Arrrgghh! After releasing the first three season's of Fraggle Rock individually, HIT Entertainment decided not to release the final two half-length seasons as stand alone sets. The only way fans can get them is to buy Fraggle Rock: The Complete Series Collection. While there's no doubt that this is a slap in the face to fans, this complete series set is a wonderful collection and is nothing less than the show deserves. Created by Jim Henson and originally broadcast on HBO (it was their first original series) Fraggle Rock is a wonderful children's show that doesn't talk down to kids and is easily enjoyed by their parents.
The series takes place, naturally, in Fraggle Rock, a large tunnel-filled hill that is inhabited by Fraggles, among other creatures. Fraggles are small, care-free creatures that have all the necessities provided for them, so they spend their time playing, dancing, and singing.
There's one exit from the Rock that leads to the real world, known as "outer space" to the Fraggles, through the workshop of Doc, a retired inventor and his dog Sprocket. In the first episode one Fraggle, Gobo's Uncle Traveling Matt, decides to explore outer space and report back on the 'silly creatures' that he finds there. Every episode he sends a post card with his often hilarious observations back to Gobo, who has to avoid Sprocket while retrieving it.
The main characters in the show are five Fraggles who are great friends though the occasionally have their differences. There's the fairly brave and level-headed Gobo, the unofficial leader of the small group, Red, a loud and boisterous Fraggle who loves sports, Wembly, Gobo's best friend who has a terrible time making decisions (he's so bad that being indecisive is called "Wembling",) Mokey, the artistic hippy-like Fraggle who writes poetry, and finally, Boober, a pessimistic easily scared Fraggle. His favorite activity is to wash socks.
Through another exit from the Rock Fraggles come to the Gorg's garden. Gorgs are a family of huge Big Bird-sized creatures whose only son, Junior, loves to try to catch Fraggles. While the Faggles never go into outerspace, they find themselves often sneaking into the Gorg's area to take a radish or to visit the Trash Heap. She is a wise prophet-type creature who dispenses wisdom to the small Fraggles though they often don't realize the importance of her words at the time.
The last major inhabitants of the Rock are Doozers. Much smaller than Fraggles, Doozers are born workmen. They toil all day long building 'Doozer Constructions,' edible towers, bridges, and buildings that the Fraggles then consume.
Trying to explain exactly why Fraggle Rock is such a great show is kind of like trying to describe why pizza is so much fun to eat. You can talk about the individual ingredients that make up a pizza, the crust, the sauce, the cheese and toppings, but pizza is so much more than the sum of its parts. The same is true for Fraggle Rock.
The show is based on expertly crafted and controlled muppets created by Jim Henson's group. Henson was a master at his craft, and this show exemplifies that more than any of his other work in TV. The Fraggles, Gorgs, and Doozers don't come across as puppets, they seem like real people and sometimes I have to pinch myself to remember they're not.
On top of the technical mastery that Henson brought to the show, were the great characters that were created. Yes, they do start out as one note stereotypes, as are just about all of the characters in children's shows, but they soon moved beyond that. Even in the first season the backgrounds and deep thoughts of the main Fraggles were revealed and turned them into real three-dimensional characters. That's something you don't often see in a show aimed at juveniles.
My favorite creation has to be Sprocket the dog. Henson's crew not only did a good with the dog's shaggy appearance but the character they were able to give this non-speaking animal was nothing short of amazing. I've owned dogs that are not as dog-like as this creation of foam and cloth. Yet while being firmly a dog he has human characteristics that make him easy to relate to (and he's sometimes smarter than his owner!)
The thing that really astounds me about this show is that the world of the Fraggles is very intricate and well thought out. Most prime-time shows aimed at adults don't put as much thought and care into the mechanics of day to day life. All of the inhabitants of the Rock, though they are different, all depend on each other to survive. Much like the real world. Take food for example. The show goes to a lot of trouble to explain just what all the various creatures eat. Gorgs live off of the vegetables they grow in their garden. Fraggles will occasionally steal a radish from the Gorgs to supplement their main diet of Doozer constructions. These constructions are made of a clear plastic-like material which the Doozers make from 'ore' they mine from, you guessed it, the Gorgs garden.
If consuming the buildings, bridges, and roadways the Doozers build sounds mean and cruel, it's really not. From a Doozer's point of view architecture should be appreciated, and the best way to appreciate it is to eat it. That, and when they stop eating them in one episode the Rock soon runs out of room so the Doozers can no longer build, which is disastrous for them.
There are also a lot of silly facts that are revealed over the course of the show that just make it fun. Things like Doozers get the hiccups if the jump up and down (which is dangerous for them) and that Wembley is so allergic to bonkleberries that just the smell of them will make him bonk.
Of course all this would have gone to waste if it wasn't topped (to continue the lame pizza metaphor) with some great stories. As was standard for just about all kids shows at the time, each episode had a 'lesson.' What made this program different is that they were incorporated nicely into the show and weren't overdone. Fraggle Rock realized that kids aren't stupid and could pick up on what they were trying to say without pounding the message home. This show not only talked about the evils of being selfish, sharing, and believing in yourself (the standards of the day,) but it also deals with some very adult themes: racism, pollution and the environment, even dealing with death.
There are many, many excellent shows, but one that has stuck in my brain since it first aired is "All Work and All Play." This concerns a young Doozer by the name of Cotterpin who doesn't like to build like the rest of her race. Instead, she likes to draw. She'd much rather be a Fraggle (they only work for 30 minutes a week) instead of building dumb old bridges and building. When it's time for her to graduate from school and earn the helmet that all Doozers wear, she decides not to take it. Instead she runs off to be a Fraggle, with predictably horrible results. If she can't be a Fraggle and she refuses to wear a Doozers helmet, what is she going to do? This is a nice episode that being true to yourself is very important.
Another memorable episode, one that is surprisingly deep especially for a children's show, is "Gone but Not Forgotten." When Wembley goes on his first over night hike though the Rock, he gets trapped in a landslide and rescued by a Mudbunny named Mudwell. Wembley and Mudwell soon become the best of friends and have lots of fun. After waking up from a nap however, Mudwell has changed and is very rude. Wembley leaves in a huff, but returns later in order to try to make up. When he does, he discovers Mudwell in a pool of mud. The Mudbunny tells him that he'd like to be friends, but that it's time for him to go. He then gets quiet and still. This is a very touching story, with an ending that works quite well.
Don't get the wrong impression though. There are a lot of light-hearted episodes that are fun too. The couple of episodes that feature Convincing John (played by Jim Henson) are great fun. He's a televangelist-type Fraggle, who has his own group of background singers no less, that can convince any other Fraggle to do absolutely anything. He talks Red into wearing a blindfold and Mokey to go around with plastic cups on her hands. Away from John they're not sure why they behaved like that, but it seemed like a good idea at the time. It's said that Convincing John can talk a stone into changing color and in one episode he even convinces Wembly to stop being indecisive.
The series ends with a two part story that is the perfect conclusion to the show. Touching but still fun, I won't give away what happens. Suffice to say when the last episode finished playing viewers will be pleased with the set.
This 20-disc set includes all 96 episodes of Fraggle Rock in a very nice looking package. The DVDs come in an attractive three-ring notebook covered with a plastic 'rock' with the show's title embossed on it. There are ten pages and two DVDs are housed in each paper page (they slip into a pocket) on the right, and on the left is a list of episodes. The set also comes with a nifty map of the Rock and its surroundings. The discs that have the first three seasons seem to be identical to the earlier releases.
The show comes with the original stereo soundtrack which has been well preserved. There isn't a lot of use made of the soundstage, but that's not really surprising. The range is fine and the songs all sound nice. There aren't any common audio defects (distortion, hiss) making this a nice, solid audio track. There are no subtitles.
I was very pleased with the way this show looks, especially since it's 25 year old. The 1.33:1 image is a bit on the soft side, and there is a bit of grain in some scenes, most notably the darker sections. The colors are solid and strong and the level of detail is fine. Overall this is a good looking set.
This set comes with a good amount of extras that will really please FR fans. Each season (four and five are put together as just season four) has its own bonus disc filled with extras.
Fraggle "Behind the Scenes" Documentary: Narrated by Jim Henson, this 50-minute featurette takes viewers to the set of Fraggle Rock to meet the puppetters and crew. They look at how the different muppets work and how they bring the creations to life. This is a great documentary that's a wonderful addition to the set.
New Interviews with Fraggle Rock Creators & Puppeteers: This is a contemporary roundtable interview with the cast and crew who reminisce about the show.
The Season 2 Overview covers the show's second year in 13 minutes.
Special Tribute to Jerry Juhl: a 36-minute look at the writer who helped make this show such a wonderful experience. Friend and co-workers are interviewed and by all accounts he was a great guy.
Docs and Sprockets: a 10-minute look at other actors who were filmed in the role of Doc when the show was broadcast overseas. It was great to see some of these alternate versions of the real-life sections of the show.
Travelling Matt: a look at the origins of Gobo's uncle
Steve's Home Movie: a five-minute home movie in the recording studio shot by Steve Whitmire (Wembley/Sprocket).
Finally there's a music video for "All Around the World."
Another jam-packed extra disc. This one includes:
Season 3 Overview: A half hour look at the third season.
Scared Silly: Art Imitating Life: Stories of the practical jokes the cast and crew played on each other.
Production Design Featurette
How the Trash Heap Came to Be
Interviews with Michael Frith, Kathy Mullen and Gerry Parkes
Several HBO promos.
The Inner Gorg: An Interview with the Performers inside the Costumes
Designing the Puppets: An Interview with the Puppet Makers
Directing the Fraggles: An Interview with Eric Till and George Bloomfield
Let the Music Play: An Interview with Phil Balsam and Dennis Lee
Dance Your Cares Away: The Evolution of the Theme Song
You Cannot Leave the Magic: Excerpts from the Last Day of Shooting
Celebrating Fraggle Rock: Excerpts from the Wrap Party
This is just an amazing set. Yes, I wish that HIT had also released
seasons four and five separately, and I hope they do in the near future.
Based on the content of this set however, I can't see giving it anything
but our highest rating: DVD Talk Collector's Series.
It's a fantastic show in an attractive binder with some great bonus
features. This is one show that never jumped the shark. I can't
recommend this set highly enough.