Fraggle Rock: 40 Years Later – “The Wizard of Fraggle Rock”

Published: March 15, 2024
Categories: Feature, Reviews

Synopsis: Wembley switches places with a wizard who looks exactly like him! Chaos ensues.

Original air date: March 12, 1984

I gotta admit, as one of the three co-hosts of the ToughPigs podcast Fraggle Talk, it feels like cheating to review this episode. We’re only three episodes into our recording sessions for season two, so jumping ahead to episode eleven feels a little, dare I say, naughty? It’s strange to watch an episode of this show, still take rabid notes, but then not get on ZOOM to immediately talk with Beth and Adam (and the occasional guest) about it!

The episode in question, “The Wizard of Fraggle Rock”, is a fun one. It’s a Wembley-centric plot, wherein our favorite indecisive dude wishes he got a bit more attention from those around him.

We find the Fraggles celebrating Trophy Day – which involves picking out their own trophies and cheering for one another. (Which I love, it’s so Fraggle-ish to decide what the trophy you’re receiving is for and then be cheered on by your pals.) When Wembley arrives, he admits he never knows what trophy to get because he’s “not good at anything.” So he ends up with the same trophy he always gets – Best Shirt With Banana Trees On It. (Which, hey, if it ain’t broke.)

Wembley wishes “I wasn’t even me” and then, as if on cue, it’s announced that the Wizard is coming! Everyone is so excited (though with a tinge of skepticism about how shady he is), and rushes to greet the Wizard. We’ve never seen the Wizard on this show (nor will we ever again), but it’s clear that this guy has rolled through the Rock more than once.

Enter the Wizard, who sings a killer song, “Is It True?” All props to Richard Hunt playing this character, it’s evident him and Steve had a lot of fun bouncing off one another and doing impersonations of each others’ characters.

The Wizard makes it clear right away that he doesn’t plan on staying long – just sing his song, do a couple magic tricks, then he’ll be on his way. We get a sense he needs to stay on the move but we don’t know why. But once he lays eyes on Wembley, he starts singing a different tune. The second he becomes interested in Wembley, I noticed how similar the two puppets look and realized we were getting into a Prince and the Pauper scenario. The two puppets are almost identical, except for some bags under the Wizard’s eyes.

After very little convincing, Wembley and the Wizard (who’s never given a real name) switch places. Wembley wants attention and the Wizard claims to want a quiet life, so it seems like the perfect solution. Everyone’s getting what they want. But of course there’s more to it than that. A creepy monster called the Poison Cackler is on the Wizard’s trail, and he’s switched with Wembley in the hopes that he’ll be safe from the Cackler.

The rest of the episode resolves itself as you would imagine – Wembley doesn’t get the level of attention he’s hoping for (his friends are much more worried about their pal Wembley, not the Wizard), he learns about the Cackler coming for him, the Cackler arrives, and then Wembley and the Wizard realize it just wants to eat the Wizard’s smoke pellets. And that’s kind of it.

The wrap up happens pretty quickly, and almost immediately Wembley’s friends realize they’ve been wrong. The Wizard decides to go into the Shirts with Banana Trees on Them business and give up the life of being a wizard. And, to the best of my knowledge, we never see him again. Goodbye, Wizard!

No Gorgs in this episode. We do get a lot of these terrific sequences with the Doozers though. Part of Wembley getting stuck as the Wizard is because they accidentally use this glue the Doozer’s are experimenting with to attach the beard to Wembley’s chin. We see the Doozers several times announcing that their Glue is still holding, until the end when they announce that the Glue test is a failure, and the beard falls off of Wembley’s chin.

Matt’s postcard is a quick, simple one – he notices some very silly hats that silly creatures wear (ie. hair salon driers), and he tries one out only to give himself a perm. This slightly ties into the theme of transformation. Then Doc finds a trunk in his attic full of his great great uncle’s old magic tricks. He and Sprocket attempt to do a trick where they tie themselves up and get free – only it, of course, goes terribly wrong and they both get stuck until Ned rescues them. There’s some ties there to Wembley being stuck as the Wizard once he wants his life back, and then of course the magic element (Wembley does an escape trip as the Wizard), but otherwise we don’t spend too much time with these two.

This is a solid episode through-and-through and has a nice message about being comfortable in your own skin and the dangers of wishing to switch places with those you admire. Wembley wants to be good at something, but it’s harder than he’s expecting to impress others with magic. He also wants his friends to pay more attention to him, but when he becomes this impressive figure they’re all too worried about their friend who seems to be sick. While it’s a good one, this episode definitely doesn’t pack the same punch as other Fraggle Rock episodes. Also, the resolve being that the Cackler just wants to eat the Wizard’s smoke pellets feels… strange? I thought they could’ve stuck the resolve a bit better. But still! Pretty good!

Strongest Moment: When Doc finds the trunk in the attic, there’s a picture of his great great uncle and his dog inside of it. We learn their names were The Great Doc and The Great Pooch, and it’s just an old timey photo of Gerard Parkes and the Sprocket puppet. It got a hearty guffaw out of me.

Weakest Moment: When the Fraggles are trying to convince “Wembley” to go for a walk to feel better, the Wizard says he doesn’t want to get others sick, to which Mokey exclaims, “Oh gee, an epidemic! We’ve never had one of those before!” And, look, I know epidemics and pandemics are different, but it still made me go, “MOKEY. NO.”

MVF (Most Valuable Fraggle): This one is a tie – both Wembley and the Wizard are MVF’s. You couldn’t do this episode without either of them!

First Appearance Of… the Poison Cackler. This is the only time we see a full grown one on this show, but we’ll see a baby Cackler at a later point.

Musical Highlight: Considering it’s the episode’s only song, “Is It True?” But also, what  jam!!

Coolest Puppetry Effect – There’s a moment when the Wizard (disguised as Wembley) is asleep on the top bunk, and Wembley (disguised as the Wizard) comes in and pulls his tail, and the Wizard falls out of bed and then bounces back up almost immediately. It’s all very seamless!

Darkest Moment: The Wizard convinces Wembley to become him despite believing that a Poison Cackler will… okay, it’s never really clear, but it’s implied it might eat Wembley??? That’s pretty dark, y’all.

Fraggle Lore: We now know about Trophy Day! Like most Fraggle Lore, I’m sure it doesn’t ever come back, but I’m still a big fan of the concept of picking your own trophy while being cheered on by your community.

Obscure Character Watch: Both the Wizard and his little acolyte (7-Words-Max).

One More Thing… The Poison Cackler puppet was reused in episode 101 of The Jim Henson Hour and the John Goodman episode of Muppets Tonight.

Okay, One More Thing… At the time of this review being published, we’ve only released the first episode of season 2 of the podcast Fraggle Talk. If you’ve been enjoying the 40 years of Fraggle Rock recap series here on ToughPigs, I highly recommend going onto your podcast listening app of choice and giving us a chance! We go deep on Fraggle Rock but also have a good time and joke around. It’s a hoot!!

Click here to start your own shirts with banana trees on them business on the ToughPigs Discord!

by Julia Gaskill

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