Fraggle Rock: 40 Years Later – “The Challenge”

Published: April 13, 2023
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: April 11, 1983

You know what really got me into Fraggle Rock? “Dixie Wailin’” Nope, I’m not kidding. Allow me to explain.

Unlike a lot of people around here, I did not really grow up with Fraggle Rock; never saw any reruns on TV and my library had one VHS that I didn’t really check out ever. It really was not until those first DVDs came out, and I read the Tough Pigs reviews, that I finally started to dip my toe in the Fraggle pond. I borrowed that Where It All Began DVD from the library and liked the episodes fine, but the Fraggle Songs bonus special really got me hooked with so many great songs. And “Dixie Wailin’” was my favorite one. Which brings us to the episode it originated in!

In this episode, we see Red finally fed up with Gobo’s status as self-proclaimed leader when his plans for a picnic impede on her swim race. When Gobo off-handedly remarks any one of them could be leader, Red immediately takes up the mantle. The two argue their way to the Gorg’s garden, with Boober in tow, to get the Trash Heap’s opinion, when they’re all trapped by Pa Gorg. Now, it’s up to each of them to find a solution to escape from Junior unscathed. Oh yeah, and Doc and Sprocket play some video games.

For an episode that takes place under a bushel basket for a good chunk of the time, there sure is a lot of stuff happening: Red and Gobo’s fight, their individual plans to escape, Junior’s cold desire for a pumpkin knife, Pa thinking his son has died. It doesn’t seem like that much when you watch it, but writing it all down makes it sound a lot more complicated than it is. But at the same time, it almost feels kind of uneventful. The Fraggles get stuck, Junior thinks he’s dead, then one rousing musical number later, both issues are resolved in a way that makes you go, “Well, I guess so?”

Despite whatever flaws in the story there may be, I would like to contend that this might be one of the funniest episodes of the series thus far. Of course with Jerry Juhl as the writer, the humor is bound to be strong. Nearly every character has something funny to say, especially Boober. There’s really no good reason for him to be involved in this situation, but when it leads to lines like “I’m too young to be fricassee!”, then how can you complain?

All in all, maybe not the strongest episode of the series, but it’s still the first season – the music, puppetry, and humor is on point by now, but they have plenty of time to refine the rest. Now, if you’ll excuse me, my Apple II is calling me to boot up my boolean algebra floppy disk.

Strongest Moment: A really great part comes early on when Red and Gobo argue in the vicinity of a Doozer construction area, which leads to some really great lines about breaking their Doozer sticks.

Weakest Moment: The first act is a lot of Red and Gobo having the same kind of fight over and over, and it gets a little repetitive by the end (despite their very inventive insults).

Best Joke: There are many funny lines throughout this episode, but Boober writing a funeral dirge in case of his own departure is morbidly great.

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Gotta be Boober; he gets all the best jokes!

Musical Highlight: I mean, c’mon. “Dixie Wailin’” is one of the top Fraggle earworms of all time. And you can find a number of pretty great covers on YouTube.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: During the opening scenes, Boober has a neat, specially-made arm that allows his fingers to move and grab a Doozer stick. I’m sure there’s some kind of magnet in both to help ensure it actually goes in his hand.

Obscure Character Watch: Maybe not obscure characters, but the “mouth burners” in Traveling Matt’s postcard are none other than builder Rollie Krewson’s husband Art Almeida, and Jim Henson’s daughter Cheryl!

One More Thing…: Speaking of the mouth burners, if you’re watching this episode on Apple TV+, they cut that scene out, probably to not encourage smoking by featuring it in a children’s show. But I dunno, I think it works as a deterrent – smoke a cigarette or cigar, and a small furry man will throw water at you.

Okay, One More Thing…: Doc’s Zombie Attack game makes ample use of that sound when Pac-Man dies. Was that allowed back then? Could you copyright a sound effect?

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By Shane Keating

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