimpy, and admittedly gets toned down a BIT too much for its own good in Season Four, this show is a (formerly) underrated all-ages masterpiece that takes the hilariously in-your-face adult humor from Animaniacs and the razor-sharp social satire and slapstick gags from classic Spongebob and effectively slams the best of both worlds together in THE absolute best possible way (AND with astoundingly great music, dialogue and voicework at that). Overall, while it still is INCREDIBLY overrated, 9.4/10



Great classic cartoons from the 90's that were true pinnacles for Nickelodeon.

Rocko's Moden Life 9/10

Ren & Stimpy 9/10

I like them both equally, I understand why Ren & Stimpy isn't for everybody, but in terms of Nick it broke ground like no other where as with Rocko it kinda did the same thing, but more in the sense of reenactment of famous films. - htoutlaws2012