Fraggle Rock: 40 Years Later – “Gobo’s Discovery”

Published: June 2, 2023
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: May 30, 1983

“Gobo’s Discovery” is full of great jokes, excellent music, and wonderful character moments. And yet, I kind of wish the episode ended with Gobo deciding to give up exploring for good and perfect his juggling skills. I think it would have been a more logical resolution than the one we got!

The episode begins with Gobo experiencing an exceptionally stressful trip to Outer Space, which leads him to consider quitting his job as an explorer. Boy, we’ve all had those days, haven’t we? Except that most of us don’t have to worry about a Hairy Monster barking at us while we’re trying to pull a postcard out of a wastebasket.

As Gobo laments his failure to complete his mission of checking the mail, he reflects on the fact that it was never his idea to become an explorer in the first place. Huh! We’re most of the way through the season, so this new information is quite a revelation.

We even get a flashback with Uncle Traveling Matt and a younger Gobo. We can tell he’s younger because his voice is higher and his hair is longer. Matt asks Gobo what he wants to be when he grows up, and Gobo answers: a juggler! Matt, as oblivious as ever, completely ignores his nephew’s actual response and proclaims that Gobo will follow in his footsteps as an explorer. Then he falls down.

Back in the present, Gobo correctly observes that exploring is a dangerous pursuit, and sings the beautiful and haunting existential crisis song “Once Upon a Time (I Knew My Name)”. When Boober and Wembley show up and request his explorer assistance in retrieving some soap from the Squeaky Caverns, Gobo declines to go with them but gives them some half-hearted directions that involve avoiding the Great Outer Maze.

It’s dangerous, though. A wrong turn into the Great Outer Maze could bring them face-to-non-existent-face with the Invisible Garboil!

Yes, the creature’s name is “Garboil,” and not “Gargoyle,” as I assumed in previous viewings of this episode without subtitles. Why did they choose an imaginary word so similar to a real word? I have no idea!

Building an episode around an invisible creature seems like a great way to cut down on this week’s puppet budget. But the Invisible Gargoyle Garboil really is a scary concept — it’s a roaring monster with no body, but rather than being completely invisible, it appears in the form of flashing lights and fog. It’s kind of like a smaller version of the Nothing from The Neverending Story, but instead of annihilating the existence of everything in its path, it just swirls around and leaves Fraggles flat on their backs with their tongues hanging out.

It’s also an effective metaphor for Gobo’s nagging feelings of uncertainty! Sometimes we make choices, and we’re not sure if they’re the right choices, and we can’t stop thinking about it, and it feels like there’s an incorporeal monster stalking us. It’s probably not a coincidence that Gobo releases the Invisible Garboil right around the same time his doubt kicks in, and that his doubt subsides when he incapacitates the Garboil. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Long story short, Gobo mistakenly thinks Boober and Wembley are lost in the Great Outer Maze and runs around looking for them, and he accidentally frees the Garboil from its rocky prison. Then he realizes what’s happened, gets the Garboil to chase him back to the Great Outer Maze, and traps in its cave again.

We’re meant to understand that this sequence of events proves that Gobo should be an explorer after all. After all, he reasons at the end of the episode, “I didn’t have to go, but… I just did what I really wanted!”

Gobo’s story is intended to parallel what’s happening with Doc, who gets frustrated after several of his inventions are rejected by the inventors community. Doc resigns himself to returning to his previous profession as a barber, but he can’t help himself, and by the end of the episode his attempts to immerse himself in barbering lead him to create yet another wacky invention (mustache wax for dogs).

Doc excitedly points at Sprocket, whose whiskers have been waxed like a mustache.

But based on all the evidence we have, Gobo and Doc are going through two different things. Doc never stops wanting to be an inventor. It’s just that he gets frustrated when it’s difficult, even as his urge to invent never stops.

But Gobo? He only started exploring a career in exploration because he thought his beloved uncle wanted him to, and it seems like he’s truly relieved when he resolves to give it up. The reason he goes to the maze the first time is that he thinks his friends are in danger. And he goes to the maze the second time because he knows the whole population of Fraggle Rock is in danger.

I’m not sure that equation adds up to “Gobo has a passion for exploring after all.” If we return to the Garboil as a metaphor for Gobo’s uncertainty, Gobo didn’t actually eliminate it. He just bottled it up.

I understand the message the episode is going for. It’s something like “If you try to achieve something and you fail, don’t give it up right away. Keep trying.” And that’s a great message for young viewers! But showing us how unenthusiastic Gobo feels about exploring renders that lesson a little bit wobbly. I think the episode would have been just as satisfying if the lesson had been “If you set out to do something that’s going to take up a lot of time and effort, and it doesn’t bring you happiness or satisfaction, it’s probably okay to change your mind.”

Like when a student changes their major, or when a working adult changes careers. Or when a kid uses their imagination to make their own LEGO construction instead of following complicated directions. Or the time when I was a young adult and I signed up for a job selling kitchen knives, only to realize almost immediately that I was not and would never be a salesperson.

I know it would have required a lot of changes to Gobo’s character and the kinds of stories the show could tell about him… but yeah, I kind of wish this episode had ended with Gobo becoming a juggler.

If only it were easier for rod-hand Muppets to juggle!

Boober lies on a rock, bereft. Wembley, Mokey, and Red hang around the cave in the background.

Strongest Moment: Gobo’s first frantic trip through the Great Outer Maze is spooky and intense. I truly believe it’s a place the Fraggles would avoid!

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Boober brings the most laughs, with all his typical delightful downtrodden pessimism. I like that guy.

Most Classic Moment: I’m going to cheat a little here and name a song as the most classic moment. “Once Upon a Time (I Knew My Name)” is so sad, but it’s an authentic expression of personal uncertainty. I don’t know that the children in the audience of the time related to it, necessarily, but I bet they understood that Gobo was going through a hard time. (And those children would grow up and experience their own existential crises soon enough. Get ready, kiddoes!)

Musical Highlight: “The Me That I Wanna Be.” I always love a bluesy, upbeat song that starts as a Gobo solo, then gets a cave full of Fraggles dancing.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: Sprocket stands behind Doc’s workbench as Doc gives him a haircut. When Doc pretends to press a foot pedal, Sprocket rises up as if he’s really sitting in a barber chair. It’s both convincing and funny.

Darkest Moment: There’s a LOT of talk about death and dying and being killed as the Fraggles anticipate the arrival of the Invisible Garboil. There’s also this: Doc gets his latest rejection letter. He declares “It’s time to put an end to all this! Don’t try to stop me, Sprocket!” He means he’s throwing out his inventor’s stationery, but Sprocket’s initial interpretation is much more dire.

Obscure Character Watch: When all the Fraggles are gathering for a picnic, the group includes an older lady who Muppet Wiki tells me is Aunt Granny Fraggle. Apparently she only appeared in one other episode. She’s eager to tell everyone a radish joke, but alas, she gets interrupted by the attacking Garboil. All we hear of the joke is “And then the Gorg put down the radish, and then, just as he was about to do something–” What? What was the punchline? What was the Gorg about to do???

One More Thing…: I can never get enough of the little background critters. My favorite one in this episode is a cute little rodent who starts dancing with Wembley at one point.

Okay, One More Thing…: In the absence of a new postcard from Uncle Traveling Matt, Gobo reads an old one, in which Matt encounters sheep being sheared. Matt ends up getting sheared by a Silly Creature. He looks WEIRD.

Click here to give a dog a haircut on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Ryan Roe –

Uncle Traveling Matt after being shaved, with wide eyes, short hair, and no mustache.

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