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The New Fraggle Rock Is Slick But Still Fun

Apple TV+ is taking us back to the Fraggles, the Muppets' quirky cousins.
  • The gang's all here: Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock premieres Friday on Apple TV+.
    The gang's all here: Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock premieres Friday on Apple TV+.

    I experienced something you never really want to experience as a reviewer while watching the opening moments of Apple TV+'s new children's series Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock: I felt the cranky pang of age and thought, "This was better 40 years ago." I'm fighting against that instinct with all of my might as I set out to review the new Fraggle Rock, but it's important to acknowledge it upfront. It's also something that a lot of people — parents with young kids, in particular — will probably confront if they fire up Back to the Rock on their Apple devices. Reboot Culture has made it unavoidable for us to be confronted with the artifacts of our past getting yanked into the present, mucking up our perceptions of quality with our devotion to the reasons we loved these shows in their original incarnation. This is perhaps never more palpable than when you're talking about a kids' show that you're now watching as an adult.

    Originally conceived in the early 1980s, the Fraggles were an odd and unique cousin to the Muppets within the Jim Henson universe. The original series was an international co-production between British, Canadian, and American broadcasters and was never as widely available as either the Muppets or the gang from Sesame Street. (In the United States, Fraggle Rock was broadcast on HBO, and in the 1980s, that meant only a small sliver of American children were able to regularly watch the show.)

    After the Jim Henson Company sold the flagship Muppets off to Disney, there were attempts to reboot and modernize Fraggle Rock, and seeing the way that 2010s reboots of '80s properties like The Smurfs went, it's probably a good thing that nothing came of it. In the spring of 2020, Apple TV+ premiered a series of shorts about the Fraggles called Fraggle Rock: Rock On!, and the success of those led to the rebooted series that premieres this week. And despite my kneejerk curmudgeonly feelings, the end result is a show that today's kids could end up latching onto just the same as the original.

    To sum up the Fraggles for the uninitiated, they're a race of Muppets that live in underground caves deep below this one house. They share space in these caves and caverns with a few other creatures including diligent little construction workers the Doozers. Each of the main Fraggle characters has their own vibe: Gobo's the plucky one, Red is the adventuresome one, Mokey's like an old hippie lady, Boober is the realist/pessimist, and Wembley's the weirdo. Gobo's uncle, Traveling Matt, is off exploring "outer space," which is what the Fraggles call the human world, which is accessible through a hole in the wall that leads into a live-action human's home. In the original series, the home belonged to Doc, a friendly but oblivious old inventor whose dog Sprocket (a puppet) would occasionally chase a Fraggle back into the hole, with Doc none the wiser.

    Both the original Fraggle Rock and its reboot get a lot of mileage out of stories about different kinds of creatures coexisting. The Fraggles and the Doozers have an often tetchy coexistence where the Doozers dutifully build their little structures and the Fraggles carelessly eat them. The Fraggles in turn run up against the Gorgs, big troll-like creatures (human-sized Muppets) from whose garden the Fraggles are often stealing radishes. The Gorgs treat the Fraggles like common garden pests, although large adult son Junior Gorg ends up being more friendly than he is scary. Then there's Marjorie, the sentient pile of compost in the Gorgs' garden known as the all-knowing Trash Heap. Learning to live among each other, overcome preconceptions, be considerate, take a brave step into the unknown, this is the stuff of a typical Fraggle Rock episode. While The Muppets were pitched to adults with pop culture sensibilities and Sesame Street was created for preschoolers, Fraggle Rock assumed the middle ground of speaking to kids who were ready for more mature lessons but who also just wanted to tap into the energy and silliness of the Fraggles.

    The first episode of the reboot kicks off with a song, but it's not the familiar theme song that fans of the original know and love. This felt like a troubling development, especially since the song — "It's a Party Down in Fraggle Rock" — had the familiar easy-to-swallow rounded edges of other modern Muppet offerings. Missing the honks and claps and funky rhythms of the original, it was easy to imagine that this heralded a blander version of the Fraggles for today's unfortunate tots. This impression turned out to be premature. The rebooted version features some turnover in the voice cast (Dave Goelz remains as the blessedly downbeat Boober and the oblivious Traveling Matt) and some real-world modernizations — Doc is now a Black female grad student who just recently moved into the house atop the Fraggles (Sprocket remains her loyal companion) — but the show retains the original's energy and curiosity.

    And then, just as the first episode wound around to a close, there they were, the familiar bass thumping beats of the classic Fraggle Rock theme song, as if the show itself was reminding me that, yes, things may have changed, but the Fraggles remain the same. The theme song resumes its place at the start of the episodes for the rest of the season, a gateway from the deep caverns of nostalgia and into the exciting new world that Back to the Rock is bringing to the kids of today.

    The entire thirteen-episode first season of Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock premieres today on Apple TV+.

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    Joe Reid is the senior writer at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock , Apple TV+, Fraggle Rock: Rock On