Review: Back to the Rock S2 – Episode 5 ‘I’m Pogey’

Published: May 1, 2024
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Geez. It’s been over a month since this episode dropped and honestly? I still can’t believe it exists. “I’m Pogey” is an incredibly special piece of television. When Wembley walked out of Mokey’s cave with the ponytail, I legitimately paused the episode and shouted “UH? ARE THEY DOING IT???” And they did do it. After years of folks telling me that it’s too hard to explain transitioning to children, the team behind Back to the Rock, specifically director John Tartaglia and writer Charley Feldman, proved that it can be done. As a transgender woman and a longtime Fraggle superfan, this is exactly the episode I wanted to see out of Back to the Rock

I’m going to assume you’ve seen this episode. I have so much to say, I don’t want to waste time telling you about the Glitter Globe or Sprocket bullying Doc or whatever. There’s a million things that this episode does well to highlight the idea of queerness in a way that’s accessible to children and applicable in many different ways, and I’d prefer to focus on them right now. So let’s talk:

First of all, I love how this episode boldly chooses to give a quest for identity to one of the main characters (while also revealing a recurring secondary character is queer). Other shows will explore LGBTQ issues by introducing a new character, often one who won’t show up again or will do so rarely. That character will get pinned down as the LGBTQ character, who only talks about LGBTQ things. But in Back to the Rock, it’s Wembley who goes on this journey, and Pogey who guides him. That’s right, your normal, regular friends and family members can question their gender identities and expressions. It’s not just The Very Special Queer Character (even if Glitterini fits that mold and is wonderful). 

Is Wembley trans, or genderfluid, or bigender? Not necessarily. Like I said in my article about the Sesame Street character Niamh for Trans Day of Visibility, for young children, figuring out gender usually manifests as trying out new clothes or activities. Wembley is trying new things. Whether he decides on a label or not isn’t the point: he is given the space to try new things with his identity. That’s exactly what kids need, and honestly what I truly wish I had been given the freedom to do when I was small.

While Wembley doesn’t decide on a label, the things we learn about him in this episode still carry on into other episodes. Wembley will wear that ponytail and femme clothes again. This also applies to Pogey, seeing as folks will still use they/them pronouns for Pogey in the future. 

And did you catch that moment, when Glitterini uses they/them pronouns for Pogey? Prior to this episode, no one used any pronouns for Pogey. They were never addressed for long enough for that to be necessary. But the show doesn’t make a big deal about it. For what it’s worth, they also don’t make a big deal about the reveal that Pogey chose their own name. Pogey and G.G. don’t sit around explaining why Pogey uses these pronouns, or why they chose their own name, or how Wembley and his friends should in the future. Kids will get it. It’s a small, natural thing that they’re going to encounter every day. If kids can understand what a Doozer is, they can understand what a nonbinary person is.

Speaking of understanding, I think it’s crucial that the other Fraggles all understand and accept Wembley’s presentation immediately. Wembley’s fears about how Gobo and Red will react are completely unfounded. Red is surprised by Wembley, but the audience can tell that surprise isn’t disgust. She’s just frustrated at messing up her athletic feat, which is par for the course for Red. But Wembley reads Red’s reaction as hatred, and that leads him to start to worry about how Gobo will react too. The real “villain” in this episode is Wembley’s self-doubts, manifested as his reflections throughout “Who Is Me?” and in the Glitter Globe.

Because here’s the thing I can say from my experiences as a trans woman: basically every single one of my close friends and family members were still kind to me after I came out. There’s a saying I’ve heard about transition: everything you want is on the other side of fear. And that’s what Wembley and I needed to realize. I worried for months and months before telling any of my pals that I was Rebecca. Months! Can you believe I was afraid that the ToughPigs staff wouldn’t accept me? After all the pictures of Wander McMooch I’d drawn for this site??? But my brain told me everyone would abandon me. They didn’t, of course, and I’m still here on ToughPigs, writing and podcasting and annoying Anthony Strand with my endless bad jokes. So I love how this episode ends with Gobo saying he loves Wembley, and it’s not like Gobo gets there after an arc where he hates Wembley for a while. Their friendship goes on without any interruptions: and if anything, it’s going to be stronger now that Gobo knows more truths about his little buddy. 

Now, I know Wembley and I are fortunate. I have some trans friends who were disowned by parents when they came out. It does happen. But what I’ve seen in my years with the queer community is that most people do support you. To come out, the biggest obstacle you have to overcome is yourself, even if that isn’t manifested as a cynical reflection in a pool of Sweet Water. And even if you are unlucky enough to lose people along the way, on the other side lies so many more people who are ready to support you.

Which brings me, of course, to the Great Glitterini. Glitterini is such a wonderful character, puppeteered by Ben Durocher and voiced by queer musician Adam Lambert. Glitterini is a small, unassuming, generic-looking Muppet monster who reveals himself to be glamorous and outgoing on the inside, because that’s how he feels he is. Glitterini knows who he is, and is there to encourage Wembley to think of himself the same way. In this way, Glitterini is such a wonderful portrayal of the queer elder, the role I’ve tried to fill in my interactions with younger queer folks. He guides Wembley to understanding himself without assigning any labels to him directly, he provides a safe space for Wembley to try out identities and outfits, and he supports Pogey’s pronouns. This is what queer adults should do, and I love seeing that modeled for the older fans watching. And it’s not lost on me that Glitterini sings a phenomenal cover of “Free and High,” a Richard Hunt song, seemingly in honor of the late, great queer performer. 

In the end, when Glitterini says “Oh, this younger generation. I’m so proud to be glittering long enough to see this,” I tear up. Because Richard Hunt didn’t get to glitter long enough to see the Muppets directly address stories like this. In the 80s and 90s, there weren’t as many queer elders. Deaths from AIDS-related complications were common; that’s what took Hunt from us and kept him from glittering as long as he should have. And without queer elders, the Wembleys and Pogeys of the world had to figure this all out for themselves. There weren’t even as many Gobos and Reds around to hug them and say they still loved them. I’m glad things have changed. As bad as things are for queer folks, they’ve definitely improved since the 1980s, and Glitterini reminds us of this. I’m glad I can be Glitterini to my friends. I’m glad that the Wembleys of the world can figure themselves out with guidance and support. And I’m glad that Back to the Rock exists and can do episodes like this one.

Strongest Moment / Classic Musical Moment: “Free and High” is such a powerful song here. It’s so affirming, and it’s great to hear both Adam Lambert and Lili Cooper sing. One of the rare examples where a Back to the Rock cover is stronger than the original.

Weakest Moment: Over on the ToughPigs staff chat, we fought for basically three full days straight (pun not intended) over whether Junior’s subplot was good or not. I avoided discussing it in this article; I will return to this later. But uh, I don’t know.

MVF: Wembley. The best of us.

New Musical Moment: “Who is Me?” is a really fun song that absolutely rings true to anyone who’s contemplated a major life change. For folks who battled dysphoria for years, like yours truly, it hits close to home. It’s also a banger, and all our favorite Cave Creatures show up to sing along.

Coolest Puppetry Thing: I like how the Glitterini puppet can expand himself and start to glow. It’s a fun effect to make this puppet transform in real time.

Fraggle Lore: The only way to remove Mokey’s glue is to soak your hair in the bright pink Sweet Water of Fraggle Rock. Fraggle superfans will remember Sweet Water as the delicious beverage Gobo refused to let his friends drink in “Gobo’s School For Explorers” from Season 3 of the original series.

One More Thing: Hey remember how this episode starts with Wembley wearing Mokey’s old robe in a wonderful wink to her redesign? That was fun. That’s the kind of thing you’d expect me to write about if this whole episode wasn’t so wonderfully queer.

Okay, One More Thing: Travelling Matt’s postcard was also really funny, and a really great send-up of gendered toys. Love ya, Matt. Those shoes are so you.

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Written by Becca Petunia

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