Back in the spring, the Henson Company released the clunkily titled short-form series “Fraggle Rock: Rock On!” I reviewed the first episode and didn’t expect to watch any more, but someone kept posting bootleg copies on the Cave-In Discord server. Curiosity got the best of me, and since each episode is less than 10 minutes long, I thought, “What the hey?” and watched them all.
I said before that the new series seems consistent with the first one. Let me unpack that a little and explain what I mean. One thing that really impresses me about the original Fraggle Rock is that it always gets a very clear point across in a subtle way, without being overbearing or condescending. The new series, especially the first three episodes, is very effective at conveying messages about connectedness in the face of separation without belaboring the point.
In the fourth episode, the series starts introducing celebrities. At first, this happens in a fairly organic way: Traveling Matt carelessly leaves his Doozer tube lying around in a recording studio, allowing Gobo and Red to communicate with rapper Common. In the subsequent two episodes, however, the premise gets flimsier and flimsier until the last episode mostly just feels like an excuse to throw as many celebrities on screen as possible to sing the Fraggle Rock theme song. And while some of the resulting interactions are delightful, the deeper meaning kind of gets lost in the shuffle, in my opinion.
While celebrity appearances feel normal and natural on Sesame Street and The Muppet Show, on Fraggle Rock they seem weird and out of place. Fraggle Rock was always so self-contained. The only human being the Fraggles ever interacted with was Doc, and that didn’t happen until near the very end. I’m not necessarily opposed to a show in which Fraggles interact with Silly Creatures, although I don’t believe that Fraggles have anything positive to gain from it. But if it has to happen, I’d prefer it was just ordinary people rather than celebrities, or maybe an equal mix of the two.
I said before that Frankie Cordero did a fairly good Wembley impression. Maybe it’s the cruddy audio on the low-res bootleg episodes I was watching, but I think it started out better than it ended up. He lost me when Wembley started repeating, “Yah-va-CAH-do!” during the Jason Mraz episode. Not that that isn’t something that Wembley would do (it totally is) but it didn’t sound like him while he was doing it.
(And again, the fact that I’m identifying an episode of a show featuring Fraggles by the name of a celebrity guest feels really weird.)
As the sixth and final episode drew to a close, I was feeling rather cranky and cynical. Then Traveling Matt found that he had one more Doozer tube left and wondered what to do with it. He looks into the camera, holds it out and says, “I know! How about you?” And I have to admit, that warmed my cold and tired heart.
When I thought that this series was just going to be a one-shot thing, I was less concerned about the situation with Cordero voicing Wembley to puppetry performed by someone who is not Steve. However, not long after this series completed, JHC announced another new Fraggle series for Apple TV. Although I don’t really know, I imagine that it won’t go into production until after the pandemic is over. Since Cordero didn’t do puppetry for this series, I wonder if the plan is for him to do both puppetry and voice for the next one, and if so, what that will look like.
It’s not only for Steve’s sake that I want him back as Wembley. Fraggle Rock is all about bridging differences and resolving conflict in the interest of bringing people together. I genuinely believe that it hurts the show’s ethos not to allow Steve to participate because of some petty grudge. That undermines everything that the Fraggles stand for.