Boober Fraggle and The River of Life

Did you miss me?

Sorry I haven’t been posting as frequently lately, but I honestly don’t see the point in posting when I really have nothing to talk about. It was just one of those weeks where my enthusiasm for writing went straight down the drain.

But hey, I’m bouncing back with some adoration of the man that is Dave Goelz in all of his glorious Dave Goelz-ness! Have I mentioned yet that Boober Fraggle is my favourite of all of Dave’s characters? If I have, I honestly can’t remember and I apologise if I happen to be repeating myself….yet again.

Tonight, I thought I’d take a look at my favourite Goelz performance in the Fraggle Rock episode ‘The River of Life’. This episode remains in my Top 5 and for a very good reason. While all of the episodes connect together in the single narrative of the importance of tolerance and co-existing peacefully, there are some that simply stand out because they take it a step further.

Before I dive into it, I’m going to give a quick shout-out to Steve Whitmire for his performance of Sprocket in this episode. Boober takes the cake, but Sprocket also plays a huge role and should be commended on his character growth as he and Boober unknowingly work together to save the Fraggles. Steve did an awesome job getting across Sprocket’s anguish through body language and an array of dog noises. Kudos, Steve!

Okay, so, as usual, we start the episode in the workshop, finding Sprocket fanning himself until Doc comes barreling in with some exciting news. Apparently there’s a guy that will pay Doc $100,000 if he allows the guy’s company to pour industrial waste into the limestone caves beneath the workshop. Sprocket had perked up at the thought of the money, but immediately panics when he realises where the waste would go- to the Fraggles! Sprocket protests the signing of a contract, but Doc assures him that these people are professionals and they have already begun to test the process. Horrified, Sprocket makes his way over to the Fraggle Hole and peers in, worried for his oddball friends.

Down at Fraggle Rock, we join Boober on his way to ‘anting’, a spectator event that Red and Mokey don’t seem to keen on. They’re on their way to the swimming pool in the Great Hall. Boober attempts to explain his enthusiasm, but is cut short when he smells something strange, an odour undetectable for the two female fuzzballs. Boober heads off to find the source.

Meanwhile in the Gorg’s Garden, Junior is watering his beloved radishes just as Ma and Pa decided to go for a ‘frolic in the creek’. Junior wants to go, but is forced to stay and continue his chores. When Junior goes back to his radishes and sprinkles more water over them, the radishes suddenly go rotten and shrivel, causing Junior to fall into dismay and confusion.

With that scene done, we have our set-up for the interconnection. Outer-Space is the cause of the problem and Fraggle Rock and the Gorg’s Garden pay the price for Doc’s lack of knowledge about the world beyond the Fraggle Hole. Water of course is the interconnecting factor that drives the story forward.

Water also happens to be missing from the water hole in the Great Hall, much to the disappointment of the Fraggles who just want to beat the heatwave. Uncle Travelling Matt, not one to give up so easily, goads the youngsters into filling the pool back up with water from Water-Wheel Cavern. With a song, that’s exactly what they do. Boober is still on the case of the strange scent, coming to the horrid conclusion that the water is polluted when he finds the source. But it’s too late! The Fraggles are already swimming!

Back in the workshop, Doc, completely oblivious to the fact that his tie has been done up backwards (not important to the plot, but I felt the need to mention it anyway because it’s funny), seems pleased with the progress of the tests. At first, he is confused by Sprocket’s protesting, claiming he’d never do anything to hurt the environment, but then realises that Sprocket is once again trying to convince him that there is life behind the wall. Exasperated, Doc gives Sprocket an ultimatum: if he can prove the Fraggles’ existence, Doc won’t sign the contract. Sprocket immediately runs to the Hole and tries his best to capture the Rock’s attention.

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Sprocket does his best to save his Fraggle friends by stalling Doc’s signing of the contract.

Seriously Sprocket, there’s a Fraggle Hole you can fit through down at the park near your house! Can’t you just go there and drag one of them out by their tail?

Oh, hang on, that wouldn’t work anyway, Doc hasn’t had his Magic Moment yet.

(Don’t worry, I’ll be talking about the Magic Moments in my next post, you’ll get the context soon!)

I really want to insert here, my love for Sprocket throughout this whole episode as it shows off his character growth. No more is the dog that would try to capture Gobo; the Fraggles are his friends! They’ve adventured together, played together and reached a common understanding that they want to get to know more about each other’s worlds.

Good boy! Have a dog treat on the house!

While Sprocket’s barking echoes through the caverns unheard, four of the Fraggle Five begin to suffer from the affects of the pollution, much in the same way that marine life suffers when there is an oil spill from a cargo ship. Throat Rot renders them hoarse and it’s not long before Wembley and Red begin to crumble under their own weight. This is not a good situation for anyone and Boober is panicking. I can relate to his anguish over suddenly having a huge amount of responsibility on one’s shoulders. Boober is a character of many anxieties and this is certainly not a situation you want to put a hypochondriac introvert in. At the very least, Gobo instructs Boober to visit The Trash Heap for answers, so at least the squat Fraggle has a place to start.

Unfortunately for Boober (and me as the anxious audience), The Trash Heap seems to know that this is one of the more significant episodes and decides to be extra sassy just for shits and giggles. The conversation (after watching the Gorg’s try to curb a new itch and lay blame on the Fraggles) metaphorically leads to the idea of Boober confronting Outer Space. “Find the source,” cries Marjorie in all of her trashy glory, but that’s far easier said then done for our little blue hero.

On his way back to the Rock, Junior snatches Boober up and the Gorgs proceed to lay threats upon the already shaken Fraggle. Luckily, Boober decides to introduce them to the concept of the Silly Creatures and reveals the truth. Pa suggests to invade Outer Space, but it’s quickly down turned due to Pa being proportionally-challenged. So it’s back to Boober to save the day which he verbally resents, causing Pa to state the painful truth

“I’ll make it country-simple, you Fur-ball! If you don’t get the message across to these jokers, you might as well kiss your hat good-bye! Because you know what?” snarls Pa.

“What?” whimpers Boober.

“Without clean water, we ARE ALL…GOING TO DIE!”

There you have it, ladies and gentleman! That classic, endearing, ‘we know that you’re kids, but fuck you, you’re gonna learn about how shit reality really is’ Fraggle Rock charm we all know and love!

At this point, Boober is ready to crap himself and Dave Goelz begins to outdo himself performance-wise. Running to Gobo and the others for help, Boober sees just how badly they’ve deteriorated since he last saw them and it could not be more clear that things are screwed unless he does something. So he does do something…..he crams himself under a rock, only to be telepathically ‘tut-tutted’ by The Trash Heap, who once again reminds him how much is at stake (because apparently all of his friends dying wasn’t a clear enough sign as far as she is concerned). Boober resigns himself to the idea of begging and grovelling to the Silly Creatures.

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The Fraggles have Throat Rot!

Speaking of which, our other hero is getting plenty of practice in as Sprocket whimpers and whines, preaching his anguish to Doc. “Don’t sign the contract!” he tries to say. Doc is severely conflicted: Sprocket hasn’t been able to prove the existence of lifeforms down in the caves, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any at all. The poor man wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he knew he had harmed another being…but…but the money…..Doc decides to take a walk before he makes a final decision.

Now at the other side of the Fraggle Hole, Boober is ready to make his plea and my god this scene makes me cry every time! Easily the best moment of Dave’s career as far as I’m concerned. Everything about it is stunningly emotional, from Boober’s submissive body language, to the meek and terrified intonation of his voice, it really does hit me right in the feels.

“Hello? Sir…or Madam….It’s Boober Fraggle here. One of the insignificant creatures who lives down here in the caves? I’ve come to beg and grovel…”

Then Boober gets down on his knees in one of the most poignant shots of the entire series.

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The Plea for Fraggle Rock: Dave Goelz’s most emotional performance on the show.

“On behalf of the Fraggles and the Gorg’s, I beg you to stop contaminating our water. I’m on my knees begging for that right now. Okay? Oh please, please stop poisoning us! We’re just helpless little creatures who mean you no harm….We don’t wanna die…I’ve tried to think about why you want to hurt us, but it doesn’t make any sense…We’ve never done anything to you, have we? Taken anything from you?”

With that last question hanging in the air, Boober has a realisation and runs off to ‘rectify the problem’, but for a moment, I just want to sit back and revel in that incredible speech that Dave just takes and tears your heart apart with. It says so much about who Boober is: as far as he is concerned, he is a tiny speck in the bigger picture, but there is a part of him that still hopes that he and his fellow Fraggles can matter. In this moment, he let’s go of everything and just appeals to common decency. There’s no reluctance in his voice when he includes the Gorg’s: they matter too at the end of the day. The first time I ever watched this series, I liked Boober before this episode, but this scene earned him a special spot in my heart.

There’s a metaphor in there somewhere that Boober’s speech rings out into an empty room, but I’m far too tired to dwell upon it tonight. The next scene has Doc and Sprocket return to the workshop after their walk. Doc’s mind is made up- he’s signing the contract! Sprocket attempts one last time to convince him to turn the other cheek, but Doc proceeds to justify his decision….only to find a pile of Uncle Matt’s postcards sitting in the Hole.

Boober thought that the Silly Creatures were mad because Gobo kept sneaking in and ‘stealing’ the cards, so the logical thing to do is give them back. This is a huge breakthrough for Doc- finally some evidence supporting Sprocket’s “theory”! The dog in question is both stunned and elated.

Back in the Rock, an anxious Boober sings the correctly named ‘It Makes You Cry’ because it makes me blubber every goddamn time, only for something amazing to happen….Clean water is dripping from the cavern walls! He runs off to find his friends just as Doc informs Sprocket that he turned the waste disposal company away. He waved the contract and the money bye-bye because the new evidence of life beyond the Hole was too important to ignore.

Sprocket is overjoyed (and so am I!). Doc finally contemplates who could be living back there and ordered for the caverns to be flushed out with clean water. It’s a miracle! The Fraggles recover from their illness, the Gorg’s radishes are restored to their full-health and Sprocket gives the postcards back, just happy that the Fraggles seemed to have gotten his warning barks from earlier.

And that ladies and gentleman, was ‘The River of Life’, a PSA for the environment and the conclusion of Boober Fraggle’s character arc!

Boober would never have done what he did in this episode during Season 1. Boober never outgrew his anxieties, but he did learn to deal with them as he went. His appreciation and love for his friends will overtake his fears when there is a need for it and it’s a shame there’s not a lot of characters like him on television these days. Kids who are like I was back then could definitely benefit from Boober’s influence.

As I mentioned earlier, I intend to discuss how episodes like this play into the bigger picture during my next post. I should probably stop here before I fall asleep, but I promise you I don’t intend to stray for as long as I did this time.

See you guys soon!

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Late Night Tid-bits: The Thing About Cantus The Minstrel

Here’s something I’ve never said in public.

Cantus the Minstrel is my favourite Jim Henson character. Ever.

Yes, even above Kermit the Frog and Rowlf the Dog…which is saying something because I love both of those characters to death and back.

The magical thing about Cantus is that from his very first few seconds, he immediately takes you to a new place, beyond reality and beyond Fraggle Rock.

If you have never encountered Fraggle Rock before, go ahead and watch this. If you have seen this before, watch it again anyway. It’s certainly worth revisiting.

Between that gorgeous music and that mind-capturing presence Jim provides him with, Cantus is a golden character from a golden moment in Henson history. I’m no expert in puppet design, but even I can tell you that his design is essential to his personality. He is definitely a Fraggle, but he’s different. He’s far taller than the average Fraggle and no one else possesses the same type of  hair (feather) style. In regards to the height, I’d be willing to say that height indicates age, however I think it has more to do with presence.  If a Fraggle wants access to his wisdom, they must look up to meet him eye to eye.

Character-wise, there is so much we don’t know about Cantus, but that just works in his favour. I believe there’s a part of him that rather enjoys being mysterious. Cantus certainly has the classic wit and playfulness that automatically came with being a Jim Henson character.  Along with his wisdom, he’s also in touch with the magic of the Rock through his connection with music and can wield it in subtle ways when he playing his horn.  Cantus’ obtuse method of speech when in conversation often confounds the Fraggles he addresses, but that’s exactly the point. Cantus will only say what a Fraggle needs to hear.

Look at the way he handled Gobo during The Bells of Fraggle Rock and The Honk of Honks. Cantus knew that Gobo is far too stubborn to break out of his hardheadedness once he has his heart set on something, so he passes along a riddle and waits it out until Gobo is in a good mind-space to reinforce the message. In The Honk of Honks when Cantus catches Gobo just outside of the hole to Doc’s Workshop, Cantus is clearly annoyed with the Fraggle, but he still gives Gobo a chance to work things out for himself. I like to think that all the wisdom Cantus has gained over the years came about from his own life experiences, so that’s he way he prefers to educate others.

A connection I love to make between Jim and Cantus is that whenever the puppeteer or Fraggle showed up for the show, it was always a special treat. Jim was mostly hands-off for this show, so on the occasions that Jim directed an episode and/or performed Cantus or Convincing John, it’s always wonderful because you just know he was on set to have some fun. The same goes for Cantus; he tends to show up whenever there’s an important celebration to be held. Just like the puppeteers when Jim showed up, the Fraggles are always overjoyed to see him again.

Yes, Cantus certainly is my favourite Jim Henson character. Even with what little information we know about him, I can’t imagine Fraggle Rock without it’s roving marvellous, musical Minstrel. There’s not much more I need to say then I believe that Cantus brought out the best of Jim’s traits as a performer and became the renowned sage he is because of it.

It’s more than likely that I’ll be bringing up Cantus in the future in a more in-depth fashion. For now, let’s all go and discover a new appreciation for music…

 

In Reflection: The Muppets (2015-2016)

On the 11th of May, last year, I distinctly remember sitting at a table, outside of a classroom waiting for that week’s Literature tutorial to begin. In between taking notes, I was constantly checking Twitter. As someone who joined the brave and noble #RenewTheMuppetsABC campaign, I had made a habit of keeping track of the renewals and cancellations made by the ABC network. There had been news of ABC announcing the fate of several shows that morning, leading me to have that gut feeling that something was about to go down….and down it did go. With a resounding, sickening crunch.

The Muppets was officially cancelled.

Well, darn. In hindsight, it honestly did not come as much of a surprise. Between the negligible ratings, harsh criticism and the abrupt change-of-hands for the network, the die-hard Muppet fans such as myself were biting our nails in fear. We wanted to believe that it would all work out and a second season of the show would be a no brainer for the executives, but of course, this is The Muppets we’re taking about. Even casual fans were begging for the Muppets to return to TV after so long off air. That’s all fine and dandy, but when people say they want the Muppets back on TV, they mean The Muppet Show, not a brand new concept. Muppets Tonight had also fallen prey to this misconception. There are many discouraging reasons why bringing The Muppet Show back for a hugely belated sixth season is an ill-informed idea. The main conundrum stems from the casual fans, who would likely be so engrossed by the nostalgia, they would stop watching as soon as it wore off. The Muppets ABC was an experiment, a huge departure from anything the characters have ever done before. This was something the Muppet Performers were very interested and excited about trying, so of course the die-hard fans were also willing to jump on-board.

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the world didn’t seem to share our enthusiasm. And in all honesty, I can’t blame them. For everything the show did perfectly right, there were several things it was getting wrong. For now, however, I’d like to review the more positive aspects of a show that managed to divide a usually strong fandom.

The characters got to grow:

One of the show’s biggest strengths was providing the opportunity for several stale personalities to finally shake the dust off. I wouldn’t even know where to begin with Uncle Deadly, easily the best example of a character finding new ground. Matt Vogel worked his magic with an extremely obscure character and turned him into a superstar. Deadly’s dry wit and sarcasm worthy of the title of Sass Queen has made him a recent Muppet fan favourite. Other characters such as Sam Eagle, Statler, Waldorf, The Electric Mayhem, Yolanda, Bobo and Chip all had a chance to finally have their time in the limelight.

And then of course, we have what I like to call the ‘Main Muppet Eight’- Kermit, Piggy, Fozzie, Gonzo, Scooter, Rizzo, Pepe and Animal. Sadly, there wasn’t much growth for the latter five, other than further establishing their personal lives.  I’ve always had a bone of contention when it comes to Miss Piggy. Maybe it’s the fact that she reminds me of just about everyone who bullied me in school, but her impulsive, narrow-minded, condescending, vain boorishness has always left a bad taste in my mouth. It’s not uncommon for me to skip over her songs and sketches while watching The Muppet Show. I am aware that underneath her shallowness, there is a vulnerable woman who just wants to be liked, but there has never been enough of it. This show completely flipped that around. Watching Miss Piggy slowly open her eyes to the Muppets around her and soften up was one of the best character-redeeming arcs I had ever had the pleasure to watch. For the first time, I could relate to her. I know what it’s like to realise that you have no friends, or to feel like you must take on the world to be respected by it. Piggy’s friendship with Uncle Deadly meant everything to a Muppet fan like me who just wanted her to look a little closer at what she could have if she’d just loosen up. It would be such a shame if she would revert to who she was before this show was conceived.

Kermit was an interesting case. A lot of fans took issue with Kermit having a snide, scheming and manipulative side we didn’t know he was capable of. On a certain level, I can see where they were coming from. Kermit was constantly pulling the strings to make sure everything went exactly how he wanted it to. His treatment of Miss Piggy in the first few episodes was questionable. Personally, I loved this new component of Kermit’s personality and I’d love to see what could be done with it in the future. It was refreshing to see that the frog wasn’t slowly turning into an amphibian Mickey Mouse, forever nice and friendly. Kermit had backbone in this show. Even during The Muppet Show, Kermit hardly ever showed off his intelligence and the skills necessary to lead one of the craziest troupes of entertainers ever conceived. Why there was backlash over Kermit using his knowledge about Piggy to keep her in line is beyond me. He was merely protecting the show that was propelling her career forward. Everything he did, he did to protect the career of his peers even if a few involuntary sacrifices had to be made. Kermit is a lot more than just the cheerleader for The Muppets franchise and this show proved that without a doubt.

UNCLE DEADLY, SCOOTER, KERMIT THE FROG

The puppetry was astounding:

The only thing better than watching the characters grow, was witnessing the Muppet Performers shine. There are a million compliments I could pay to all of them. Steve Whitmire and Eric Jacobson proved beyond anything, that the characters they’ve adopted are well and truly theirs. Eric took Piggy, Fozzie and Sam and flew to new heights, especially Piggy who had been floundering for a while. It was such a delight to watch Steve push his own talent to the limits with Kermit, giving him new expressions and quirks Jim Henson had never considered. Of course, those two weren’t the only ones. Matt Vogel dominated the fan-base with Uncle Deadly and I was impressed with Bill Barretta’s performance of Rowlf, as sad as it was that the piano playing hound received minimal screen-time.

As wonderful as the Performers were all individually, the puppetry was never better than when they worked as a team. Every time there was a full-body shot, Gonzo was doing something insane, or someone was playing an instrument, it looked flawless in the way that only a Muppet production can. When Gonzo was flying around the roof of the studio in Going, Going, Gonzo, I genuinely believed for one stupid second that it had been done in CGI. Moments like that simply solidify my argument further; the Muppet Performers are just about the most talented, coordinated and professional cast in entertainment today and have been so since the original team was first established over 40 years ago.

And most importantly- Lips finally found his voice!

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Hey! It was a monumental moment in Muppet history for me! Let me have this!

So yes, while the cancellation of a show that clearly needed more time to grow (DID THEY EVEN CONSIDER THE SECOND SEASON!?!?!?!), let me tell you exactly what I told my fellow members of the Muppet Central Forum after I broke the news to them:

Yes, it’s sad, but you know what? We gave our all. The Muppeteers, the crew, the writers, the producers and we fans all believed we could do it. And for a short while, we did and it was wonderful. I don’t regret a thing.

The Comic Con panel, the debut, the rise and fall of the ratings- I would go back and experience it all again, the good and the bad. We became one huge family unit when we realised the show was at risk and it is times like these that remind me why I chose to join this fandom in the first place.

The show was full of laughter. It gave characters like Chip the chance to be creepy, Scooter to be a nerd, Sam to fall in love and Uncle Deadly to become a legend. It gave as Gloria Estefan. It gave Piggy a chance to grow and Kermit a chance to realise why he loved her the way he did. It reminded us to be silly and not to be ashamed to let our pig tails be shown to the world.

Keep your chin up and be proud of our little fandom for what it accomplished in 16 episodes. The Muppets have pulled themselves up and dusted themselves down after several crashes and burns.

And so will we!

Strange Encounters: Time Piece

As a Jim Henson fan, I’ll admit it took me quite a while to get interested in some of his more unusual, non-Muppet related projects. In hindsight, it seems that this was a bit of a mistake. It never occurred to me that the inner-thoughts of a great filmmaker generally come through their most personal projects. Early last year, I was studying film genre and when the curriculum came around to discussing experimental filmmakers, I realized there was a piece of Jim’s mentality I had completely skipped over without a second glance.

His sense of mortality.

Time Piece, in its shallowest synopsis, is the tale of a man who finds himself running against Time, facing all the facets of life while trying to escape Time’s clutches. According to Jim Henson: The Biography and multiple other sources, the tragic death of his elder brother, Paul, provided Jim with an appreciation for just how delicate and short life can be. Many of his friends and family have reflected on this revelation and its effects on Jim’s own philosophy and work ethic, as if Jim believed he needed to get as much done as possible with the time he was provided by some kind of Fate.

While pretty much non-existent as you’d expect from an experimental film, I’ve tried to breakdown the narrative of Time Piece into three sections:

  • Breakdown
  • Work, Sex and Family
  • Death

Breakdown and Work Sex and Family make up the majority of the films run-time. The leading character who is only known as The Man (most likely to avoid any kind of generalization) seems desperate to live a life unencumbered by the workaday life that the standard American societal expectations has set up for him. The Man conforms to traffic lights, deals with traffic, gets a job he hates and joins the rat race. All of this occurs to a steady, on-beat soundtrack while The Man’s brain appears to be wildly off-beat, looking around for a chance to make a break for it.

Nine to five workdays, finding a nice girl, getting married, starting a family -The Man wonders if there is more to life than all of that and seeks to escape. The only word spoken in the entire film is ‘help’, The Man pleading to the audience (or Fate if you’d like to be symbolic about it) to get him out of his situation so he can be free from Time’s clutches.

Unfortunately for The Man, Time remains persistant. He comes to learn that Time is all encompassing, even having the power to strip him down to the most primeval aspects of humanity, seen as The Man walks through the city and suburbs and eventually finding himself in the jungle, stripping and relieving himself of his clothes as he goes. This is also seen later in the dinner montage as The Man and his wife are seen depicted in different forms of period dress and displaying varied forms of table etiquette (or lack of). This leads into an odd exploration of sex and feminine appeal in their most basic forms. Sex is pleasurable and entertaining, but it has a habit of providing more responsibility once children are conceived.

Personally, I read this as the film emphasising humanity’s ability to change and evolve, and Time’s blatant ignorance towards it, regarding it as it has been since the beginning of man.

This is where we come to Death. This more than anything explores and searches for the answers Jim may have been trying to find during that period of his life.

In the final two and a half minutes, The Man finds himself running the last leg in his race against Time. The montage begins with a medium long-shot of a judge banging his gavel, the signal of The Man’s final judgement being handed to him, followed by a series of narrow close-up shots of handcuffs being snapped to his wrists, entering a cell and then a wide shot of The Man in classic prison garb doing stone work. The editing is rapid as the shots continue to move by in quick concession, the climaxing emergency is emphasized by the trilling of a djembe in the percussion heavy soundtrack as The Man breaks from ‘prison’ and begins to run.jimrun

As The Man continues to run, his clothes change from the prison garb to a tuxedo and top hat. Random shots are mixed in, all acting as hints to the finality of The Man’s pointless life. A close-up of pink liquid pouring down the drain and a clock chiming allude to the phrases ‘pulling the plug’ and ‘time’s up’. As The Man switches between his tuxedo and a loin-cloth, he runs across a grassy field and through city streets, the camera panning horizontally to follow his actions in either wide or close-up shots. Other random shots are placed in between, such as The Man painting an elephant pink to emphasize the absurdity of life.

Eventually The Man takes to the sky in man-made wings, several switches are flicked, setting off rapid fire from things like a rocket launcher, a cannon, the Statue of Liberty and even The Man’s wife with a fire extinguisher. The Man is shot down, his death symbolized by an arrow hitting the bulls-eye, a bell ringing and a bowling ball getting a strike, all indications of a point being made or an ending of some kind. There’s a wide-shot of a feather floating softly down to the ground, only to be juxtaposed against a panned-in close-up of a golden clock thudding into mud after a quick cut.

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A final vignette of earlier scenes acts as The Man’s life passing before his eyes, a superimposed clock chimes in the background. The final few seconds returns to the hospital room. A bed sheet is placed over The Man’s body, only for the camera to pan out and upwards to reveal The Man as the doctor, looking straight into the camera and winking with one final click. There are different ways you could read this conclusion, but I’d like to think it was Jim’s way of telling us that in the end, while The Man had spent his whole life escaping, he was simultaneously bringing it all upon himself through his own choices.

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That’s a very broad conclusion to make from nearly nine minutes of nonsensical, weird imagery and a heavy percussion soundtrack all mashed together with quick cuts and staccato timing, but how else am I supposed to make sense of it? I may not understand Time Piece, but I can understand Jim and when you step back and really look at the driving forces behind this ambitious little project, there is almost no difference between Jim and The Man. Not only did Jim portray The Man, he really was in his own battle against Time, but knew he was never going to get away from it. Nobody can ever tell you for certain, but there is merit in the notion that everything Jim ever did was driven by that same ambition to just get things done because they were worth exploring.

Time Piece has been both a pain in the neck to grasp the concept of and a lesson in never underestimating what you can learn about someone from even their smallest projects. If I want to truly understand my greatest idol, I need to listen to what Jim Henson is saying between the lines. Not only will it make me a more-informed fan, but also someone whose eyes are much more open and ready to observe and understand what others may overlook.

5 Times Fraggle Rock Forgot It Was A Kids Show

Just about everyone has a TV show they remember fondly from their childhood. I myself have great memories of watching a programme that was very popular in Australia at the time called The Saddle Club. It was innocent enough, about three teenagers sharing their love of riding horses while dealing with the challenges of growing up. Although, there was that particular heart-breaking episode where one of my favourite horses had to be euthanized due to him breaking his leg.

I’ve always suspected that shows especially catered to children are a lot more difficult to write than they may seem at first. There are so many boundaries that can’t be crossed when your main audience is far too young to comprehend certain aspects of life. You generally can’t discuss birth, sex or death unless it’s done symbolically, and the bigger issues in life are left very much alone. But of course, there will always be some exceptions to these unwritten rules of ethics. Some kid’s shows completely ignore status quo altogether, then proceed to set up their own standards.

Are any of us really surprised that a Jim Henson production was one of them? Fraggle Rock was created and produced by adults who wanted to relate to children in a very mature, grown up way. By doing so, Fraggle Rock was able to introduce children to broader, deeper morals, issues and facets of life that the average Saturday morning cartoon simply didn’t have the maturity to do. The following episodes are examples of clever writing, and a sense of boldness to take things a step further that only the Henson team could possess

Listed in episode order of the Fraggle Rock 30th Anniversary edition :

  1. Wembley and the Gorgs (Season 1, Ep 2)

It seems to be Wembley Fraggle who is thrown into the deep-end the most often. Considering he’s easily the youngest and most naïve of the Fraggle Five, I suppose it shouldn’t be too surprising. Wembley still has a lot to learn about the world. The fourth and final season of Fraggle Rock seemed to have it out for him the most, but even earlier episodes were determined to throw him curveballs.

Within the first 10 episodes of the first season of the show, Wembley faced the first of many big lessons. During Wembley and the Gorgs, said Gorgs enslaved said Fraggle because he was fooled into thinking that the Gorgs truly appreciated the respect he was showing them. Wembley was just trying to please the Gorgs just as he would any Fraggle, because that is the type of Fraggle he is. Wembley just wants his friends to be happy, especially if they are treating him nicely in return. During the failed daring rescue by the rest of the Fraggle Five, Wembley is forced to find a reason in favour of his friends not getting thumped to death. Luckily, he manages to list all of the best qualities of each Fraggle with the simple conclusion that, “They deserve to live!”

Eventually, the Fraggle Five manage to make their escape. Once safely back in the Rock, Gobo and Wembley close off the episode in their cavern, with Wembley tiredly remarking, “I guess sometimes slavery feels like freedom.”

If this was any other kids show, there would have been a much bigger conflict, a lot more emphasis and an entire monologue about the importance of not blindingly following people who seem to be authority figures, and what it truly means to be free. Is a slave still a slave if they are happy? The answer is probably a big, fat YES! Of course they are!

Just how many shows can you think of that blatantly asks kids such mature questions? I don’t think the concept of slavery masquerading as freedom was even taught to me until I was in Year 11 History. I was 16. Fraggle Rock is supposedly geared towards 6-12 year olds (I say ‘supposedly’ because I can name plenty of adults who still watch it). It is clear, that straight off the bat, Fraggle Rock was determined to live up to Jim Henson’s philosophy of not talking down to, but rather talking to children on their own level.

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Wembley scrambles to find reasons why his friends shouldn’t be thumped.

  1. Marooned (Season 1, Ep 17)

Boober Fraggle is a character most people wouldn’t care to admit they can relate to on a personal level. The main reason for this is because, out of the main Fraggle Five, Boober probably has the most common, and sadly, the most realistic outlook on life. If there is anything Boober is sure of, it’s that death and laundry are utterly unavoidable. There’s no question that Boober is the most adult character, even beating out Gobo’s usually rational mindset. Of course, he wouldn’t be a Fraggle if he didn’t have some kind of quirk, and in Boober’s case, it’s his paranoia, hypochondria and the blatant stubbornness when it comes to leaving his comfort zone. Everything is hopeless. Doom is inevitable.

So you can imagine Boober’s utter chagrin when he is teamed up with the extroverted Red Fraggle in order to go and get his birthday wisdom from The Trash Heap. Marjorie urges him through song to let go of his worries and to just ‘go with the flow’. Boober and Red’s excursion into the Spiral Caverns simply reminds them both that they have nothing in common. Of course, as luck would have it, they come across a Falling Rock zone and end up being tunneled into a collapsed cave. So now, two characters who can barely stand each other, have to keep one another calm and hope that the Greater Forces will assist their friends in rescuing them before their oxygen runs out. It’s not all bad though. Red comes to admit that she is often scared and Boober manages to keep a level head despite his claustrophobia.

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Red admits that she, too, can be vulnerable.

While this scenario is merely a variant of a common TV troupe, the song The Friendship Song’, and the conversation following it, touches upon death in a much deeper tone than most children’s programmes would dare. They seem to recognise that death is imminent, you’ll never know when it could happen and you can only really hope that the people you love will be by your side when it comes about. Dave Goelz and Karen Prell give a very emotional performance, just as touching as it is heart-breaking. Every small movement made by the two Fraggles shows a level of vulnerability that even a great writer like Jerry Juhl would not be able to convey in words.

Red: What do you think it’s like- to die?

Boober: I don’t know Red. I don’t think anybody does.

Happily, everything works out perfectly in the end. The rescue team gets Boober and Red out of the cave just in the nick of time and the two are able to move on with a new appreciation for each other.

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The two trapped Fraggles find comfort in each other as they brace for the worst.

  1. The River of Life (Season 4, Ep 3)

All hail, Boober and Sprocket!

Environmental episodes of any given show always come with the same message- nature is precious and if we don’t do our bit to take care of the world properly, we are all doomed! This message is not the reason why this particular episode has made the list, but rather the intricate, quiet and heart-wrenching way the three ‘worlds’ of Fraggle Rock are shown to be on the brink of devastation. Water from Outer Space is just as important as the radishes from the Gorg’s Garden. Doc’s battle with temptation puts three other species at risk in a ripple-effect that if not corrected, will have devastating consequences.

Luckily for the Rock, there were two unwitting heroes who unknowingly worked in tandem. The first saviour is Sprocket, who, terrified for his friends behind the wall does his best to deter Doc from signing the contract that would lead to complete contamination of the Rock’s water supply. Why would Sprocket care about the money when there are the lives of the creatures he adores at stake? If only Doc could understand that there’s life beyond that hole in the workshop!

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Sprocket does his best to save his Fraggle friends by stalling Doc’s signing of the contract.

Meanwhile, Boober Fraggle, our second hero, is concerned by a strange smell coming from the water. Junior Gorg’s precious radishes have turned rotten after a watering, Ma and Pa are going for a frolic in the creek and the Fraggles are determined to beat the heat with a good swim. To Boober’s horror, he realizes something is terribly wrong and tries to warn his fellow Fraggles before it is too late, but alas, they have already dipped themselves into the pollution. With every Fraggle in the Rock bogged down with a throat rot, Boober is the only one left standing- the only one who can save the day!

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The Fraggles have Throat Rot!

Back in the workshop, after a brief argument, Doc gives Sprocket an ultimatum; if he can prove the existence of life beyond the hole in the wall, Doc won’t sign the contract with the waste disposal company. Sprocket’s begging here was crucial, as it buys Boober more time to come to the same conclusion- let the Silly Creatures know that the Rock is there. After determining this wasn’t the fault of the Gorgs, who else could be at fault?

As this is a Season 4 episode, it is arguable that the time had finally come for Boober to finish off his character arc. Everything he had come to learn about being brave and embracing his fears was now being put to the test. Well, I’m glad to say that Boober came through beautifully, despite his impulses to shove himself into a rock and hope that it all works itself out. With Sprocket still begging and stalling, Boober edges towards the hole in the wall with a plea that Dave Goelz pulls off in one of his greatest performances. The plea is full of pain and sadness from a simple little Fraggle who doesn’t want to die.

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The Plea for Fraggle Rock: Dave Goelz’s most emotional performance on the show.

But this is Fraggle Rock, so of course this all ends happily! Boober comes to the conclusion that the Silly Creatures are mad because Gobo had been ‘stealing’ his Uncle’s postcards, so he gathers them all and places them at the hole in order to return them. This of course, leads to Doc discovering that there may be life behind the wall after all and immediately tears up the contract, much to Sprocket’s joy and relief! Fresh water is flushed into the Rock and the Fraggles (somehow instantly) regain their health and all is right with the universe once more.

  1. Gone, but Not Forgotten (Season 4, Ep 7)

Death is a topic that most kid’s shows will either try to avoid or simply allude to, and if they do decided to breech the topic, it’s done in a much more diluted way. Very few shows are brave enough to tackle it head on. As I mentioned earlier in Marooned, Boober and Red openly discussed death, but Fraggle Rock took it one step further in this episode by having Mudwell the Mud Bunny die on-screen right in front of the show’s most innocent character. Wembley, once again, has a dark fact of life shoved right under his nose- and he has absolutely no idea how to deal with it.

The entire episode explores Wembley’s ‘coming of age’ as it were, beginning with his first ever solo overnight hike. Wembley proves to be forward-thinking by being absolutely prepared for anything he might come across, bringing his maps, pick-axe, change of shirt and….cookies!

Unfortunately though, none of these essential items are useful in the event of a rock-fall burying and knocking you unconscious.

And that’s where Mudwell the Mud Bunny, the rarest creature in the world comes in. He rescues Wembley and nurses him back to health. The two bond over their love for certain games and joke around all night. They seem to be a perfect pair of friends. The next morning, however, Mudwell rudely dismisses a very confused and rattled Wembley from his cavern. Wembley returns to his friends feeling incredibly distraught about the whole thing, but after opening up about it (only after Gobo sits on him), Gobo suggests he return and confront Mudwell. When Wembley does exactly that, it turns out that Mudwell had a very good reason for doing what he did. His mud life-cycle had finally come to pass and it was time for him to return to the clay. Before Wembley can grasp what was happening, Mudwell lies down and dies.

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Best Friends at First Rockfall

It’s not as if characters haven’t died onscreen during other children’s programmes. Much like in Marooned, it was the way Wembley learns to deal with the death of a friend that sets it apart. Wembley’s puppeteer, Steve Whitmire does a brilliant job of guiding the character through four of the five stages of grief. At first Wembley is in denial, then Boober tries to help him deal with his anger through a screaming session. By the time Mokey sets up her weird death ceremony, Wembley is deep into the depression stage. It’s not until after a hilarious chat with the World’s Oldest Fraggle that Wembley finally starts to accept that Mudwell is gone.

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The sad conclusion of a short-lived friendship

.Where Marooned contemplated the death of oneself, Gone but Not Forgotten contemplates the appropriate way to say goodbye in the event of a death of another. The entire thing is very confronting, but it teaches kids (and perhaps adults too) that death doesn’t mean the people you love will stop being a part of you once they’re gone. There’s also a wonderful lesson in accepting that grieving can take a lot of time, and that’s okay. That if anything, is one of the most important messages a show could bring to its audience, regardless of the demographic.

  1. The Gorg Who Would Be King (Season 4, Ep 22)

What exactly is out there in the universe? How big is it? How wide? How far? Junior Gorg certainly wants to know! The universe does exist, but does Junior understand it enough to be able to rule it as King effectively? The Nirvana Tree losing the last of its leaves is the least of Junior’s problems!

Eating the last Nirvana leaf in his panicking causes Junior to shrink down to Fraggle-size. Unsurprisingly, he is mistakenly chased by his parents down into Fraggle Rock and the third phase of the show’s ultimate interconnection comes to pass. The first two phases were Uncle Travelling Matt breaking the boundaries by heading into Outer Space, and then Sprocket finding his way into the Rock later on. These actions were the beginning of all three ‘worlds’ coming to recognise their dependence on each other; something I will touch on in another article.

And surprise, surprise, guess which Fraggle happens to be the one to help Junior out?

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Our Wembley’s all grown-up!

That’s right-Wembley!

For the third time on this list, Wembley is a key figure in the show’s exploration of deeper themes. But this time, instead of being the student, Wembley is the one offering guidance. After his experience of dealing with death (and breaking the racial boundaries between Fraggles and Doozers), it seems that the Fraggle who was so innocent and impressionable in the beginning is now ready to pass on his hard-earned wisdom to another character who was just as naïve, if not more so.

After finally meeting The Trash Heap, a funky song about standing alone and a very informative chat with Cotterpin Doozer, Junior finally understands! The Fraggles rely on the radishes grown in the Gorg’s Garden for food, the Doozers also need the radishes in order to fulfil their life’s work of building, which of course the Fraggles eat, which clears the way for more Doozer structures to be made, giving the Doozers their reason for living. Even if it took a while for Junior to realise, he and his parents need the Fraggles for friendship, which pretty much brings everything to full circle.

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The Three Species of Fraggle Rock finally understand each other. The Trash Heap must be so proud!

 

I honestly can’t think of a world in another kid’s show that is just as carefully thought through and put together. Junior seems to agree, and after saving the entirety of the Rock from being blown up by Pa, he scolds both of his parents for their narrow-mindedness and not bothering to step back and actually see the bigger picture. How many kids have wanted to do exactly that? Plenty! But they don’t because that type of confrontation is seen as very adult.

If any episode of Fraggle Rock is a perfect example of why the show’s writers have my absolute respect, it’s this one. Writer Laura Phillips (who funnily enough, also wrote Gone, but Not Forgotten), finished Junior’s story arch on a high note that can only be applauded for looking past any cliché  traps that most other shows would have fallen into. Instead of taking the Crown and vowing to be a kind ruler, Junior accepts it, then immediately ends the reign of the Gorgs and the ignorance that comes with having leaders that don’t bother to look further than their own noses. Junior finally understands the universe and the Gorg crown becomes nothing more than what Doc misinterprets as an oddly shaped meteorite.

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The First Rule about being King of the Universe, is that there is no King of the Universe!

Honourable Mentions That Didn’t Quite Make the Cut

  • The Incredible Shrinking Mokey
  • A Tune for Two
  • The Honk of Honks
  • Change of Address

What M*A*S*H Did Right

Hawkeye: War isn’t Hell. War is War and Hell is Hell. And out of the two, War is worse.

Father Mulcahy: How do you figure, Hawkeye?

Hawkeye: Easy, Father. Tell me, who goes to Hell?

Father Mulcahy: Sinners, I believe.

Hawkeye: Exactly. There are no innocent bystanders in Hell. War is chock full of them-little kids, cripples, old ladies. In fact, except for some of the brass, almost everybody involved is an innocent bystander.

The General’s Practitioner (Season 5)

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Man, I love the writing in this show!

Along with The Muppets, M*A*S*H is more than likely to keep cropping up on this blog. It’s been a staple of my life since I was about seven. I remember my parents bringing home the first season of the show. For them, this was all about the nostalgia factor. For me, it was about absolute boredom. Why would I want to watch an old medical show about a bunch of doctors in the army? My memory fails me on how and when, but after a while, as most things do, it began to grow on me. Soon enough, watching our way through all eleven seasons became a family event. Not very exciting, I know, but sometimes the most mundane stories end up being the most significant.

It’s hard to believe that a show that began so comedy-oriented would end up being one of the most emotionally driven, reality-checking programmes of all time. I’m not sure what the casting process entailed, but I’m going to take a stab and guess that the casting people were looking for actors with great comedy chops. Of course Alan Alda fit that bill perfectly, along with Wayne Rogers, Larry Linville, Loretta Swit, McLean Stevenson and Gary Burghoff as the main cast. Jamie Farr and William Christopher weren’t considered a part of the main lot until much later in the series. While they didn’t always play off each other that well, the cast for the first few seasons had great chemistry.

A great portion of M*A*S*H consists of the 4077th dealing with their frustration of being stuck in a constantly perilous situation. Comedy seems to be the company’s top means of venting and it’s both fun and interesting to watch the jokers in the camp clash with the hard-nosed opposition of Frank, Hotlips and the Upper Brass. When BJ, Potter and then Winchester came onto the scene, things became a little darker with the writing, but they still had their own unique quirks to bring into the mix. Mike Farrell as BJ wasn’t as outrageous as Trapper, but he was clever about his humour, being seemingly clean-cut and innocent while hiding his prankster skills. Harry Morgan as Potter was a much stronger leadership force then Henry, but he was just as caring and knew how to have a laugh if said laugh was well earned. David Ogden Stiers as Charles can take a little while to adjust to, but his slow adjustment to both his pompous attitude and the camp is endearing to watch.

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One of M*A*S*H‘s biggest strengths was the ability of the writers to make these transitions as smooth as possible for the audience. In cases like Wayne Rogers, who walked away from the show, the change in casting was abrupt, but definitely not painful. By the time Radar was sent home by Potter, it almost seemed natural. The first episode after Radar’s departure was even called ‘Period of Adjustment’ with Klinger becoming frustrated with having to live up to Radar’s legendary efficiency. It was all clever writing and something I have come to admire, even attempting that kind of writing in my own work.

M*A*S*H has assisted me academically in more ways than I can count. I like to think of myself as rather imaginative, but all throughout my high school years I sometimes found myself with a bad case of ‘ideas block’. Believe me, if there was a way I could use M*A*S*H as a guideline, reference or even a topic of conversation, you could bet I’d find a way to warp it into something useful. In Drama class, I used one of Hawkeye’s many long-winded monologues when we were focusing on our vocal performance. Two of my highest marked essays in English were based on different episodes. One of which referred to the Season Five episode ‘End Run’ when the essay required literary arguments in favour of controlled human euthanasia. I’m sure I’ll come to talk about this episode in due time considering it touches on one of many issues which wasn’t discussed much during the time of the show’s original run.

Let’s talk about those issues for a moment. Off my top of my head, I can think of:

  • Sex
  • Alcoholism
  • Death
  • Divorce
  • Un-romanticized war and violence
  • Suicide
  • Mental health
  • Feminism
  • Homosexuality
  • Bigotry and Racism

You know- for laughs!

It would be easy to pin the majority of these topics being explored well after the ‘dramedy’ phase of M*A*S*H began. In actual fact, even in the show’s early slap-stick driven seasons, the writers were already pushing the boundaries of what could be shown on television. A perfect example is the Season Two episode ‘George’. The plot consists of Hawkeye and Trapper John protecting an unwittingly outed wounded solider from Frank Burns, who wants to turn the Private in due to his homosexuality. The writing by John W Regier and Gary Markowitz is far ahead of its time. During the episode’s time of release in 1974, homosexuals portrayed in TV shows typically served as the butt of crude jokes. M*A*S*H goes in the opposite direction, having Private George as the centre of the conflict, but attacking the bigotry of Frank Burns instead. While the show hadn’t always been above a cheap shot or two, it’s clear that the writers seemed determined to shed a new perspective on things that the world during that time condemned.

The last thing that has always stood out on M*A*S*H for me, again due to great writing, was the style of comedy. It seemed to be a kind of Vaudeville, pun-oriented, pop-culture and literature-oriented mix of laughs. It’s the type of humour I’d imagine The Muppets would’ve wielded if they were more adult-oriented during The Muppet Show years. That type of comedy could easily get boring, but when you have such a great cast to perform it, it never gets old. I highly recommend the Season Four episode ‘Hawkeye’ where said character has to monologue his way through a concussion in the care of a South Korean family who can’t understand a word he is saying. Its twenty-two minutes of Alan Alda at his best, working with some of the most profound dialogue I have ever heard. There’s a three-minute piece about the human thumb which left me stumped for several minutes. The comedy isn’t just chuckle-provoking, it often makes you think about it too.

Hawkeye: I will not carry a gun, Frank. When I got thrown into this war, I had a clear understanding with the Pentagon: no guns.

Frank: *Snorts*

Hawkeye: I’ll carry your books, I’ll carry a torch, I’ll carry a tune, I’ll carry on, carry over, carry forward, Cary Grant, cash-and-carry, carry me back to Old Virginia, I’ll even ‘hari-kari’ if you show me how, but I will not carry a gun!

Officer of the Day (Season Three)

M*A*S*H has been my all-time favourite show for the longest time. Somehow, I doubt that’s going to change any time soon. The cast is brilliant, the directing is top-notch, the writing is sensational and it all comes together in a wonderful mix of timeless comedy. I admire it for its audacity to touch upon subjects in a way no one else would have dared during its time of production. There’s a reason why M*A*S*H has never been off-air since its debut as it jumps from channel to channel, continuing to entertain its audience. Hopefully, it will continue to bring in a new generation of fans, such as myself. If any show deserves the chance to last forever, it’s M*A*S*H and the staff of the 4077th.

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