Review: Back to the Rock – Episode 10 ‘Wembley the Spokesfraggle’

Published: February 21, 2022
Categories: Feature, Reviews

When we were sitting around ToughPigs HQ divvying up the reviews for this season of Fraggle Rock, I rushed to claim one with Wembley’s name in the title. Wembley has always been my favorite Fraggle, to the point where I took senior photos with myself superimposed next to him. If Fraggle Rock was coming back, my first priority was to check in with my li’l buddy and see how he’s doing.

In these reviews, we’ve all talked about our wariness and skepticism regarding the new series. For me, so much of that was tied to Wembley. As far as I’m concerned, Steve Whitmire as Wembley on the original series is a Top 5 All-Time Muppet performance. He took a character who could have been unbearable – an indecisive bundle of ticks and grunts and nervous energy – and made him impossibly loveable and hilarious.

Going into the new series, I knew that Karen Prell and Dave Goelz would slip right back into their old roles as Red and Boober. I further knew that John Tartaglia and Donna Kimball had a good handle on Gobo and Mokey, based on the “Rock On!” shorts from 2020. But I wasn’t at all familiar with Jordan Lockhart, the puppeteer who plays Wembley on the new series. He didn’t work on those shorts. 

So yeah, I was worried that Wembley would seem like a stranger. But I’ll be darned if he doesn’t seem like the same excitable little man. Lockhart does a terrific job bringing Wembley to life, and this episode makes that clear by intentionally having him behave completely out of character.

Fraggles don’t like the gross new goo-based Doozer sticks, so some Doozers decide to launch a propaganda campaign to encourage Fraggles to eat them. Like the title says, they enlist Wembley as their spokesfraggle. Soon, he has his hair slicked back like Jack Hammer Doozer and he’s excitedly proclaiming “I Like It!” even though he doesn’t.

I love this as a Wembley story, because it actively prevents him from being indecisive. He doesn’t get a chance to wemble, because he’s being told exactly what to do and say. This allows us to see a confident Wembley. Somehow, even though he’s played by a brand-new performer, we always can see the real Wembley underneath. It’s extremely impressive.

Having said all of that, Wembley isn’t the real star of this episode. That honor goes to another recast from the original series: Cotterpin Doozer, now performed by Donna Kimball. I’m on record as a huge Cotterpin fan, but I didn’t worry about her before I saw the new series. Honestly, I wasn’t sure she’d be much of a character here. But instead, she’s been promoted!  

In the original series, Cotterpin was a child, receiving her apprentice architect’s viser in the middle of season 2. Here, she’s a full-on co-architect, in charge of designing and executing new constructions. Just as she does with Mokey, Donna Kimball embodies the spirit of Kathy Mullen’s original performance. Cotterpin feels exactly the same. She just has more responsibility now.

Just like old times, she’s standing up for herself against other Doozers. Here, everyone else supports Jackhammer’s propaganda program. Cotterpin stands alone, demanding that they take their time and make sure the goo is safe first. But most importantly, she’s the one who convinces Wembley to stop spreading the lie. This feels so right. Any Fraggle could take a stand, but only Cotterpin can change Doozer society.

Wembley and Cotterpin in this episode are both emblematic of what’s so great about this show in general. They’re played by new performers, and they’re doing things we’ve never seen them do before. But somehow, as if by magic, they feel exactly like the characters we know and love from the old show. This series is truly a gift, and one I didn’t expect to receive in 2022.

Strongest Moment: The actual resolution of the story is that Wembley gets to join the Wise Council, alongside such luminaries as Icy Joe, The Storyteller, and the World’s Oldest Fraggle. We know that this will happen from the opening scene, but it’s still such a satisfying payoff that it happens when he stands up for himself and takes an honest stand.

Weakest Moment: The other four main characters spend a lot of time saying that Definitely One Of Us Four will get to be on the council, which feels a little too callous towards Wembley.

MVD (Most Valuable Fraggle Doozer): I already talked in the main review about Cotterpin, but it really is such a joy to watch her shine.

The Grand Return Of…: Fraggle Babies! We see some younglings chomping down on Doozer Sticks, and I’m just so happy that they bothered to build new toddler Fraggle puppets for one shot.

Special Appearance By…: Kenan Thompson as cool, motorcycle-riding, handlebar-mustached Doozer Jackhammer.

Classic Musical Moment: Jack Hammer gets to sing the classic Cantus number “Ball of Fire.” Well, kind of. He just talk-sings it, which is a strange and unfortunate choice. We know from decades of sketch comedy that Kenan Thompson can actually sing. This song is maybe my least-favorite thing in the entire season.

New Musical Moment: Not much of one, to be honest. There’s a jingle about Doozer Sticks, but it’s just a quick rhyme. It’s really too bad that they didn’t give Wembley a whole production number for that scene.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: It’s nothing new, but it sure is fun to watch Jack Hammer ride around on his little Doozercycle.

Darkest Moment: Doc leaves a robot in charge of Sprocket, and Sprocket hates it. Poor guy is terrified and miserable.

Fraggle Doozer Lore: The Architect tells the legendary story of the time that a Doozer’s malfitting helmet fell into the machinery and they had to pause work. Worth it for the phrase “malfitting helmet” alone.

One More Thing…: Doc’s job at a pirate-themed restaurant is such a nice touch. There’s no reason that we need to see her in her work uniform in this episode, but it’s really fun that we do!

Okay, One More Thing…: We get a puppeteer cameo in this episode, as Junior Gorg performer Dan Garza plays a hair tonic customer in Traveling Matt’s postcard.

Click here to make all the Merggles hiccup on the Tough Pigs Forum.

by Anthony Strand

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