ToughPigs Roundtable: Fraggle Rock – Back To The Rock

Published: March 7, 2022
Categories: Feature, Reviews

For the past 6 weeks we’ve been reviewing the first season of AppleTV+’s Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock. Not content with just a review each, we’ve asked everyone who looked at an episode to answer a few questions about the series as a whole!

There we have it, the first season of Fraggle Rock: Back To The Rock is finished.  What did you think?

Anthony Strand: I love it so much. We’ve all been saying it, but it’s astonishing how much it feels like the classic series. There are 109 episodes of Fraggle Rock now, and that’s an amazing gift.

Shane Keating: I heartily enjoyed it! It’s incredible how for years, we’ve had these rumblings of making a movie that sounded a lot like a knock-off of The Smurfs, but then they went and made a TV show instead and it came out great.

Jarrod Fairclough: I never thought we’d see the Fraggles again, considering the aforementioned Smurfs knockoff movie just got pushed back and pushed back and never came to be. So the fact we got a full season, let alone a GREAT one, is incredible. We’re truly in the golden age of the 80’s.

Staci Rosen: I really enjoyed this season! I always have a lot of questions about this world. (Where are the Fraggles’ family members, for example? Are all the Fraggles in Fraggle Rock or are there other Fraggle communities, like Fraggle Reef and Fraggle Estates?!)

Matthew Soberman: I was really impressed by how true it stayed to the spirit of the original series. I suppose I’m predisposed to assume any kind of “reboot” is a cynical cash grab (even when the people behind it have the best of intentions), but this felt not only honest, but incredibly relevant to today’s world.

JD Hansel: My jaw dropped so many times. Nothing could have prepared me for how much love, dedication, and thoughtfulness would be put into this show. All children’s television should be like this.

Joe Hennes: There’s no reason this should’ve worked.  With no Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, Jerry Nelson, or a slew of other important folks involved, a Fraggle Rock reboot should’ve been a massive failure.  And yet!  They not only pulled it off, but they did it in a way that somehow stays true to the original while allowing the franchise to grow.  What a gift to Henson fans everywhere!

Beth Cook: My document of notes for this roundtable is over 9,000 words long. So let’s just say that I loved it and have more articles in the works.

Julia Gaskill: I truly thought this series would never see the light of day and, if it did, would be just like the other reboots from our childhood that don’t stay true to the source material. I’m so relieved to have been wrong on both counts! This series is a wonder, brimming with so much beauty, heartfelt moments, and scenes that genuinely made me laugh out loud. I need season two, stat!

Ryan Roe: I hated it. Just kidding! I loved it, just like everyone else I know!

Was there anything you thought the show did better than the original?

Jarrod: The VFX were great, and by being so seamless it helped the storytelling because it wasn’t distracting, unlike the old series where occasionally you’d be taken out of it because the effects were clunky.

Staci: I am due for a rewatch of the original series, but I can say that with today’s high definition and the sharpness of our screens, it really brings this colorful world to life in a way that prior technologies couldn’t.

Beth: You know how in the 80s, “funny” dialogue meant everyone being mean to each other, even characters who were supposed to like and love each other? That’s gone, thank goodness. Red and Gobo feel like real friends instead of frenemies. Uncle Matt is less patronizing and more supportive of Gobo. Wembley and Gobo are each other’s biggest fans, whereas their relationship in the original felt lopsided. Red can even make her distaste for Traveling Matt’s postcards clear while not being (as) insulting.

JD: I actually think the visuals aren’t necessarily advanced or improved so much as they are simply modernized. The comedy, however, has been surprisingly kicked up a notch.

Shane: With the advancements in technology, the chroma-keying doesn’t look bad anymore.

Joe: I agree with everyone here talking about the technological improvements, but to piggyback on that idea to say: Camera angles.  The update in technology and filmmaking allows for a lot of different angles to help hide puppeteers, show off that incredible set, and really show off the scope (or claustrophobia) of the Rock.  The scenes in Doc’s workshop especially show off what those cameras can do.

Ryan: I agree with Joe’s take… One of the first things about the show that really struck me was how much more ambitious the filmmaking style is. The original series was mostly filmed in a “point and shoot,” almost sitcom style, but with the camera swooping and zooming, at times this one resembles a movie.

Matthew: I have to agree with everyone, and say it’s the visual effects. It feels like the technology has finally caught up with the concepts the original series was trying to achieve.

Julia: I agree that the updating / modernizing of the technology has done so much for the viewing experience. Particularly, I was blown away by the Gorg facial tech – how far it’s come to give us such smooth, lifelike expressions! Also, I really love the character development they gave Junior as a whole, getting to see him as a nurturer in his garden really added so much more depth.

Anthony: The Doozers move so smoothly, and their entire world seems so much bigger and more expansive. The Doozers on this show are the version that only existed in our heads back in the ‘80s.

Do you have a favorite new character?

Matthew: Would it be weird to say Doc? I loved Gerry Parkes’ performance, but I really think they’ve expanded what the character can be with Lilli Cooper’s portrayal. I think they’ve given her a purpose with her quest to solve the microplastics problem, while demonstrating just how challenging it can be to change the world.

Beth: Archivist5ever

JD: We’ve gotten so many great new characters who haven’t gotten enough love, but the one who stands out to me the most is Lyle Craggle. What a swell guy.

Jarrod: I truly hated Icy Joe at the end of her episode, but by keeping her around in the background and using her sparingly I came to adore the squinty eyed giant.

Anthony: Definitely Icy Joe. It’s so much fun to see Karen Prell get a new recurring role, especially one who’s so unhinged.


Julia: I’m in agreement with Matthew, I found myself excited everytime we got to see what Doc was up to in every episode!

Staci: I really find this version of a Mokey to be a delight. Not only do I love her redesign, but I think her personality is totally a “type” that I recognize and I think she is vital to her community.

Ryan: No one else has said it yet, so I gotta say: BARRY BLUEBERRY! He has a little bit of Guy Smiley energy, which was a hoot.

Shane: I really liked the look of the Mantivore puppet.

What didn’t it get right compared to the original series?

Ryan: I definitely think the Gorgs were given the short shrift, which is ironic because they’re so tall. But it seems to me that a new viewer coming to Back to the Rock without having seen the old series would barely have a sense of the whole “They’re the rulers of the universe” thing. And it’s odd that Ma and Pa are almost always seen in the window or on the tower. Are those puppets not to scale with Junior???

Joe: The new songs were pretty good, but they weren’t Fraggle songs, if that makes any sense.  It’s impossible to expect that any songwriting team would be up to the standards of Philip Balsam and Dennis Lee, but hearing the new songs next to the classic ones really showcases how great the music used to be.

Beth: The lighting of Fraggle Rock itself threw me. Something about the way the caves are lit—especially Gobo and Wembley’s cave—makes the depth perception feel way off.

Shane: The Gorgs, I think. Junior was handled fine, but Ma and Pa were barely around and felt more one-dimensional. On the old show, they felt like giant, furry versions of the Three Stooges and that kind of dynamic doesn’t seem to exist here.

Staci: I agree with Shane. I mentioned in my review that I felt like there wasn’t enough exposition with the Gorgs and wondered if writers relied on return viewers being able to fill in the gaps.

Julia: I would’ve liked to see a bit more development in some of the relationships between the main Fraggle squad – but there were only 13 episodes, so I recognize there’s hopefully gonna be a lot more chances to get to those in upcoming relationships.

Jarrod: Obviously we’re only 13 episodes in, so it may be addressed more in potential future episodes, but the dynamics between some of the Fraggle five weren’t established as well as they were in the original, where each had a specific way of being with each of the others.

Matthew: Junior Gorg’s eyes are too small. There. I finally said it.

JD: Thank you, Matthew, for finally saying it. In the same spirit of honesty, I’ll confess that I live in constant fear of the new Junior puppet.

Anthony: I think Lilli Cooper is excellent as Doc, and she has great chemistry with Sprocket. But that’s the one place where I think the increased serialization just doesn’t work. Doc’s quest to eradicate microplastics is a noble goal, but it also isn’t interesting enough to sustain all the attention it gets here. I would much rather have seen Doc and Sprocket have a new story every week.

What was your favorite episode?

Jarrod: The first one, if only because it was the moment I realized we were in for a treat!

JD: It’s a tough choice. Maybe “The Glow.” It’s weird and audacious in a way I can’t quite seem to wrap my head around, but that’s part of its power. It has a way of staying with you.

Staci: I really loved “Deep Dive” and was so glad I got to review it. Red was so relatable in that one!

Matthew: My personal favorite is probably “Into the Trash.” I love its expansive trash set, the Foo Fighters appearance, and the message that a good bowl of soup can solve anything.

Joe: Don’t make me choose.  Okay, I’ll choose.  “Red and the Big Jump” literally had my jaw on the floor.  I still can’t believe they pulled off such a heavy and important subject in a Fraggle show.

Ryan: “Flight of the Flutterflies” might be the one that felt most like it could have been an unused script from the original series that they just pulled out of a drawer.

Shane: I also liked “Flight of the Flutterflies,” loved the message and the groovy music.

Beth: It’s so hard to choose between “The Glow” and “Flight of the Flutterflies” because they both spoke to me so much.

Julia: It’s repetitive, sure, but “The Glow” and “Flight of the Flutterflies” are both amazing.

Anthony: “Flight of the Flutterflies,” which I’ll definitely be watching every year on New Day’s Day.

Was there a song from the show that was stuck in your head for days?

Julia: I really loved “One Heart” in the last episode. It had all the good feels I associate with pretty much any Henson-based property.

Beth: When my singing teacher asked what song I wanted to work on next, I immediately sent her the new “Chase the Wind,” but “The Legend of Icy Joe” and “New Day’s Day” are also frequently stuck in my head. Oh, and you cannot convince me that the “So good! So good! So good!” in “New Day’s Day” isn’t a tongue-in-cheek nod to “Sweet Caroline” where it’s not actually in the song but is such a quintessential part of singing along.

Ryan: “New Day’s Day” was catchy!

Joe: The same songs that got stuck in my head from the original series continued to earworm in this one.  “Follow Me”, “Shine On Us Now”, “Go with the Flow”, and of course, that classic theme song.

Jarrod: ‘Party In Fraggle Rock’ is a banger and has been stuck in my head for 24 years. (Greetings from 2046 – things do NOT get better)

Matthew: Maybe it’s because of its early release, but “Party in Fraggle Rock” is incredibly catchy. (Puts self in cryogenic chamber until 2046 to annoy Jarrod.)

Staci: While I appreciated all the songs, none of them stuck with me beyond the episode, but I admit I was singing along to “One Heart” during the finale credits (subtitles for the win!).

Anthony: Two songs are very special to me for the same reason: the new versions of “Chase the Wind” in episode 4 and “Once Upon a Time (I Knew My Name)” in episode 11. What a gift that we get to hear Dave Goelz and Karen Prell sing classic songs from the original series that they didn’t sing the first time.

Shane: “There’s a Lot I Want to Know”; I’m so glad they brought that crazy tongue-twister of a song back.

JD: “Chase the Wind.” The lyrics mean almost nothing, but they feel like they mean everything, and that’s the way Fraggle music works. I love it.

Jarrod: Nearly every episode felt like it stood on its own, while it told a bigger story. That’s what they needed to do in this format, because telling just one overarching story would have felt like Breaking Bad, and as much as I wanna see Wembley yell ‘I’m the one who knocks!’ let’s not go down that route. Unless not until season 3.

Staci: I love that it was serialized. I think it’s easier to get invested in a new universe when you feel the stakes of what’s going on.

Matthew: It doesn’t really feel heavily serialized until you get to “Craggle Lagoon,” and then it becomes really obvious. I think I would’ve preferred a shorter run of directly-connected episodes (where the events of one lead right into the plot of another), but as it stands, it’s not awful.
JD: It feels like Fraggle Rock should have always been this way. Now I find Fraggle Rock: TOS oddly disconnected for a show that’s supposed to be all about connection. Admittedly, certain new episodes like “Legend of Icy Joe” feel like they can’t pick an idea while they’re trying to manage so much story stuff at once, with the Gorg fountain exposition crammed into an episode where it doesn’t belong simply because it’s plot exposition and it has to go somewhere. Nevertheless, this format allows for far more thorough explorations of its ideas, and I think that’s exactly what a show about bringing “peace to the world” needs.

Beth: Loved it. The main idea of interconnectedness is so much clearer when the show is serialized, and I’m astounded that they pulled off in one season what TOS did in five. I’m willing to bet Doc’s story is based on the students who really DID discover plastics-eating bacteria, and I can’t wait to see (fingers crossed) how her story develops—I want to see her get that doctorate!

Julia: I’m in agreement that I think the showrunners and writers made it work really well. I liked there being a throughline for the season, while also allowing most of the episodes, especially in the first half of the season, to still feel stand alone.

Ryan: It worked really well, mostly. Unlike the HBO days, or the TNT/Disney Channel/Odyssey Channel rerun days, it’s unlikely that anyone will stumble upon a random episode of the series. Viewers are going to watch this season on Apple TV+, in order, so it makes a certain amount of sense to serialize it. And most of the episodes have their own beginning, middle, and end, which is better than I can say for many streaming series these days.

Shane: It didn’t even occur to me that they would go this route, but given it’s the way we consume our media these days, it worked out pretty well. To me, a lot of shows that do the “drop the whole season at once” thing end up feeling like “a movie chopped into six-eight parts,” whereas this season actually felt like individual episodes that can stand apart (sort-of).
Anthony: I thought it struck a really good balance. There’s a through-line running through the season, and it gets more serialized towards the end, but every episode still has a concrete story. It’s not suddenly The Wire.

Joe: I admit, I miss the done-in-one aspect of the show, especially since every current show that exists needs to be a part of a larger story arc to keep viewers coming back week-to-week.  The new show handled the serialization wonderfully, but that’s just an aspect of classic TV that I’m nostalgic for.

What did you think of the celebrity voice cast (Daveed Diggs, Ed Helms etc)?  Was it necessary?

JD: They’re here to calm the Apple executives, so they’re necessary to get the green light, but that’s it. I don’t accept that Muppets should never be voiced by anyone other than their puppeteers–that sounds arbitrary to me–but I do think some of the non-puppeteers fail to dub over their characters as convincingly as, say, Dave Goelz, which is to be expected.

Anthony: Absolutely not necessary. Those roles could have been played by puppeteers and the show would have been just as good. That said, all of the celebrity voices do a good job, and most of them weren’t distracting. 
Shane: I agree with Anthony, not necessary in the least, but they weren’t distracting enough to ruin anything. That said, Kenan Thompson talk-singing “Ball of Fire” was lame.

Beth: Spoiler alert for an upcoming podcast episode, but the celebrity voice actors actually contributed heavily to the design of their characters! So was it necessary? No. Was it nevertheless “pretty dang cool” in the words of the Archivist? Yes.

Julia: The celebrities weren’t necessary, of course, but I really didn’t mind them. It’s not like having substitute voices in anything new – I think of Emmett Otter’s Ma and a whole bunch of voices for The Dark Crystal. Plus I think the showrunners struck a good balance of having a handful of familiar voices but not too many that it felt overcrowded. If this is a move they have to make for future seasons, I’d be down for it still!

Jarrod: I hated it. Muppets should never have voices that aren’t the performers themselves. All of them sounded fine, but I was also very aware that it was Ed Helms and not whoever the puppeteer happened to be. Less of this moving forward, please.

Joe: It’s reasonably cool to have celebrities out there tweeting or talking in interviews about their time on Fraggle Rock, but aside from the minor social media buzz, there’s really no reason for it.  I’d have much rather seen celebrity puppeteers come in for one-off characters, like how Jim Henson would appear from time to time as Cantus or Convincing John.  Let’s see a new Joey Mazzarino Fraggle, or Leslie Carrara as a Doozer, or a special appearance by a Bill Barretta Gorg.

Ryan: I could have done without it. I’m trying to think if there were any characters who were really enhanced by having celebrity voices, and I can’t come up with anything. Cynthia Erivo was pretty good as the Archivist, though.

Matthew: Did it need celebrity voices? No. Did it detract from my enjoyment of the series? Also no. I found them to be mostly harmless.

Staci: I’m with everyone else on this. I don’t think this needed celebrity voices at all.

While all excellent, was there a particular recast you enjoyed?

Matthew: I’ll be blunt: when you recast a Steve Whitmire character, you’re likely going to rub some fans the wrong way. But Jordan Lockhart managed to make it a seamless transition as he took over performing Wembley. He has the character’s energy down pat, and I found that to be incredibly impressive.

Julia: I’ve yelled about this on Twitter way too much already, but I think Lilli Cooper is a dream as Doc. And I would often forget that Wembley and Mokey were recast, Jordan Lockhart and Donna Kimball are that good. And y’know, major props to John Tartaglia too while we’re at it. He brought so much warmth and heart to Gobo.

Joe: I was wary about the new Junior Gorg, especially because he looks so different from his original design.  But Dan Garza (with Ben Durocher) did an incredible job, and gave Junior some real layers that I wasn’t expecting.  Plus, he’s more cuddly now.

Staci: Since I already talked about Mokey, I’ll talk about Doc. I already was a fan of Lilli Cooper’s from seeing her on Broadway in SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical and then again in Tootsie. Despite her stage background, I didn’t think she overacted, and to the contrary I enjoyed some of her more understated moments that relied more on subtle body language and facial expressions.

JD: I honestly prefer Donna’s Mokey voice over Kathryn’s. Is that weird?

Anthony: I have to give a shoutout to Donna Kimball, who somehow channels both Mokey and Cotterpin perfectly.

Beth: Most of the time, I completely forgot that 3/5 of the main characters are voiced by different people, and that’s incredible. Lilli Cooper can have my entire heart.

Jarrod: Donna Kimball has made a deal with a seawitch to steal Kathryn Mullen’s voice, and you can’t convince me otherwise.

What would you like to see in future seasons of the show, if in fact there are future seasons?

Jarrod: I’d like to see more interactions between the three species, Fraggle, Doozer and Gorg, working together like they did towards the end of the original series. Maybe get Sprocket into the Rock to give them a hand. And more unlikely pairings, let’s see what Mokey and the World’s Oldest Fraggle get up to on an adventure together?

Julia: I’d love to see Sprocket interact more directly with the Fraggles! I loved watching him and Doc together and want more of that, and of course you can’t incorporate the workshop with the Rock right away, but I think by season two it’d be nice to get an episode that’s more Sprocket-centric!

Ryan: Expanding Doc’s world a little, like they did in later seasons of the original series, would be nice. I’d love to see more of the Gorg’s world beyond their immediate homestead. And I assume this won’t happen, but I want to know where the pink goo came from!

Beth: More of: the Great Wembleded’s magic tricks, Icy Joe character development, the Storyteller and her beau, Doozer holidays, the 30-minute work week (my little anticapitalist heart needs to see more of how this society functions), Barry Blueberry’s drawings, the Ceremonial Choosing Sound, outfits (Inspector Red, Referee Boober, Doctor Boober, Helmet Appreciation Day), absurd and elaborate plans (Wembley in “The Glow”, Wembley/Boober/Gobo in “Deep Dive,” Red in “All of Us”)! But what about??: Junior dealing with his emotionally abusive father… And I know Doc Bot wasn’t good at taking care of Sporklet Sprocket, but I’d love to see it helping out around the lab. And I want to hear how Matt invented pudding!!

Joe: More non-Fraggle residents of Fraggle Rock!  There are so many weird characters that could potentially pop up, and most of the ones we met were subsects of the Fraggles (i.e. Craggles and Merggles).  The Mantivore really stuck out as something special, and I want more of that.

Staci: Other than more Gorg exposition, I’d like more Boober. I know he was the star of the finale and he was featured in “The Glow,” but somehow he still felt like more of a tertiary character than the others to me. This might have something to do with Dave Goelz not being on set. 

Anthony: I’d love to see them bring back one of the real existential dread-infused classic songs like “Dixie Wailin’” or “The Ballad of Sir Blunderbrain.” Also my favorite creepy weirdo Marlon Fraggle. Where’s that guy hiding out?

Matthew: I touched on it in my review of “The Giggle Gaggle Games,” but I really would like to see Doc interact with the characters beyond her workshop. I know that Doc finally meeting the Fraggles was sort of the climax of the original season, but I think it would be interesting to see her become more involved earlier on in the run. Frankly, I’m just itching for a Doc/Cotterpin team-up episode!
JD: I’d like two Wander McMooch appearances. One at each size, please.

Okay, just one more thing; Any last thoughts?

Anthony: My kids (ages 3 and 7) both enjoy Fraggle Rock, and since the new series dropped, we’ve been going back and forth between new and classic episodes. It doesn’t faze them at all. It’s just all Fraggle Rock. I think that’s just about the best compliment the show could receive. 

Shane: There are Inkspots in nearly every shot and I love it.

Staci: Can’t wait until they come back and instruct me to postpone my worries for another day!

Jarrod: Bravo to the team who put together a basically perfect reboot of what was already a basically perfect TV show.  All credit to the writers and directors and performers and builders and set designers and to Junior Gorg who is actually real and not a puppet.

Matthew: I think that this and The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance show that The Jim Henson Company can still work wonders with puppets, especially with the help (and budget) of a major studio. Here’s hoping Apple TV+ or another studio sees the magic of this series and helps them keep the impressive work coming!

JD: I miss the cinematographic language of Fraggle Rock: TOS and the musical timbre that went with it. I need my dissolving pedestal shots, underscored by synth vibes and dreamy guitars. Back to the Rock doesn’t recreate that aesthetic or capture that feeling, but what it does is such an accomplishment. I’m blown away by the technical feats of its cinematography and the emotionality of its stories every time. I want more, please!

Joe: I’m just so glad this show exists, and we get the opportunity to go Back to the Rock.  Hey, that’s the name of the show!

Beth: “Why do you go away? So that you can come back. So that you can see the place you came from with new eyes and extra colors. And the people there see you differently, too. Coming back to where you started is not the same as never leaving.” (Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky)

Julia: More Pogey in season two, please.

Ryan: I’m SO relieved this show is actually good!

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