Monday, September 30, 2013

"Fraggle Rock" Month: Season 4, Episode 9 - "Wembly's Flight"

Well, here we are already at the final set of "Fraggle Rock" DVDs.  I didn't think we'd be here so early and I'm already feeling pretty down, knowing that the end is near.  Sadly, march on towards the final episodes we must, although we need to talk about network scheduling weirdness first.

The final twenty-four episodes of "Fraggle Rock" were produced as one final season.  In America, HBO ran the first half of that last season as "Season Four", then ran the second half the next year as "Season Five".  I'm going to ignore all this and just refer to the last season as Season Four, partially out of convenience, and partially because, upon review, the first half of this season set is... I'll be very nice and call it a bumpy ride.

And I say that with full knowledge that even at it's worst, "Fraggle Rock" is still the very best children's television program ever produced.  A bad episode of "Fraggle Rock" is still a damn sight more fun to watch as an adult than a good episode of "Johnny Test" after all.  But a bad episode of "Fraggle Rock" (and Jim forgive me but there are some real stinkers in this demiseason; I won't have any regrets skipping past the especially tedious "Space-Frog Follies" and "Mirror Mirror" next time I watch this series) hurts an awful lot more because we know how excellent this show can be.  It just really feels like the writers of "Fraggle Rock" may have hit a wall at this point in the series and that's sad to see. 

I did like a couple of the episodes in this batch.  "Wonder Mountain" is a very funny episode with some imaginative stuff in it, but it feels like it'd be happier as an "Adventure Time" episode. "A Tune For Two" is pretty cute but is rightfully best known for the song "Children of Tomorrow".  "Uncle Matt's Discovery" and "Red's Blue Dragon" have some very nice -even genuinely poignant- character moments, but they also involve a very strange new plot device that is introduced in the former and then utterly ignored except for the latter, which also spoils the poignancy by turning into a tonally discordant wacky slapstick chase scene that seems to go on for freaking ever.

And then there's "Wembly's Flight".  Of the episodes in the front half of Season Four, this one gives me the most to discuss.  And even then, I appreciate this episode more for what it is trying to do than for what it actually does.

Here's why I at least appreciate the idea behind "Wembly's Flight":  It has -up until a certain point- almost exactly the same plot as "Elaroo's Wishday".  A character wonders out loud about how cool it would be to be able to fly.  That character somehow gets the opportunity to make a wish and wishes to be able to fly.

You know how this story usually goes from here, right?  Because this is not only the plot to "Elaroo's Wishday", it's the plot of the early Disney cartoon "The Flying Mouse" and the staggeringly irresponsible children's book "The Little Rabbit Who Wanted Red Wings" as well.  At one time, both were listed under TV Tropes' Warped Aesop page and here's why: what usually happens next is that the flight-enabled character is now resented or even hated and feared by their friends and family specifically because they are able to fly.  Because of this, they go back on their wish, wishing to just be normal again.  "You don't want to be different and special, kids," is the moral of the story, "I mean, you don't want to fly, kids!  Why, if you were able to fly, everyone you love would shun you for... some... reason... Well, never mind!  Point is, just trust us kids.  Those grapes are SO sour you couldn't even imagine."

"Fraggle Rock" being "Fraggle Rock", once Wembly is temporarily able to fly (as an aside, the ability is granted to him by a magical creature who looks like a mysterious old man [or a cuter version of a character from "The Dark Crystal"] but self-identifies as a beautiful Fairy Godmother, so we have our second instance of nontypical gender identity in the children's series from the early 80's to go with the awesome female characters and older characters and once again, look at how freakin' easy this is), the story goes in a very different direction.  And after it does, it falters for a bit, but towards the end it does something awesome.  Instead of the old "I'm sad cause I can fly" ending, this episode instead says, "Eff that noise!  Being able to fly would be AWESOME!  And if you're ever able to fly, don't do it for other people's reasons, just do it because it is awesome!"  And so we get a great song about how flying is terrific and the episode ends with a long sequence where Wembly flies around Fraggle Rock, having a blast.

So, really, not the most thought-provoking episode we've seen in this marathon.  But there will be plenty of those in the second half of this season.

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