If you grew up in the '80s, there is a good chance you can remember the catchy Fraggle Rock theme song. The catchy opening jingle wasn't the only interesting aspect of the show. Fraggle Rock was arguably one of the best Jim Henson productions ever. It was even better than the muppets. Even if you're a Kermit fan who can't co-sign that statement, you have to agree that Fraggle Rock is fantastic and completely weird.
Fraggle Rock was a Canadian puppet show for kids that chronicled the lives of fun-loving creatures called "fraggles." The show initially aired in the USA on HBO. The main cast consisted of the intrepid Gobo, spirited Red, dreamy Mokey, depressed Boober, and anxious Wembley. Together, they experienced some seriously strange situations that required the wisdom of a sentient heap of trash for help. They also learned lessons about everything from sharing with friends to straight-up socialism.
It was inarguably strange, but it was also one of the best children's shows of its era. Let's take a journey back into the weird and wonderful world of Fraggle Rock.
When you need life advice, where do you find it? Chances are, it's not a psychic pile of trash named Marjorie who sings instead of speaking. But that's who the fraggles go to when they need help. Marjorie sometimes has excellent advice based on years of experience and incredible powers. However, she also has less than stellar advice – for example, she tells Boober he should always wear a hat if he wants to be courageous, even though he wears it all the time anyway.
No matter what her advice, the singing accompanies great blues music.
Most kid shows either ignore mortality completely or make obscure references to it. Fraggle Rock took on the issue directly on multiple occasions. In one of the earlier episodes, "Marooned," Boober and Red were trapped in a cave that collapsed in a rock slide. Both characters reflect and admit their fears about what happens after life. They ultimately get out, but the melancholy, serious tone that characterizes the scene is a far cry from common dangers in children's media.
In another episode, Wembley witnesses a life-ending event. After a solo night hike ends in a rock slide that knocks him unconscious, Mudwell the Mudbunny rescues him. The two get along great until morning, when Mudwell abruptly kicks Wembley out, confusing him and hurting his feelings. After his friends encourage him to talk to Mudwell about what happened, he discovers that Mudwell's natural life cycle is coming to an end. Wembley watches it happen, and his emotional response is a genuine expression of grief.
Part of fraggle lore centers on the royal designation bestowed upon the gorgs by an unknown supreme being. They take this role seriously until one day, Junior shrinks down to the size of a fraggle and is forced to learn their society. Wembley guides him through the fraggle lifestyle, which leads him to decide he doesn't want to be an authoritarian leader.
Junior doesn't want to have undeserved power over anyone. Rather than continue his kinghood, he creates a socialist society. The political messaging went under the radar for the audience, but the intention is pretty clear.
The morality of Fraggle Rock was nuanced. While characters did offer simple lessons about sharing, kindness, friendship, and hard work, the show also dealt with more complex ideas. One of the strongest examples was the second episode, "Wembley and the Gorgs." The gorgs capture Wembley and force him to work for them - but not through threats.
Instead, the gorgs pretend to sincerely appreciate Wembley's help, which makes him want to stay and continue to earn their favor. He even turns away his friends when they attempt to rescue him. When the gorgs attack his friends, Wembley snaps back to reality and escapes with them. Reflecting on his experience, he says, “It didn’t seem like I was [an enslaved person]... I didn’t notice what they were doing to me, until… well, until they tried to do it to you.” That's a powerful message for a child to absorb.