30 Years Late to the Fraggle Party

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The following article was originally posted on Mary Arlene’s new blog, Frog Quixote.  Mary is an old friend of The Muppet Mindset, and we’re excited to see where she takes this new website.  With her appealing writing style, we’re sure she’s going to be a success in this fandom.

Mary Arlene – When I was a kid, my family had access to three TV channels: ABC, NBC, and PBS (which was really grainy).  We couldn’t afford cable.  At the time, it kind of bothered me, but in retrospect, I have very few regrets about not having cable as a kid (I don’t have it now, either, and I find I don’t miss it).

One regret I do have, however, is missing out on Fraggle Rock as a kid.  Since I was born in 1980, I would have been right at the perfect age for it when it debuted in 1983.  We did, however, somehow obtain a subscription to the Weekly Reader series of picture books, though I’m not entirely sure how that happened, whether my mom made a splurge or we had a sympathetic family friend who was willing to act as a benefactor…maybe Santa Claus did it; I don’t know.

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So that was my introduction to Fraggle Rock.  I loved those books; they were a good, solid introduction to the characters and the world and the whole cultural enviroment of Fraggle Rock.  The fact that they came to us via subscription was neat too; it was sort of like having a birthday every month.  I think my mom really loved reading them to us too (“us” meaning me and my younger brother); I got a kick a few years ago when my parents were visiting me in my old apartment, and I don’t remember specifically what triggered it, but we were playing cards, and for some reason my mom quoted at me, “Don’t worry, Mokey.  I’ll protect you!”  (A quote from the book Best Friends, although it definitely sounds like a line from the episode “Wonder Mountain.”)

So I became acquainted with the Fraggles through the books, but I only got to see them on TV twice: once, circa 1986-87, I was visiting at the house of a friend whose family DID have cable, and I saw one complete episode of Fraggle Rock: “Let the Water Run,” which I enjoyed very much, and it stuck with me for a long time after that.  Then, of course, the Fraggles appeared in “A Muppet Family Christmas” and sang “Pass It On.”  But that was pretty much it for me, as far as Fraggles went, for about 30 years.

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When I started getting involved in the online Muppet fan community circa 2011, I saw all these conversations that people were having about Fraggle Rock, and all their references and inside jokes that I didn’t understand, and their quoting song lyrics that I didn’t know…it made me feel kind of resentful.  I felt like everybody was having a big Fraggle party that I wasn’t invited to, and I was left out in the cold looking in.

Well, the 30th anniversary DVD set of Fraggle Rock came out right before my 33rd birthday, which meant that the previous DVD set had now been reduced in price so that I could justify the expense of buying it.  So I splurged on it as a birthday present to myself, and binge-watched it over the course of the entire weekend after my birthday (it was on a Friday that year).

It may well have been the best birthday I’ve ever had.

My first impression was that, for a 30-year-old TV show, it has stood up well to the test of time.  Granted, some of the Doc-and-Sprocket things are a little dated–I have to smile when Doc gets a new computer and brags that it has “64 kilobytes of RAM!”–but the Fraggles themselves are more or less timeless.

Another thing that impressed me is that, for all its silliness, Fraggle Rock is actually quite sophisicated–the concept, the writing, the special effects,  but particularly the music.  I find it a bit unfortunate that the one song that everybody knows from Fraggle Rock is the theme song–which, in my opinion, is a bit overexposed. Even though I didn’t get to watch Fraggle Rock as a kid, I could still sing the theme song–it was that ubiquitous. The music from the show is so varied and eclectic–it’s sort of like a box of chocolates; you never know what you’re going to get, but you know it will be delicious.  My family are all singers, and it’s too bad that we didn’t get to watch Fraggle Rock together and add those songs to our repertoire.

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The thing that struck me perhaps most of all is how daring and honest Fraggle Rock is.  In spite of the fact that we only had three channels, I watched a lot of TV in the ’80s, and it was all very formulaic and sort of artificial.  I’d say that Fraggle Rock seems ahead of its time, but even by today’s standards some of the things would be edgy–like the Fraggles’ preoccupation with death.  But then, Fraggle Rock is a dangerous place to live.  If the Fraggles aren’t being thumped by Gorgs or menaced by Poison Cacklers or Invisible Garboils, they have to worry about more mundane hazards like rockslides and pebble pox.  So maybe it isn’t surprising, then, that they’re so casual and matter-of-fact about death.  It’s fascinating to me that, despite all the gravitas about it, Fraggle Rocknevertheless manages to be so lighthearted and fun and silly.  Maybe “joyful” is the word I’m searching for here.  In my experience, you can’t experience the deepest joy unless you’ve also tasted the deepest sorrow.

For my part, I want to make Fraggle Fridays a recurring feature here, but I’m not sure what to do with it.  Initially, I was going to do synopses and commentary on every episode, in order, but that sounds like an awful lot of work.  I’ll just have to make like a Fraggle and figure it out as I go along.

And like a Fraggle, let’s finish things off with a song:

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