Today: Episode 3 — “Let the Water Run”
So let’s say you’re writing an episode of Fraggle Rock. How would you get started? Well, if you’re Jocelyn Stevenson, who wrote the final episode on this Fraggle Rock DVD, then you start it like this.
Doc is up on a ladder, working on the water heater in the workshop. He wipes off a pipe with a rag, but then the rag slips out of his hand and falls smack onto the head of Sprocket, who’s waiting below. “Nice catch, Sprocket!” Doc calls cheerily, as Sprocket does a slow take to the camera. “Now hand me that adjustable wrench, will you?” Sprocket breathes a heavy sigh, shakes the rag off his head, and grabs the wrench for Doc.
And that’s how you write a TV show, if you start with completely adorable characters like Doc and Sprocket. The first item on your outline is “Impossibly Cute Sprocket Moment.” Which can’t be that hard to write, because Sprocket is impossibly cute. Once you’ve got that out of your way, then you’re off, and from there it probably pretty much writes itself.
At least, that’s what I’m imagining right now. I’m very envious of other writers at the moment, because they don’t have to do what I have to do, which is to go out in front of people and criticize a Fraggle Rock episode.
That’s a hard thing to do, because here I’ve been watching this all week, and obviously really enjoying it all over again. Plus, this episode is so sweet and well-meaning that criticizing it feels like poking at a bunny with a stick just to make it jump.
Then again, what did the bunny ever do for me. Gimme that stick.
Here’s the plot of the episode: Doc fixes the water heater. (You’re riveted already, aren’t you? You’ve moved to the edge of your seat.) Meanwhile, Red is putting on a swimming show for the Fraggles, and Pa Gorg is taking a bath. (See what I mean? You might want to make out your will before you watch this episode, just in case you die from the excitement. This is gonna be twenty-two minutes of pure bath-taking action.)
In this episode, we see that the water connects the three worlds — the workshop, the Fraggles and the Gorgs. Junior Gorg pumps the water from the well, which drains the Fraggles’ swimming hole. To get more water, the Fraggles bang on the pipes, which lead down from Doc’s workshop. Doc hears the pipes banging, and he turns on more water — giving the Fraggles and Gorgs a fresh water supply.
Now, that is a brilliant premise — that the different critters are interdependent on each other, in ways that they don’t even recognize. They created a very complicated little toy ecosystem for this show, and over the course of the series you find out how all the connections work — the Doozers can’t make Doozer sticks without the Gorgs’ radishes, but the Gorgs can’t water their radishes without Doc’s water, which they wouldn’t get without the Fraggles’ pipe-banging. It’s both an environmental message and a cross-cultural one — you can’t hurt one group, or one part of the planet, without ultimately hurting everybody, even if you don’t know all the connections between the thing you’re hurting and the things you care about.
It starts strong, with a spunky song by Red, and then a funny Gorg scene with Pa playing general. Then Ma says that it’s time for Pa’s bath, and Junior goes out to the well to pump the water.
It’s at this moment that inspiration starts to fail, and you get dialogue like this:
Mokey: I just love the Pipe-bangers, don’t you?
Wembley: Well… yes, I do!
Mokey: I love the way they bang the pipes!
Wembley: Bang the pipes!
Mokey: And then the water rushes —
Mokey: Into the pool…
Mokey: Oh, it’s so, it’s so…
Mokey: Wet! Yes. Thank you.
Wembley: Oh, look! Here come the Pipe-bangers!
Which is sort of, essentially, thanks for playing. And then the Pipe-bangers make their big entrance, which is basically the first slow moment of the entire DVD. For a minute and a half, they do nothing but bang the pipes, and then Doc turns off the water, and the Fraggles wait around for the water that doesn’t come. They don’t even have an up-tempo song to sing or anything.
They just wait… and that pretty much sums up the next fifteen minutes. Junior goes to the well for another bucketful of water, but the well’s run dry. He tells Ma that there’s no more water, but Ma tells him there must be water. He walks out to the well and pumps again, but there’s no water. He comes back into the house to tell Ma. Pa tells Junior that there’s always water, and sends Junior back out. At a certain point, it starts to look like the whole rest of the episode is just going to be Junior walking from the well to the house and back again.
Then we cut back to the Fraggles, and Red is in despair — without any water, she can’t do her swimming show. She leans up against the wall and sighs. To pass the time, Gobo reads her a postcard from Traveling Matt, in which Matt discovers that opening umbrellas makes it rain. Red’s desperate to get an umbrella, and Gobo says that he’s seen one in “outer space,” so Red goes up to the workshop to get one. Then she has to dither back and forth around the hole, because she’s too scared to go out, and she has to ask Gobo to go get the umbrella for her. He does, and then the Pipe-banger bangs the pipe with it. This sequence lasts approximately forever.
I’m not deliberately trying to be contrary or anything, but this episode doesn’t have the same kind of juice for me that the other two did. I think my problem is that despite the various activities going on, the characters aren’t actually doing anything about the problem. The only real action in the episode is that Gobo steals Doc’s umbrella. Besides that, everybody is just standing around and waiting for the water to come back — especially Junior, who is literally doing exactly that.
At the end of the episode, Doc turns the water back on, and everybody has water again. Red gets her swimming show, and Pa Gorg gets his bath. Red and Gobo think that getting the umbrella solved everything, but really they could have just waited around for a while and done nothing, and Doc would have turned it back on anyway.
As far as I’m concerned, this whole episode is just series bible stuff. The interconnection of all the species is very clever, but it’s background — and illustrating it like this doesn’t make for an inspired episode. This is sort of a land use survey of Fraggle Rock, and not really an exciting adventure.
It’s nice to establish that this is the way the world works, but there’s a lot more fun to be had than you can find in this episode. That’s why we need more episodes to be released on DVD, so we can see what other stories can be told here.
Hey, HIT Entertainment! We’ve watched these three episodes now; we’re done with them! Can we have another DVD, please? Soon?
I’ll just sit here and bang pipes until I get one, so you might as well hurry up.
by Danny Horn