Synopsis: Uncle Traveling Matt returns to Fraggle Rock after a year of exploring Outer Space. He expects Gobo to rejoin him as his exploring partner, but Gobo may have outgrown his overbearing uncle.
Original air date: January 30, 1984
You know that feeling of seeing a relative for the first time in years, and you have such fond memories of them? But then, after spending five minutes in the same room, it becomes evident that they still see you as the child you once were and treat you like a cute li’l thing that hasn’t experienced growth and change? Turns out, that feeling transcends the human experience, because Fraggles have to deal with it too!
The set up for the episode “Uncle Matt Comes Home” is fairly straightforward – Uncle Traveling Matt is coming home to Fraggle Rock! You could probably guess that from the episode title, huh? But this being Fraggle Rock, we know it’s never that straightforward.
The episode starts with Gobo retrieving one of his uncle’s postcards, this one marked with a special announcement, and Gobo asks Wembley what the most amazing thing he can imagine is. Wembley’s guess? Owning more than one shirt. (Perfect joke about how TV characters in animated (and puppet-ed!) shows typically wear the same thing at all times.) But no, Wembley! You’ll have to keep owning just that one shirt, because Uncle Traveling Matt is coming home!
Everyone is happy about Matt’s return (except Red, whose sole purpose this episode is to goad Gobo into going on an expedition with Matt). Gobo is the most excited, of course. He tells his friends, “When my Uncle Matt went away, I was just a kid. But now I’m an explorer too!” giving us the crux of what the episode’s going to be about. The Fraggle squad decides to throw a party for Matt.
Then we are given my newest favorite character – Gillis Fraggle (named for Don Gillis, the show’s music arranger)! I love a Richard character, and this one truly takes the cake! Gillis leads everyone through a welcome song, complete with “boings” and “ding-a-lings” and the like! There’s also a radish meringue cake (what creature’s eggs do the Fraggles use to make meringue???) with a little figurine of Matt on top.
Matt arrives late to his own celebration, and the trouble begins right away. After going on about the vastness of Outer Space and wanting to come home, Matt announces he’s tired and is going to sleep in his old bed. But here’s the thing, his old bed? That’s Wembley’s current bed. Wembley says it’s not a big deal and that he’ll crash with Boober, but Gobo is upset that his friend, who was just as excited about Matt’s return, is being kicked out of the room. Gobo, once so ecstatic, now seems frozen. This wasn’t what he had hoped for.
The rest of the episode plays out pretty much as follows: they go on a journey to find the Crystal Cavern, Wembley joins, they bicker nonstop about whose methods are better, they meet a Rock Clinger, Wembley runs off, Gobo and Matt call the expedition off, they realize Wembley’s missing, they put differences aside to look for him, they find Wembley in the Crystal Cavern, they all make amends, and Matt decides to head back to Outer Space. That is, essentially, the whole third act of the episode.
Now that the plot is out of the way, I want to talk about what an amazing job the writers on this episode did with Matt and Gobo’s relationship.
Remember when I said Gobo tells his friends, “When my Uncle Matt went away, I was just a kid. But now I’m an explorer too!”? I won’t lie, I rolled my eyes when he first said this. I was like, Gobo, Uncle Matt left one season ago. Chill. But in having gone through all of season one in the last year for my podcast, Fraggle Talk, here’s the thing: Gobo DOES grow up a lot through all of season one. He starts off being kind of a pigheaded, snarky jerk in the first half of the season, then suddenly he’s leading the entire rescue of Red and Boober in “Marooned” and then being the only one in all of Fraggle Rock who doesn’t blindly believe Mokey as the “New Trash Heap in Town“. Gobo comes a heck of a long way since the show’s start. He has every right to be excited to show his uncle – the only actual family member we’re aware he has – that he’s grown.
It doesn’t help that he’s built up this image of Matt in his head. His uncle is so brave! His uncle explores Outer Space! But when Matt arrives (incredibly late to his own party) and the first thing he does is stick his entire face in the cake, Gobo has a reaction to this. The pedestal he’s put Matt on starts to shake. But he rallies, gets himself excited again – only for his uncle to kick Gobo’s best friend out of the room they share, their home together. Things are not going as Gobo had planned, and he’s not quite sure how to deal with this.
One of the biggest hurts comes in the following scene when Gobo finally asks if they can go to the Crystal Cavern. Gobo approaches the question as if he’s not sure if his uncle will even be interested, but of course Matt is – he’s an explorer, after all. But this is where the hurt comes. Matt announces to Gobo’s pals that he’ll be leading the expedition to the Crystal Cavern, and there’s this moment, this one tiny exchange, that’s stuck with me. After Matt makes this grand announcement, we cut to a closer shot of Wembley and Gobo. Wembley whispers to Gobo, “I thought you were doing it together?” and Gobo is so flustered. He tries to tell Wembley, “Well, we are, but…” but can’t commit to finishing the sentence. I love this moment so much. First off, it reads as a very natural moment between friends – Wembley knows that this is something Gobo wanted to share with his uncle, and he asks his friend about this immediately after Matt makes the announcement. Second, Gobo’s heartbroken, dumbfounded response to his friend is just such a real emotion. To have someone you respect so much not listen to you and take over your whole thing? This exchange is only five seconds long, but it’s this little private look into how honest and connected Wembley and Gobo are with one another that can remind you how truly masterful this show is.
On top of all this, Matt won’t stop calling Gobo things like “whippersnapper” and “little laddie.” This grinds Gobo’s gears (and also makes Matt sound like he’s in the running for World’s Oldest Fraggle). After all, he’s not a kid anymore, but Uncle Matt won’t let him forget that that’s all he sees his nephew as: a child.
We’ve seen Gobo’s hurt, but what about Matt’s? Matt and Gobo head off in search of the Crystal Cavern, and they begin singing the song “Follow Me.” For a moment the tension drops. This is the song the two of them sang together right before Uncle Matt became Uncle Traveling Matt. Maybe things are on the mend. But as Matt takes a deep breath to start in on the second verse, Gobo slides in, beginning to sing the second verse all on his own. Gobo notices Matt has come to a stop. He tells Gobo, “That is my song!” and all of the tension comes flooding back between the two. (I’ll admit, this doesn’t fully hit for me because we saw Gobo sing the second verse in the first episode of the show. But in that scene, Matt does tell Gobo, “Now you sing!” so I don’t know, maybe that’s something?) But as Gobo begins singing on his own, we see Matt has this forlorn look, following Gobo with his hand outstretched to get his nephew’s attention. For a moment, it feels like Matt sees that maybe Gobo has outgrown him, that he doesn’t need an uncle to follow and worship anymore.
The issue that finally brings things to a head is a doozy: Uncle Traveling Matt doesn’t use (or really respect) maps. This is unheard of for Gobo. He loves his maps! When his uncle suggests they find the Cavern by using unusual methods (ie. following a Rock Clinger, the most disgustingly cute thing in the universe), Gobo is horrified. This is a classic case of parent vs. child butting heads – the two cannot see eye-to-eye on how the other prefers to operate. Matt can’t wrap his head around why Gobo would bother with maps (a thing that provides him with the comfort of preexisting knowledge), and Gobo doesn’t understand how Matt can explore without maps (how he uses the environment around him to connect with nature in order to make deductions).
(Also, I just want to quickly note that during this sequence, we also get Gobo yelling, “DON’T LOOK, WEMBLEY! DON’T LET IT FALL IN LOVE WITH YA!” about the Rock Clinger, and that one line made my entire evening.)
This culminates in a huge fight we all saw coming. It’s so intense, Wembley flat out just walks away from them at some point (who wouldn’t?). Matt plays the “respect your elders” card. Gobo questions if Matt’s Outer Space adventures are even real. Matt threatens to spank Gobo (not cool, Matt). IT’S HEATED, Y’ALL. We know these characters think the world of each other and were so excited to be reunited, but time is a funny thing.
Sometimes you grow into a person others are not ready to see you become. Sometimes it’s easy to hold an image of a person’s best qualities in your mind and discard the rest. Matt was not ready for Gobo to grow up so much while he was away – this could mean that maybe he doesn’t need his uncle anymore. Gobo was not ready to start seeing his uncle as an equal instead of his idol – this could mean that he’ll have to acknowledge Matt is just as fallible as any other Fraggle, not the perfect hero he’s constructed in his mind.
We all have experienced this episode in one way or another. Heck, maybe you’ve been in both Gobo and Matt’s shoes at different stages of your own life. It could be seeing a relative for the first time in years and they can’t accept that you’re not the little kid they once knew, or when you come home from college only to realize that your parents are actually ordinary people who are capable of being wrong. It’s often a tough thing to experience. The only way to get through it is acceptance, which thankfully we see these Fraggles (eventually) achieve.
First they have to admit that Wembley found the Crystal Cavern, not either of them, and that it’s more important that it was discovered over who discovered it. When it’s stated that the Crystal Cavern is gorgeous, Matt declares, “The most beautiful place in the universe? Not after you’ve seen a used car lot at sunset.” Which is a BANGER of a line, y’all. But this sets up what we already know – Matt’s time in Outer Space is not over. (Of course it isn’t, we’re only in season two. He can’t come home yet!) This realization comes from Gobo, who knows his uncle is happier out there. Matt agrees, finally acknowledging how much Gobo has grown up. With that, Matt goes back out into the world, ready to be worshiped from afar once more.
As for Doc and Sprocket this episode, Sprocket gets SO close to convincing Doc about the existence of Fraggles. After hearing Gobo give a “WHOOPEE!!!!” inside the Fraggle hole, Doc is won over to Sprocket’s cause. He breaks out a sound-activated tape recorder and an automatic trip wire camera, and… I mean, okay, this is the man who in season one spent an entire episode figuring out how to sew a button on a fried egg. And now he suddenly has all of this high-tech gear? Season two Doc is coming in hot!
Of course Doc and Sprocket’s plan fails. Credit to where credit is due, Uncle Matt barks at Sprocket to both get the dog to trigger the camera and so the audio recording only catches dog noises. This is perhaps the most intelligent we’ve ever seen this often befuddled Fraggle act. The second go around, the camera does take a picture of Matt as he’s leaving, but with both Doc and Sprocket asleep this time, Matt takes the picture and saunters out.
Overall, this episode is just wonderful. It’s such a great examination of the relationship of a guardian and a child as time invites in aging, change, conflict, and understanding. It’s frustrating at times, laughably relatable throughout, and just plain smart. Fraggle Rock is so sharp when it’s at its best, and this is certainly one of the sharpest episodes to boot.
Strongest Moment: There’s this one moment when Gobo and Matt are in the heat of arguing, and Gobo throws out the line, “You couldn’t lead your way to that rock!” and points at a rock that must be no more than two feet away from them. Then, with so much defensiveness and anger, we watch Matt go over to the rock and yell, “WHAT? THIS ROCK HERE??? THIS ROCK, GOBO???? THIS ROCK!!!???” It’s such a dumb interjection from both of them but feels so real. Who hasn’t said something equally as silly in a fight? But also, Dave’s delivery of “THIS ROCK?????” is *chef’s kiss* hilarious.
Weakest Moment: As far as Matt’s postcards go, this one wasn’t all that interesting – so much so that I only just realized I didn’t include it in this review. There’s skiing. There’s one good shot of the Matt puppet skiing downhill on his own. Normally the postcards are a little treat because it’s our one time with Uncle Matt in the episode, but this segment is outdone by the fact that Matt gets so much (more interesting) screen time throughout.
MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): I’m going to give it to Matt. Uncle Traveling Matt rarely appears for longer than his postcard segments. As frustrating as he was at times in this episode, it’s still so nice to see him for longer than a minute or two!
First Appearance Of… Gillis Fraggle!
Musical Highlight: “Welcome Back, Uncle Matt” takes it. As much as I love “Follow Me”, Matt being upset when Gobo starts singing on his own really harshes the song’s vibe.
Coolest Puppetry Effect: I have two! There’s a moment when Gobo knocks Red over, they fall, and suddenly they’re in a pool – clearly two dry puppets “falling” off screen with then two other puppets already in the water. This didn’t even have anything to do with the episode’s plot, but the puppeteers and writers still worked it in anyway! Amazing! Then, when Uncle Matt makes his entrance, he does this somersault and BOY HOWDY! I can’t even begin to explain it in writing, but after watching it several times it’s clear there are two Matt puppets to make this happen as well. Both moments are so seamless and I doubt, had I not spent the last year closely watching the first season of Fraggle Rock and taking meticulous notes, I would have even noticed. Seamless puppeteering, y’all!
Darkest Moment: I don’t know if this moment is dark, but Matt declaring that Gobo needs a spanking is how you know this show was made in the 80’s.
Fraggle Lore: We learn about the Crystal Cavern, as well as the Rock Clingers. (And, like most Fraggle lore, I don’t think we’ll see or hear of either ever again.)
One More Thing… When Matt and Gobo sing “Follow Me”, there’s a lyric change. Instead of the line “calling me away” they sing “showing me the way.” I’m guessing this is to reflect the nature of where these characters are. In the very first episode when we hear this song, both of them were being called away – Matt to Outer Space and Gobo to his position of being the new explorer of Fraggle Rock. In this episode, time has shown these two the way – Matt, while missing home, has been shown that he’s meant for Outer Space, and Gobo is shown that he’s grown so much and can now hold his own. It’s such a small change to the song but certainly effective.
Okay, One More Thing… We just finished our first season of Fraggle Talk and are on hiatus for the next month, so now is the perfect time to start listening and catch up! Listen to Beth, Adam, myself, and the occasional guest go in depth on Fraggles and often get distracted by dogs, Adventure Time, bemoaning executive dysfunction, and the concept of being perceived! We’re just three neurodivergent, queer pals on a podcast reading way too much into a show originally intended for children – what’s not to love?
Click here to not let a Rock Clinger fall in love with ya on the Tough Pigs Discord!
by Julia Gaskill