Fraggle Rock: 40 Years Later – “The Thirty-Minute Work Week”

Published: February 10, 2023
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Original air date: February 7, 1983

Starting off a ToughPigs article by quoting Muppet Wiki feels a bit like starting off a high school paper with a Webster’s Dictionary definition, but I gotta do it. According to Muppet Wiki:

While this was the fifth episode of Fraggle Rock that aired, it was the first episode to be produced, and served as the original pilot for the series. Jim HensonCBC, and HBO wanted to see what the show would look like, and what problems could be changed. The reason it did not air first was because it was decided that it was not a proper introduction to the series; a more fitting introductory episode, “Beginnings,” was produced later in the first season.[1]

Even though this episode didn’t work as the pilot because we needed more of an introduction to the world of Fraggle Rock, it’s still a solid introduction to the characters. It’s interesting to listen for the differences in the characters’ voices that aren’t quite settled into themselves yet, but we get an understanding of who they are.

Wembley has to choose a job, because all Fraggles must put in their thirty-minute work week. Gobo collects the postcards from his Uncle Traveling Matt, Mokey collects radishes from the Gorgs’ garden, Red cleans the Fraggle pond, and Boober does everyone’s laundry. The problem, of course, is that Wembley is terrible at making decisions, and I’ve always found Wembley deeply relatable for this reason. According to Gobo, “Sometimes he can’t even walk because he can’t make up his mind which foot to use first.”

Eventually, Wembley goes to the Trash Heap for advice, like ya do. Marjory suggests various jobs, including an accountant, a farmer, a shoe salesman, or a prime minister. When she suggests being a fireman, Wembley gets very excited for a moment about “the bells and the ladders and the hoses and the red suspenders and the sirens and the axes and the hats!” but then says, “Oh, but that’s not work. It’s too much fun.” I wonder if every single person who got hired to work on Fraggle Rock said the same thing.

Wembley’s stoked about becoming a fireman (get it? stoked? fire?) until he realizes he doesn’t even know how to start a fire. But then, thank goodness, it turns out that neither do the other firefighters. Wembley is inducted and is just getting his life running around in a red hat and making a perfect fire engine siren sound.

When you’ve gotten so used to agonizing over every choice to the point that your name is synonymous with indecision (we’ll hear the term “wembling” used more than once throughout the series), it seems like a miracle that the right solution could be the simplest one. And the fun one.

Strongest Moment: We get some truly great banter from Jerry Nelson as Marjory, Dave Goelz as Philo, and Richard Hunt as Gunge.

Weakest Moment: Up in Outer Space, Sprocket spends the whole day unable to choose between two donuts (custard-filled or jelly-filled) and then between two soups (chicken or split pea). It’s as relatable to me as Wembley’s dilemma, but then the episode just ends there! With no resolution to Sprocket’s inner torment! SOMEONE HELP THIS POOR DOGGO.

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): Mokey is of course her usual encouraging, compassionate self in trying to help Wembley make his decision. She’s also casually fearless when Junior Gorg almost hits Wembley and she bonks him on the nose with a radish and strolls away.

First Appearance Of: We don’t see thimble bugs/beetles until two episodes later in “I Want to Be You,” but Mokey says she hears one in the Gorgs’ garden.

Most Classic Moment: The Gorgs’ secret password for the day is “I don’t know the password” (“’You said you knew the password’ was yesterday’s password!”), leading to a very “Who’s on First” moment between Junior and Pa and establishing the Gorgs as the clueless Rulers of the Universe.

Musical Highlight: “Workin’” is such a jam that years ago I set it as my “No seriously, get up” alarm.

Wake up in the morning

Get yourself to work

Fraggles never fool around, Fraggles never shirk

Your duty’s always waiting

Duty must be done

There’s ping-pong games that must be played

And songs that must be sung

Seriously, it gets me out of bed when nothing else will.

Coolest Puppetry Effect: Although honorable mention goes to Fraggles Sliding Down a Fire Pole, I have to give this one to Fraggle on a Rollercoaster! Dave Goelz makes a necessary cameo in Traveling Matt’s scene by sitting next to Matt with a fake arm draped over the back of the seat:

The effect is almost seamless. Yes, the stiff fake hand looks weird if you know to look for it, but there is no sign of Dave Goelz’ actual right arm. There must be a third, black sleeve sewn somewhere onto this blue shirt.

Darkest Moment: It would be easy to say the darkest moment is Boober telling Wembley he’s going to blow up from the anxiety of being interviewed by the Volunteer Fire Department, but that’s played for humor, and I think this moment is much darker. Gobo decides he’s going to help Wembley decide by “getting really tough with him.”

Gobo: “OK, that’s it! I don’t pal around with wishy-washy Fraggles.”

Wembley: “What? What do you want me to do about it? I can’t just go away.”

Gobo: “Oh yes you can.”

Wembley: “…Well if that’s the way you feel, I guess I’ll just pack my things.”

Gobo: “That shouldn’t take long, you’ve only got one spare shirt.”

Wembley: “Right. I’ll pack my thing.”


Fraggle Lore: In “Workin,” Gobo sings:

When I was just a baby

Pappy used to roam

Mama told me “Sonny boy

Your work won’t be at home…”

And we never hear about Gobo’s parents or any other Fraggle parents again…

Obscure Character Watch: This is the one and only time we see the Volunteer Fire Department, which is a shame, because Wembley is a truly excellent siren. Fortunately, he has this same job in Back to the Rock! Like all “organized” groups of Fraggles, like the Pipebangersthe Poohbahs, and Back to the Rock’s Wise Council, the Volunteer Fire Department takes silliness very seriously and is more self-important than effectual. Their hats are mostly all the same, but one is definitely a pail.

One More Thing… During the gap in production between this episode and the rest of season 1, some of the puppets underwent slight redesigns, including Marjory and Sprocket, but I think the most obvious (and most necessary) was Ma Gorg. Her eyes are truly disturbing before her redesign:

Okay, One More Thing…

Boober: “Oh, hello, Wembley, how are you?”

Wembley: (sigh) “Don’t ask me questions!”

I wish this was a socially acceptable response to that question among us Silly Creatures.

Click here to ride a roller coaster with Dave Goelz on the ToughPigs forum!

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Written by Beth Cook

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