Fraggle Rock: 40 Years Later – “Let the Water Run”

Published: January 27, 2023
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: January 24, 1983

Before we talk about “Let the Water Run,” we need to talk about decompression.

In the superhero comics of the mid-20th century (and other forms of storytelling, I’m sure, but I’m a big comics nerd so let’s talk about what I understand), everything used to happen fast. Most stories were one issue long, or even shorter. The hero met a villain, fought them, and defeated them, all for the price of one thin quarter.

As time rolled on into the 1990s and 2000s, stories slowed down. Events that would have happened in one issue, packed with narration and speech bubbles for exposition, were now spread out over several issues instead. The artist took on more of the storytelling responsibility, with more wordless panels depicting action one step at a time. This phenomenon is called “decompression.” Creators were taking stories that had previously been compressed to a single issue and stretching them out, giving them room to breathe.

One prominent example of this is Spider-Man’s origin story. The original 1962 version by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko is eleven pages long. Peter Parker is bitten by a spider, gets his superpowers, becomes a wrestler, makes his costume, and loses his Uncle Ben all within 11 pages. The pages look like this:

In 2000, Marvel debuted a new take called Ultimate Spider-Man. That book’s creative team, Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley, decompressed the story like crazy. The same story unfolds over the first seven issues, a full 180 pages. Uncle Ben doesn’t even die until the end of issue #4! These pages look like this:

So you can see what I mean. It’s basically the same story, but expanded to give the characters and story beats more room to breathe.

Why am I spending so much time discussing superhero comics in this Fraggle Rock review? Because the first season of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock is a decompressed version of this episode. They aren’t quite the same story, but they’re both about how water connects all of the various species in Fraggle Rock. Watching this episode for the first time in several years, I couldn’t stop thinking about Back to the Rock.

As you might recall, that show’s season-long arc was about how all of the creatures depend on each other, specifically because they all share the same water source. That’s what this episode is about, except it happens in 25 minutes instead of 6 ½ hours.

ToughPigs reviewed this episode once before, almost 20 years ago. In that review, Danny Horn talked about how slow this one is, especially compared to the action-packed first two installments. I can see how he felt that way at the time. It does take noticeably more time to explain its concepts. But now, in a post-Back to the Rock world, it feels like this story moves like lightning.

Here’s what happens: When Doc turns off the water to fix his heater, water stops running to Fraggle Rock. This causes problems for the Fraggles (because Red wants to have a water extravaganza) and the Gorgs (because Pa Gorg wants to take a bath). Fortunately, Traveling Matt’s postcard tells about umbrellas, an exciting object that causes water to fall from the sky. Gobo goes to Doc’s workshop to get one. At the exact moment the Fraggles bang the pipe with the umbrella, the water turns back on!

That’s not really a lot of plot to pack into 25 minutes, even if it feels quick now. But it gives us time to slow down and focus on the characters. There’s a wonderful sequence in the middle of Red trying to psyche herself up to enter Doc’s workshop for the first time. She ends up not being able to do it, and she asks for Gobo’s help. It’s astonishing to see Red this vulnerable so early on. 

And that’s why the original series is still powerful, even with its more episodic nature. We didn’t know these characters yet, and the creators of the show knew that the characters were the show’s biggest strength. They didn’t need a season-long arc because the arc was “Who are these people?” We get to know the world by getting to know them. Each episode introduces new elements of this world, and we see it through their eyes. Red’s struggles in this episode are a perfect example. 

I’m so excited to see where the Fraggle Five go in the next 93 episodes.

Strongest Moment: The introduction of the Pipe Bangers with a sax-heavy score heralding their arrival is one of those perfect “Here is the lore of Fraggle Rock” scenes. Scenes like that are the reason I want to live in this world. 

Weakest Moment: The Doc scenes maybe go on a little too long, but they have Doc and Sprocket in them, so

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): This is Red’s show all the way. 

Most Classic Moment: I’m going to give this one to Wembley, who went to all the trouble of making posters for Red even though she doesn’t appreciate it.

Musical Highlight: Red gets to sing “Do It On My Own,” which is on the first Fraggle Rock album and therefore feels like her signature number.

Darkest Moment: There’s a real sense of dread in the episode-closing song “Please Water Run.” You can feel that all the Fraggles in the Great Hall are worried that they’ll never have any water again.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: It’s fun to watch Sprocket pull on the umbrella while Gobo is carrying it.

Fraggle Lore: The Pipebangers are believed to bring water to Fraggle Rock, like I said up there!

Obscure Character Watch: The Archbanger Fraggle is played by Jerry Nelson, and he feels like he could have been a fun recurring character. We never saw him again, but maybe he’ll show up in a comic sometime!

One More Thing…: When Gobo heads out to Doc’s workshop, he whispers to Wembley that he’s going to get it “like a thief in the night” and he sounds like such a cool and dashing spy. 

Okay, One More Thing…: There’s a shot of the water draining out of the pool that looks really neat.

Click here to run, water, run on the Tough Pigs forum!

by Anthony Strand

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