Nerdstalgia: For the Love of Fraggles

So, 30 years ago today, back when they still wanted viewers under 18 now & then, HBO debuted a little show called Fraggle Rock.  It was made by this guy you might have heard of, Jim Henson.  I grew up watching this (the Philly area was an early adopter of cable & we got free HBO for a decade or so), and I can say without hesitation that Fraggle Rock was Jim Henson's finest work.

That last sentence made my comic shop guy do a double-take in surprise.  As he put it, "That's a tall order to give any of his work."  And he's right, but I really feel Fraggle Rock was the best thing Henson ever did.

One reason I feel this way is because it had a true universality.  The lion's share of the show was set in the Rock, where you didn't have to worry about localization like you did with Sesame Street; while they did do some localized content, such as different Docs or different Uncle Travelling Matt segments (the funniest of which was a Britain-only one involving a bagpipe), the rest was just alien enough to detatch it from any one culture or region.  Henson had, after all, said that he wanted to create a show that would encourage world peace, so why not start with a show that can be easily readied for anyone to watch?  Also, the core of the series was the intricate relationship between the Fraggles, the Doozers, & the Gorgs - they were all very different, they didn't always get along with each other, but they needed each other & shared common values/necessities that required their interaction.  One of the most delightful things to watch was that, as the series progressed, the different cultures got to know each other better & became better connected.  A major commonality was music, which is vital to nearly all cultures in the real world - why not make it integral to the Rock?  The musician Cantus as peacemaker and wise man is still one of the best "spirit of music/art" figures I've seen in all fiction.  It was a work that built a world that felt organic, real, & thoroughly relatable even if we as Silly Creatures were only tangentially part of it.

Another is that, for a series with only one real human character, the characters were surprisingly, relatably human.  I'll mostly focus on the ones that clicked with me & still resonate today.  My favorite single character when I was a kid was Mokie, who still reminds me of my tendencies towards both being easily distracted by inspiration, fascinated by nature, and a bit of a snot when it comes to my work.  Boober is the most relatable Fraggle to me now, and I find him refreshing since the cynical complainer character back in those days was usually there to be kicked around until he learned how to "cooperate" (read: conform); but Boober's cynicism gave him a sense of caution that the others lacked, and he's served as an unlikely source of ways to deal with depression.  Cotterpin Doozer is familiar to anyone who's been a creative person in a "nose to the grindstone" type of family.  And I will argue that Junior Gorg is the most realistic portrayal of an only child I've ever seen.  Yes, he's doted on by his loving parents, but he's far from the spoiled brat that's so popularly portrayed on most shows; he's a fairly lonely kid, he has all of the household chores, and when the pecking order for the crap jobs comes along, he's at the bottom.  There's modern live-action shows that could learn a thing or two on how to write characters that aren't flat stereotypes.

This is leaving the obvious praiseworthy elements aside - the wonderfully varied music, the imaginative designs, the clever humor, the surprisingly deft touch to the lessons.  Others have spoken for them.  Seeing a fictional world that feels perfectly real with characters that feel real even though it's all green screen & felt at the end of the day thanks to the writers & performers' shared genius is what makes me love Fraggle Rock and consider it the greatest thing Jim Henson ever put his name to, even if it's just on my bizarre standards.

Part of me is sad that there really isn't anything being done to celebrate this milestone; Fraggle Rock has sort of drifted into the margins of pop culture unless you're a Muppet fan, which is a sin for such a high-quality show.  Part of me, however, knows that any attempt to revive the series would be a horror show.  I know the jackals at Regency Pictures acquired the movie rights from the Weinsteins, but I hope they expire.  The director the Weinsteins tapped, Cory Edwards, wanted to use varied music in the style of the show and actual puppetry; Regency will turn the Fraggles into another creepily realistically-textured CGI monstrosities that sing pop songs & make topical references that will forever date the movie to six months before its release.  It's what they've done with other, lesser 80s properties, and I can only hope that they forget they have the Fraggle license at all.  Still, it'd be nice to see the Jim Henson Company do something with their founder's finest work than pimp Youtube clips on Twitter.  Well, so long as someone else enjoys & appreciates Fraggle Rock as much as me, I'll be okay with the relative silence.

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