Okay, so you know how sometimes TV shows, especially ones that they advertise as “fun for the whole family,” have a deeper meaning? A sort of kind-hearted secret agenda? Some crazy message on being a better person they sneak into the story, a moral lesson to be easily gleamed by the young, influenceable viewers? Back when I was a kid, those lessons were often about recycling and just saying no to drugs. It should come as no surprise that this practice continues today, and those in charge of delivering these messages are quite in tune with the challenges and fears that kids today are facing. So as someone who grew up with a lot of anxiety, and had no idea he had so much anxiety and thought he was just a weird little scaredy cat, it is so amazing to watch an episode of a show aimed primarily at kids address the issue of catastrophizing.
Catastrophizing is when someone can’t help but assume that the worst will happen, and it often occurs within people who have anxiety, depression, or other mental health conditions. It usually involves believing that you’re in a worse situation than you really are or exaggerating the difficulties you face. It is involuntary and can make you freeze up, unable to get yourself out of that cycle of thinking and finding no way out. It can be debilitating and embarrassing if it’s something you’re not used to or don’t know how to express to others and ask for help. And it’s something that I’d bet many people have had at some point in their life, even if they didn’t realize it. But this episode showcased it extremely well.
“Flight of the Flutterflies” begins with the return of the Troubadours, a group of musicians who are the new series’ homage to the Minstrels. Updated versions of the classic group, the Troubadours consists of Murray, Brool, Brio, and Balsam, as well as a new character leading this group – Jamdolin. Going into this show, I was curious to see if they would recast Cantus Fraggle, who was played by Jim Henson in the original show and whom I always felt held a close approximation of Jim’s philosophies in real life. But instead of recasting Cantus, it was the minstrels who were recast into this new group, and the 70s-style funk vibe they brought was very fun to see and hear.
Jamdolin is portrayed by two actors here – Andy Hayward is the puppeteer who makes the role very fun to watch, and the charming Daveed Diggs provides Jamdolin’s voice, giving it an almost-growling quality reminiscent of Wolfman Jack or Dr. John. The two come together to create a real stand-out character.
The troubadours are here to celebrate New Day’s Day, which is a holiday all about hope and new beginnings. And really, that’s what I could imagine the writer of this episode, Charley Feldman, was feeling every day of writing on this series. (Writer’s disclosure: Charley is a good friend of mine and we’ve known each other for years, but I’m not issuing any biases.) Here is something they grew up loving and relating to, and to get to introduce that to a new generation in this updated way, to get to address the fears we had as kids but couldn’t express fully, to show the kids of today how the ecosystems and social hierarchies of the world are interconnected and should be looked at through the lens of inclusivity and unity – that’s a dream job, right there. And Charley doesn’t waste their opportunity one bit.
Boober has always been the stand-in for people with anxiety, so when the Fraggles’ game of Skitter Scatter ends with Boober being chosen to give the holiday speech and release the flutterflies, he understandably freaks out. He wasn’t even playing the game! But now, the stone has chosen him, and he is the only one who can complete the task. For some people (and Fraggles) with anxiety, a situation like this is a nightmare. But there are ways to come back down from the anxiety spike this can cause. Mokey recommends Boober rewrite his negative stories in a positive way with her, and so he imagines a scenario where everything goes wrong, and Mokey chimes in with ways that it can end with Boober coming out on top again.
And for a regular kids’ show, that would probably do the trick. But Fraggle Rock has always been about something a little deeper, and here Mokey gets visibly frustrated and walks away from Boober, leaving him to his negative thoughts. Which is exactly something a kid might do, out of fear and misunderstanding. “I can think of happy things, why can’t you? You’re weird.”
I won’t go into the whole plot in case you haven’t watched yet – although if that’s the case, what are you waiting for? Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock is SO. GOOD. – But Boober learns a more important lesson, as all the best shows can teach us. Boober mentions that he likes to think about every possibility of something going wrong so that he’s ready, and that’s how he feels safe. But he learns that you can fret and worry, but you should also be honest that you don’t know everything that’s going to happen, and you never will, and that includes good things. So when he learns that the flutterflies’ box is about to explode and could cause harm, he rushes to the aid. Because no matter how much your anxiety can make you freeze, you can overcome anything if you believe in yourself and in doing something good for your friends, and yourself.
In the end, Mokey comes to understand how Boober can operate in a world that often frightens him. He doesn’t get rid of his fear, he just recognizes that it’s a part of him, and it always will be, but it doesn’t need to be everything he is.
Fraggle Rock: Original Recipe has always been a comfort show for me. And it looks like Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock will be, too. And the things it will be comforting grew up with me, too. Boober will always have anxiety, just like me, but now we have our ways of dealing with it. And dealing with it is half the battle!
Strongest Moment: It’s quick so you might have missed it, but when Jamdolin is first intro’ing his music, he addresses the crowd as “brothers, sisters, and inbetwixers.” But for someone who needs to hear that, the message of the Fraggles being accepting of however you choose to identify will be loud and proud!
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): This episode is a magnum opus for Boober, and the crown deservedly goes to him this time. We could all learn from his lesson that life is unpredictable, but it’s also amazing.
The Grand Return Of…: The
Minstrels Troubadours! So great to see the band back together. And I’ve always loved Murray’s design, like a grungy Grover, so big fan of that decision!
Classic Musical Moment: The Troubadours sing a tune called “Go with the Flow,” a little ditty sung in the original show by Marjory the Trash Heap. But the fun fact I love is that this was in the episode “Marooned,” which was a season one episode that gave Boober so much depth when he and Red got stuck in a cave-in and were basically facing death. Boober was the calm one about it, surprisingly, and helped Red with her fear, which was a bit of a new concept to her. I remember an interview where Dave Goelz cited this episode as a turning point for Boober, giving him a well to go back to when he needed inspiration for a performance. It’s so nice to see an homage to that pivotal Boober episode in the new series’s pivotal Boober episode.
New Musical Moment: That New Day’s Day song is catchy af!
Coolest Puppetry Effect: The dance line during “Go with the Flow” is a master class in making your puppet dance. Puppeteers for generations will study it, mark my words.
Darkest Moment: Public speaking?! Too scary!
One More Thing…: There is a moment where Mokey is worried about Boober, but then immediately yelps in excitement for the Skitter Scatter to begin. I will never forget Donna Kimball’s shriek of joy.
Okay, One More Thing…: Helmet Appreciation Day will be celebrated in my home for years to come.
Click here to release the flutterflies on the Tough Pigs forum!
by Matt Wilkie