Original air date: May 23, 1983
Growing up in the 90s, I know I wasn’t the only one to hang out with groups of people who were critical, even insulting towards each other and have that be the accepted norm among friends. Not just the norm, but these insults were considered terms of endearment and acceptance. I remember PSAs and motivational speakers around this time talking about self-esteem and positive body image trying to combat the effect of these practices as well as the desire to emulate what was prevalent in various media at that time. Putting the onus on the individual to cope with “how the world is.”
In this episode of Fraggle Rock, in which the home of the Fraggles is threatened from both Outer Space and the Gorgs, I see the types of casual insults and body shaming that was pervasive for decades in a show produced for children. And the lesson to be learned in this episode once again puts the focus on how characters respond to the criticism and insults in order to become better, not that casual bullying is wrong or how to confront the behavior and put an end to it.
We start with Red criticizing Gobo’s technique in how he retrieves Uncle Matt’s postcards. She tells him that he’s losing his edge, growing fat and should go on a diet. Gobo replies in kind, pointing out Red’s fear of doing anything outside of her comfort zone. Instead of handling the accusation with grace, like Gobo, Red becomes the focus of the episode because she needs to improve herself based on this criticism. She offers to prove Gobo wrong by rushing to the Gorg’s garden.
Meanwhile, Junior has disappointed Pa again and Pa feels the need to sing an entire song about how stupid and blundering Junior is. Junior also wants to prove himself to be useful and so decides to knock down Fraggle Rock and rid their garden of the invasive Fraggles forever.
In an attempt to prove to Doc that there are creatures living in the wall, Sprocket begins to hammer at the hole through which Gobo comes in order to widen it and fit through.
Attacked from both sides, the Fraggle Five must act. Why they don’t feel that threats from two directions is of concern to the rest of Fraggledom, I don’t know, but they split up between the two holes and then do nothing. Sprocket passes out after knocking a box onto his head and Red sings a song. While the sentiment of self-acceptance in the song is laudable and allows Red to overcome the failing identified earlier, she isn’t given the same time and reflection needed to come to a greater understanding of her fear like Gobo in Catch the Tail by the Tiger or her life like she did in Marooned.
Gobo arrives just as Red has run out to move the stick of dynamite from Fraggle Rock into the Gorg castle. He runs out into the garden to try to find Red and instead is trapped beneath a piece of wood which Boober and Red must free him from. In Gobo’s daze, he asks for them to sing Muck and Goo during which we get an adorable flashback to young Gobo and Uncle Matt as well as young Junior and Pa Gorg both receiving unconditional love without any expectations from their parental figures.
But instead of using the rest of the episode to explore how they can return to these types of interpersonal connections, we’re given another play at laughs by having Ma and Pa only give Junior affection when they misunderstand the situation. Red and Gobo share a quick hug to admit that they were each scared but there’s no indication that anything has changed between them.
Luckily, things have changed for the Fraggles. Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock did not continue the use of demeaning language for the sake of “humor” and even when it needs to show that certain characters are acting in negative ways, it can do so with nuance, giving the episode time to explore the motivations behind the actions. Similarly, I hope that the people around all of you readers out there are kinder too and that you give yourself the time you need to face the difficult situations in your lives.
Strongest Moment – When all five of the Fraggles are in Gobo and Wembley’s room deciding what to do about the attacks, they are all supporting Red and giving her positive affirmations. Those are the Fraggle friends we need.
Weakest Moment – When Wembley and Mokey discover that Sprocket is hammering the hole they’re only there because they happen to be wandering up that way to look for a steamlily. Though, without this scene, there really wouldn’t be any Mokey or Wembley in the episode.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle) – Boober, for recognizing exactly who he is, accepting without delay his fear, anxiety, terror, paranoia, indigestion and dish-pan hands.
Most Classic Moment – Maybe it’s not classic to anyone else, but I have strong memories of this outfit of Traveling Matt’s. It’s a very “vacationing in Bermuda” sort of look and is more amusing when you remember he’s in Canada and surrounded by the most 80s of rollerskating fashion.
Musical Highlight – Muck and Goo is catchy and overflowing with fun vocabulary to go with the counting. It’s got a One, two buckle my shoe vibe while doing so much more. It’s a perfect childhood song to go with the moment.
Coolest Puppetry Effect – The full-body puppetry on display here with Junior and Pa during their song (as cringe as the lyrics are) is impressive. They’re dancing around each other, linking arms, executing gags and singing seamlessly inside the castle, then outside when they can’t really see all that well. Kudos to the performers in the suits.
Fraggle Lore – More Gorg lore in this episode with Fraggle Rock being revealed to be sacred to the Gorgs, named “Kissing Rock” and therefore not to be tampered with.
One More Thing… – Junior appeals to the Great Gorg which is an interesting bit of religiosity not often seen in Muppet works. And opens up a lot of questions never answered about the Gorg belief system. Let the wild speculation begin.
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by Katilyn Miller