Review: Back to the Rock – Episode 5 ‘Four Wembleys and a Birthday”

Published: February 4, 2022
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Did you know that over 40 million adults in the United States suffer from an anxiety disorder? That’s over 19% of the population. Anxiety can be a significant barricade to living your best life, and it can pop up at unexpected times. It can affect your social life, work, and decision-making skills. At this point, I’m sure you are wondering why I’d open my Tough Pigs review of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock with a mini-essay about anxiety. What if I told you that this episode was about Wembley Fraggle? Could you guess why then? 

Wembley is a character that contains multitudes. He’s easily excitable, likes to have fun, and is a style icon for gender-queer folks everywhere (Hawaiian shirt and pronouns anyone?). But, something that’s at the core of the character is that his anxiety makes it rough for him to make decisions. In this episode of Back to the Rock, “Four Wembleys and a Birthday,” Wembley’s pals ask him how he wants to celebrate his birthday. Unfortunately, his lack of decision-making skills and his want to please everyone over himself leads to Wembley going into an anxiety-induced tail-spin where he literally splits himself into four invisible Wembley’s – hence the title of the episode. If this all sounds a little heady for a kids’ show, it is, and it’s great. After all, when has Fraggle Rock not been heady?

The show calls this malady being “discombobulated,” which was one of my favorite words when I was about eight. Wembly’s discombobulation is a magical and powerful interpretation of being one-upped by your mental health struggles: something that many people who suffer from anxiety go through every day. Wembley can no longer speak up for himself and tragically loses everything that makes him such a sweet hang.

After Wembley gets discombobulated, the only character that can still see him is, unsurprisingly, the all-seeing, all-knowing Marjory the Trash Heap (although I’m a little surprised Mokey didn’t sense him on a higher vibrational plane while she was meditating). She tells him to go to the Cave of Recombobulation to sort himself out. There, he sings a soulful, jangly new ballad called “That’s Not What I Want,” He literally does the work needed on his mental health to gain the tools to advocate for himself. After all that, Wembley recombobulates and can share how he wants to celebrate his birthday with his Fraggle friends. Once he can speak up for himself, Wembly’s party is nothing crazy or ostentatious. He just wants to hang out with his besties. I think we all can relate.

If this sounds like a slog through the navel-gazing zone, it’s not because this episode is hilariously funny. It’s got a great pace, and the new song, “That’s Not What I Want,” is a bop. We also get treated to a version of “The Doozer Marching Song” from the original series episode “The Great Radish Famine.” 

If I have only one complaint, the B-plot of the Doozer’s power outage doesn’t totally connect with Wembley’s. However, it does link to why Doc’s internet goes out, and she needs it to post a meme-worthy video about ocean conservation that ultimately doesn’t feel like her. Doc is figuring out her own sense of self just as Wembley is figuring out his, and that linkage is clear. So the Doozer’s plot connects to Doc’s, and Doc’s connects to Wembley’s. Alright, I guess I’ll give it a pass then!

This episode has some dazzling set design and feats of puppetry, as does the entire series. The camera zooms through the Doozer’s while singing their classic work song to stunning effect. The Cave of Recombobulation is a Star Wars-esque series of mirrors that reflect the infinite variations on Wembely’s inner self. It’s cool stuff.

But, the most remarkable thing about “Four Wembleys and a Birthday” is how writer Maurin Mwombela’s script breaks-down anxiety struggles for a younger audience. Anxiety is a part of modern life, and the sooner that kids can make peace with theirs, the better. Using Wembley’s classic character traits to explore this issue is a great fit. Hopefully, it’ll help kid and adult fans alike from getting too discombobulated with their own anxiety for years to come.

Strongest Moment: At the end of the episode, Wembley explains how he got discombobulated to the other Fraggles, and at first, they act confused but then basically acknowledge that it’s happened to all of them too. It feels very authentic and is super-funny too.

Weakest Moment: I think the humor in these episodes mainly hits well. That being said, Doc’s attempt at a viral video should be funnier? Maybe use some of the tropes of modern Tik Tok trends better? That whole sequence leads me to believe that the writer’s room for this show is a little older than it should be if they want to include modern references in Back to the Rock and make them feel authentic.

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Although Boober’s bit celebrating Wembley’s birthday by doing a cave safety inspection almost gets my vote for the funniest thing in the episode, I’ve got to give it to Wembley. Jordan Lockhart’s portrayal is so full of nuance and fun. It’s an absolute joy to watch.

The Grand Return of… The Lizard! Remember, he’s the reincarnation of Mudwell the Mudbunny (wow, the old series got deep, didn’t it?). This version doesn’t seem to be totally related here. He’s now known as Mr. Gizzard, but he gets to give Wembley a very sarcastic “Happy birthday, I guess, hmmmmmm,” and I love it!

Darkest Moment: It’s eerie when Wembley is trying to chat with his friends, but they can’t hear him because he’s discombobulated.

One more thing: When we come upon Marjory, she’s knitting sweaters made of spaghetti! Functionally warm and delicious too! I want one!

Okay, One More Thing: Where did the Doozer’s goo come from? Do I actually want to know?

OKAY, ONE FINAL THING! I know that the title is a play on Four Weddings and Funeral! Like, duh!

Click here to celebrate however you want on the ToughPigs forum!

by Louie Pearlman

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