Friday, September 20, 2013

"Fraggle Rock" Month - Season 2 Episode 15: "Manny's Land of Carpets"

Great Gorgs, we're here already!  We're at one of the episodes I was most excited to revisit and discuss and I'm stunned that it's already here in Season Two!  Seriously, having first seen it as part of TNT's rerun of "Fraggle Rock" sometime in the early 90's, I assumed "Manny's Land of Carpets" would have come from much later in the series; perhaps even the final season due to its go-for-broke "It's the end and we want to go out on our own terms, so look at what subjects we're tackling NOW!" mentality.  But nope, it's already here in the second season.  I'm floored.

So then, let us discuss "Manny's Land of Carpets", also known as the episode where the concept of God is accidentally introduced to the Fraggles and almost completely destroys their society.

(Obligatory "I am not looking for Dark and/or Edgy Subtext in something innocuous; that really IS the subtext" disclaimer.)

Okay.  Obviously this is an unexpected place for a kids' show with cute singing puppets to go.  It all starts innocently enough.  To save his sensitive ears, Sprocket hides a malfunctioning radio that Doc has been trying to fix deep in the tunnel leading to Fraggle Rock.  Gobo assumes this is a gift from "The Wish-Granting Creature".  See, an earlier postcard from Uncle Matt introduced Gobo to the concept of Santa Claus, as filtered through Matt's misinterpretation-prone brain.  No, this isn't a Christmas episode (in hindsight, that would have been incredible) but it is our first clue that there's something an awful lot more interesting going on here than the supposed bland "advertising/technology is bad" message some folks apparently got from this episode according to a few episode guides I've seen online (by the way, what the hell happened to all the "Fraggle Rock" fansites out there?!)

Gobo enlists the aid of Wembly and Boober to bring the strange machine to the Great Hall so the other Fraggles can enjoy it, but Boober protests.  Whatever this thing is, he says, it doesn't belong in the Rock.  Boober is outvoted, and the Fraggles bring the radio down to the Hall.  At first, it is a wondrous thing, a magical box that occasionally plays music when the signal comes through -- but sometimes they can hear the voice of the Wish-Granting Creature himself.  He tells Gobo of a wonderful place where "your happiness is guaranteed".  Another Fraggle messes with the dial and the Wish-Granting Creature promises him endless "all you can eat" food and pleasure.  Eventually, even Boober is seduced with the prospect of truly spotless laundry.

The Fraggles are thus separated into three factions with staggering speed, each group arguing with ever-increasing fervor over which of the Wish-Granting Creature's promises is the true one.  And all the Fraggles are ready to split up and leave the rock for good, wandering the unknown world in search of a better one promised by a wildly misunderstood disembodied voice.  Until, after a bit of soul-searching, Gobo finally decides that the box really doesn't belong in Fraggle Rock and, frankly, that they're all better off without this confusing Wish-Granting Creature.  So they bring the thing back to Doc's workshop (and in the surprisingly poignant epilogue, Doc wonders aloud what kind of awful impression people around the world would get from the things broadcast by his town's local radio station.  Remember, this was a pre-anyone-can-get-on-the-Internet 1984.)

Holy sh*t, guys.

This episode is f-ing fascinating.  I want to note how very different "Manny's Land of Carpets" looks and feels from any other episode of "Fraggle Rock".  It honestly looks and feels an awful lot more like a classic "Twilight Zone" episode.  There are frequent ominous cross-fades, and the climax is shot almost exactly like the end of "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street".  And there's that eerie red light on Doc's radio, reminiscent of similarly unnerving features on all the slot machines, telephones, and other devices Rod Serling loved to imbue with a malevolent intelligence.

More importantly, what struck me even harder during this episode, aside from the brilliant central concept and general "I can't believe they're actually going there" awesomeness, is seeing how much "Fraggle Rock" has matured.  The Fraggles would lose a lot of their innocence in the back half of Season 2 (this episode was soon followed by the more famous "Fraggle Wars"), and it would be the start of many more subtle and thought-provoking stories told in the Rock.

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