I was skeptical when they announced Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock. I just didn’t think it was likely that anyone could recreate the combination of joy, silliness, artistry, and sophistication that made the classic series so special.
Now the new show is here, and I’ve watched the first two episodes, including “Red and the Big Jump.” And you know what? They came pretty darn close to recreating that magic formula. I can honestly say that I can’t imagine a 2022 remake of the show doing a better job of capturing the feel of the original.
One of my first thoughts when Back to the Rock was announced was: Okay, where are they going to cut corners? I knew Fraggle Rock was an expensive show to make, and I assumed streaming execs would balk at throwing as much cash at the Henson Company as it would take to duplicate all the characters and locations. I thought maybe they would eliminate the Gorgs, or the sequences showing Uncle Traveling Matt in “outer space.”
I’m very happy to have been wrong about that. Apple has a gazillion dollars, and to my surprise, Back to the Rock looks more expensive than I expected! Matt is in outer space, as clueless as ever. The Gorgs are there, but their castle and garden looks BIGGER and the puppets seem to be more high-tech than ever.
Apple spent so much money on this thing, and that’s wonderful. But high production values don’t mean much if they’re employed in the service of a crappy show. So it’s a huge relief that so far, Back to the Rock seems exactly like Fraggle Rock translated to the TV storytelling language of the 2020s. But what about this specific episode? Well, let me tell you about it.
We, the grown-up Muppet fans who like to critically analyze our favorite puppet shows because we think we’re so smart, often talk about how great Fraggle Rock was because it dealt with so many challenging real-life issues in a way that made them palatable for children. I realize this might sound like a stretch, but I promise you it’s true: It is a reasonable interpretation to suggest that “Red and the Big Jump” is about the importance of consent.
That’s what it’s “really” about, anyway. On the surface, it’s about Red Fraggle learning how to be a better friend to Wembley during a game of “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop.” This game requires the pond full of water provided by the waterfall that emerged in the previous episode, providing our first hint that this series will have some serialized continuity between episodes.
Unfortunately for Wembley, the game also requires him to dive into the pond from the top of a very high Doozer tower, which he quickly realizes he does not want to do. When Red pressures him to make the jump against his will, Wembley freezes — from fear, but because this is Fraggle Rock he is also literally frozen solid.
Red’s quest to unfreeze Wembley takes her to the Gorgs’ garden, where the curative and smelly stinkleberries grow, and where the Trash Heap reads her a poem hinging on the phrase “Yes means yes/No means no.” (The Trash Heap and Philo and Gunge also do some jokes about improv and “Yes, and…” which feel a whole lot like jokes from the 2020s. But I’m sure there are plenty of jokes in the original series that feel a whole lot like the mid-’80s.)
If this episode had aired a few years ago, I might have said that it’s a little clunky to come right out and state the lesson like that. But at this point, it’s clear that a lot of people fail to grasp such lessons, or even try to deny them, when they’re handled with any kind of subtlety. So yeah, sure, it can’t hurt to make it perfectly clear that Red learns that it’s bad to try to make somebody do something when they say “No, I don’t want to.”
And so she does. And if the kids (and adults!) who watch this show come away from it with a better understanding of this and the other topics it’s dealing with, that’s worth all the money in Apple’s bank account.
Strongest Moment: The moment when Red abruptly learns the episode’s moral lesson while being thrown down a well is pretty powerful.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): I’m going to give this one to Boober. His reading of the 800 rules of “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop” is one of the highlights of the episode.
Classic Musical Moment: “Hip Hip Hooray” is a catchy tune that could probably be used for any context in which the Fraggles are happy and ready to party, so it’s put to good use here as everyone gets hyped for playing “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop.”
New Musical Moment: I believe there are two new songs here: “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop” is a surf-rock number in which Red demonstrates how to play the titular game. The call and response parts are fun. I just love seeing so many Fraggles doing Fraggle stuff. The other one is “Every Voice,” the somber song Red sings to Wembley when she realizes she should have listened to him. It’s very sweet, and I’m glad they’re including more ballad-y songs like this without worrying that little kids might get bored by them.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: There are a handful of moments where the Red hand puppet seamlessly switches places with… a different Red. I’m actually not sure if it’s a full-body puppet operated by multiple puppeteers or a computer-animated version of her, but sometimes she’ll do stuff like jumping and flipping behind a rock, and then the hand puppet Red will emerge from behind the rock. The effect is perfect.
Darkest Moment: I bet the sight of Wembley frozen from fear will make an impression on some of the younger kids in the audience. Or are today’s kids tougher than that? I have no idea.
Fraggle Lore: When Red introduces the game of “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop,” it sounds like she’s making it up, but then Boober knows the rules, and later it turns out the Trash Heap is an old “Floop, Bloop, and Whoop” pro. I guess it’s been around for years!
One More Thing…: There’s a shot where the Fraggles are talking and an Inkspot just casually strolls by in front of them, out of focus in the foreground of the shot. I really appreciate this show’s commitment to showing us that the Rock is a place full of diverse, quirky creatures.
Okay, One More Thing…: This version of Junior Gorg seems even more good-natured from the start than the one on the original series. He tries to thump Red, and he throws her down the well, but he’s only doing it because his dad is yelling at him, not because he wants to.
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com