TV ALERT: Tonight, Tuesday, February 8, the PBS program Pioneers of Television will feature a spotlight on children's television pioneers--including Jim Henson. It's unknown how much of the episode will focus on Jim, but it's still bound to be a great television experience for Muppet fans! Check your local PBS station listings for time.
If there's one thing I love, it's Fraggle Rock. If there's two things I love, it's Fraggle Rock and pizza. New contributor Hilarie Mukavitz has written a brand new article about one of these things--bet you'll never guess which! We talk a lot about Fraggles around here... but we hardly ever get down to brass tax and talk about why the show is so great--and we almost never talk about why those Muppet fans who haven't seen the show definitely should. Fortunately for us, Hilarie's article covers both of those bases. But enough rambling from me... read on!
Why Fraggle Rock Is Even Better As an Adult
Hilarie Mukavitz - Revisiting a show you loved in your childhood can be dangerous. I've noticed 3 things tend to happen:
1. The show doesn't hold up at ALL and you wonder what you were thinking.
2. The show doesn't hold up well....but you still have a great deal affection for it because you liked it in your childhood.
3. The show DOES hold up, and you can appreciate it in ways you couldn't in your childhood.
Fortunately for me, Fraggle Rock definitely fell into the 3rd category. I was 5 when Fraggle Rock first aired on HBO. Monday used to be my favorite day of the week because that was when it was on. Re-watching the show in my 30's, I've been blown away at how well-crafted the show is. Here's a few examples:
No Villains, Just Misunderstandings
Very rarely will you see an actual villain in a Fraggle Rock episode. In episode 106 "The Preachification of Convincing John" Mokey's cause of the week is to convince the Fraggles not to eat the Doozer's constructions anymore. What Mokey doesn't realize is she's pretty much messing with the ecosystem of Fraggle Rock. When Fraggles don't eat the Doozer's constructions, the Doozers nearly need to move elsewhere so they can keep building, otherwise they will die. In other words, the cause of the conflict is Mokey... not because she is malicious, but because she didn't have all the information. I didn't really appreciate this at the time, but this is much more sophisticated writing than to just have some two dimensional villain of the week come in to cause the conflict.
Nothing Is More Important Than Music
On the Season 1 DVD extras, Jerry Juhl talks about how when they were looking for music for the series, initially they were inundated with your classic cutesy children's music. Then he heard the demo for the Phil Balsam and Dennis Lee song "Follow Me." He knew that was the right feel for the show.
The lyrics have a simplicity, without dumbing down or being cutesy. "Every sunrise shows me more and more, so much to explore, come and follow me." Balsam and Lee had an amazing output of songs in their 5 seasons on Fraggle Rock. There was a wide range of musical styles from folk to blues to New Orleans jazz. The lyrics are so solid, a lot of the songs could easily be performed in their own right.
Gobo Has a Crisis of Faith
Episode 301 "The Bells of Fraggle Rock" explores the different holidays that happen around the Winter Solstice. The Fraggle version is the Festival of the Bells. Every year at that time, the rock would "slow down" and the Fraggles would ring their bells to wake up the Great Bell in the heart of the rock. Gobo goes on a quest of sorts because he has doubts over whether the Great Bell actually exists. I'm sure as a child I just thought "Oh, it's a Fraggle Christmas episode." However as an adult I thought "Holy cow! Gobo's having a crisis of faith! ON A CHILDREN'S SHOW!" Somehow I can't imagine a theme with that sort of depth happening on most other children's shows of the era. "Papa Smurf? I don't smurf in the smurf anymore!"
Red Keeps Up With the Boys
Like many other little girls, Red was my favorite Fraggle. I was used to female characters that tended to be girly girls, princesses, or more of a side character. Red Fraggle was a definite first. What I loved about Red was she was right in the thick of things. She not only could keep up with Gobo, sometimes she'd win the competition. She was also way more like a lot of the girls around me. These days when I see Red I smile because she's so much like my sister and my niece.
The World Peace Message
Initially I was startled when I found out the main concept behind Fraggle Rock was to promote world peace. It was similar to the feeling I had when I found out the Narnia stories were actually about Christianity. "Wait... I just thought it was a great story... oooooh yeaaaaaaah!" You see the three interconnected, and frequently clashing cultures of the Gorgs, the Fraggles, and the Doozers. All sorts of heavy issues like war and the environment were tackled, without being preachy. It still was an entertaining children's show.
If you haven't already, I'd highly recommend checking out Fraggle Rock no matter what your age. Like all of the best of Henson's work, there is something in it for everyone.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier