May 26, 2012
My Favorite Thing(s) About Fraggle Rock, Part 1
Is it any wonder that I'm starting here? On this, probably my third or fourth viewing of the entire series, I came to the realization that there is not a single prominent character on Fraggle Rock that I do not adore. From the main characters like Wembley, Boober, and Junior Gorg to secondary characters like Cotterpin Doozer, Convincing John, and Large Marvin and even tertiary characters like Felix the Fearless, Architect Doozer, and Sidebottom--all of these joyous characters are flawlessly written, hysterical, touching, and undeniably enjoyable from the start to the finish of the series. Who doesn't love Gobo, Mokey, Red, Cantus, Pa Gorg, Marjory the Trash Heap, Philo, Gunge, or any of the characters here?
Arguably the best part about Fraggle Rock is watching these characters interact. Whether it's Philo and Gunge being hilariously obnoxious, Mokey being sweet and loving with grumpy Boober, Red running amok with Cotterpin Doozer, Junior driving Pa Gorg nuts, Traveling Matt's ineptitude causing Gobo trifles, or Wembley being hysterical with absolutely anyone, the interactions of characters is what makes Fraggle Rock such a treat. I dare you to watch the entirety of Season 1's "Marooned" and not be moved by the journey of Red and Boober, who go from total opposites to more than understanding one another, but relying on each other.
One can't discuss the characters of Fraggle Rock without mentioning Doc and Sprocket. Sprocket, the pantomime dog, and Doc, the charming and bumbling inventor, bookended every episode of the show and were not charged with carrying any of the emotional weight--at least not most of it. Yet the relationship between these two is so beautiful that it becomes something more than just man and dog. Sprocket is clearly Doc's closest companion--and who wouldn't want a dog like Sprocket as their best friend? His impression of Doc's neighbor Ned Shimmelfinny is enough to sell Sprocket... but of course there's a lot more to him. He's loyal, smart, stubborn, and wonderful. Doc--brilliantly played by Gerry Parks--is forgetful and oblivious and delightful to watch and the perfect partner for Sprocket. Talk about man's best friend... and dog's.
Another thing that I discovered on this run through the series is my love for Richard Hunt on Fraggle Rock. He performed Junior Gorg's voice and face, Gunge, and a whole host of random Fraggles and creatures, including the Wizard and the Mean Genie. Yes, I love Richard on The Muppet Show and on Sesame Street, but it wasn't until watching the series this time that I realized how fantastic he was on Fraggle Rock. The personality he brought to Junior Gorg is unparalleled and might just be his greatest character. I found myself looking forward to the Junior-centric episodes more than almost any other character (except maybe Wembley) because I knew I would laugh out loud multiple times. Junior's episodes are true classics: "The Garden Plot" in Season 1 where the Fraggles convince Junior he's dead; "Bored Stiff" in Season 3 where Gobo and Junior have to save the Fraggles; "Junior Faces the Music" in Season 4 where Cantus imparts wisdom to the Gorg; and, my personal favorite: "The Battle of Leaking Roof" in Season 3 where Pa and Junior try to fix the castle roof. But Junior's crowning achievement (pun definitely intended) is Season 4's "The Gorg Who Would Be King," which follows Junior into Fraggle Rock where he learns about the inter-connectivity of the world. I love Junior Gorg... and I love Richard Hunt. Fraggle Rock wouldn't be the same without him.
One can't mention Richard Hunt's Fraggle Rock contributions without mentioning Jim Henson's as well. Jim was not a regular on the series, leaving it to his trusted team to create magic--which they clearly did. But at least twice every season, Jim would come to play and bring to life two of his greatest characters: Cantus the Minstrel and Convincing John. Nearly everyone will talk about these great Jim characters... but I want to focus on one episode in particular: "The Secret Society of Poohbahs" from Season 3. Yes, Jim loved to balance the sentimental with the silly, but there's no denying that the silly almost always took over. Nowhere is this more true than in "The Secret Society of the Poohbahs." I won't spoil the episode if you haven't seen it, but it is perhaps my favorite Fraggle Rock episode and Jim Henson makes it so. Hearing Convincing John read off the Poohbah role call will forever be hysterical to me. Present with an exclamation!
Gobo's Uncle Traveling Matt (as Wembley loves to call him) is another one of the best things about Fraggle Rock. His postcards are such a delight in every episode that I'm surprised Traveling Matt never received his own spin-off series. I could watch Matt ride a roller coaster, imitate a pig, or wrestle a lawn plant all day every day. Dave Goelz created such a brilliantly funny and idiotically charming character. One of the many things I love about Matt is his voice. I can't even explain why... because it is so difficult to talk about what makes voices so special... but when Traveling Matt gets flustered and his voice gets high and freaked out, it's pure magic. I also love the way he says, "The other daaaaaaay..." Uncle Traveling Matt is the charming idiot savant who asserts that he is a hero to Fraggle kind (and maybe he is)--and hilarious to boot.
But my favorite character on Fraggle Rock is, without a doubt, Wembley Fraggle. What Wembley does throughout the series is just amazing. Even the second episode of the show, "Wembley and the Gorgs" implies that Wembley is the smartest, most accepting of all the Fraggles. Wembley may be the most naive, the most indecisive, the most wacky... but he also proves that he is the bravest, smartest, and noblest of the Fraggles. Wembley sees the worth in the Gorgs, he sings with Cotterpin Doozer, he raises a baby tree creature, he disproves the Wizard, he fights the Mean Genie, and grapples with mortality with a Mudbunny. Steve Whitmire is the only performer who could have brought Wembley to such wonderful life. The sounds he has Wembley make, the songs he sings, the faces he creates, the complete insanity and giddiness he instilled in Wembley all prove why Steve and Wembley are inseparable. If I had to pick one Wembley episode as my favorite, I think it would have to be Season 3's "Wembley's Wonderful Whoopee Water." The spectrum of emotion that Wembley goes through in this episode is magnificent. Wembley is undeniably one of Steve Whitmire's greatest characters.
And yet, all of the prominent characters on Fraggle Rock are some of their respective performers' bests. Jerry Nelson hit the trifecta with three main characters, each as wonderful as the other, with Gobo Fraggle, Pa Gorg, and Marjory the Trash Heap; three vastly different characters that prove the always impressive variety that Jerry is capable of. Mokey Fraggle and Cotterpin Doozer show us why Kathy Mullen is such a performing force to be reckoned with. Mokey is honest and real and wonderful while Cotterpin in headstrong and stubborn and smart as a tack. The crazy talent of Karen Prell was released through Red Fraggle whose rambunctious tenacity stole the show nearly every episode. Dave Goelz had Boober Fraggle, Large Marvin, Philo, and World's Oldest Fraggle along with Traveling Matt, Steve Whitmire performed Sprocket, Wembley, and a variety of characters, and they all brought to life an entirely new world.
This world, populated with Fraggles and Doozers and Gorgs and Silly Creatures and Hairy Monsters, still holds up wonderfully today. If you haven't seen it, get out there and find yourself some Fraggle Rock as soon as possible. You are truly missing out on some of the greatest Muppet characters that Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl, and the Muppet performers ever created.
The Muppet Mindset by Ryan Dosier, firstname.lastname@example.org