Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock: Night of the Lights (2022)

Okay. First the simple. At time of writing, I've seen two episodes of the Fraggle Rock reboot including this holiday special, and they are really quite good. It's a lot like the original, just gently made more modern feeling. However, this special episode is dancing in the shadow of one of the all-time great holiday episodes, and that means there's a lot to live up to. I think the fairest thing is to talk about it on its own first, and then address the larger context. (I'll mark the sections ahead.)

If somehow you are ignorant of Fraggle Rock's premise, here's the quick pitch: A race of cheerful creatures (Fraggles) live in a system of underground caves, in a sort of symbiosis with a race of tiny hardworking creatures (Doozers) and in fear of a family of giant pompous fools (Gorgs). The tunnels also open into a workshop owned by a human who is unaware of the Fraggles and often has a parallel plot line going on. The episodes are usually comic adventures that touch on the unseen ways people (Fraggles/Doozers/Gorgs/humans) are connected, while highlighting community, friendship, and music. Every episode includes a dispatch from Traveling Matt, the only Fraggle to explore "Outer Space" (the human world) where he describes how whatever the "silly creatures" (humans) are doing is similar to whatever the Fraggles are dealing with. 

Night of the Lights:

The reboot, from the little I've seen, is delightful, and this episode is no exception. Our main troop of Fraggles is celebrating the Night of the Lights on the darkest night of the year. The caves are lit with "glow grapes" and the Fraggles are singing and celebrating. I really liked the Night of the Lights song, and the world needs more Solstice specials, so I was really enjoying this from the start.

After a joke about no one wanting to eat Boober's "rootcake", Mokey gives Red an awesome present, and we find out that Red wasn't able to find something for Mokey and she's torn up about it. A traveling musician named Jamdolin arrives and encourages everyone to make wishes, and Wembley wishes to see the biggest, most magical light ever. The World's Oldest Fraggle says that he's seen something like that, and soon all the friends are following him deep into the Rock. 

They dodge through the Gorgs' garden, and the Gorgs are celebrating by trying to eliminate the darkness entirely, using glow grapes on every exposed surface. We check in with Marjorie the Trash Heap (an oracle), and she warns them about glow-grape-eating bugs, but isn't able to help Red with her present-giving conundrum. The World's Oldest Fraggle has a flashback to when he was the World's Youngest Fraggle (the "Cave Fraggles" here are amusing) and saw this magical light. However, in the present, Gobo, Wembley, and the others are beginning to worry that he doesn't actually know where they're going. 

Gobo reads a postcard from Traveling Matt, who claims that he's seen silly creatures celebrating the Night of the Lights in many different ways. The first holiday featured in this sequence was Diwali, which is a fantastic choice! Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and a little bit of Christmas appear as well, all described as variations on a theme. I'm not surprised by this, the people making this reboot clearly respect the original series and its ideals, but I was still thrilled to see it. What a great sequence for a kids' special! 

Unfortunately, once Gobo's done reading, bugs eat the glow grapes the Fraggles are carrying, stranding them deep in an unknown part of the rock on the darkest night of the year. After a bit of panic, Jambolin advises them to embrace the darkness, not push it away. And then... they see something. 

They find an exit up onto the surface, only to behold the Aurora Borealis - obviously the biggest, most magical light there is, but it needs the dark to shine. Everyone is thrilled. Red finally explains to Mokey that she doesn't have a gift because she couldn't come up with anything worthy of how awesome Mokey is, but of course friendship is the best gift. They all sing and celebrate, and the Doozers and the Gorgs stop what they're doing as well to contemplate the light. 

The closing number is good, although it doesn't feel quite perfect for the moment and the story, but I'll get back to that in a minute. 

It is a sweet, warm, happy half-hour, and perhaps it rushes through things at times, but it was still great.

More Context (AKA I was a kid in the '80s):

Okay, ALL of that said, it's still not as good as The Bells of Fraggle Rock. Both are about the Solstice, which I appreciate, but different aspects (darkness versus winter/cold/stillness). Night of the Lights does a better job being more explicit with the connections with human holidays in the Traveling Matt section, but The Bells of Fraggle Rock uses the Doc and Sprocket sections (they appear only momentarily in Night of the Lights) to be more explicit about the history and the astronomy of the solstice.

Night of the Lights is funnier and lighter in tone, whereas The Bells of Fraggle Rock has real gravitas. Gobo has a deep crisis of faith, learns to seek salvation within instead of without, and the Fraggles literally sing the cold winter away to save their lives. The emotional stakes just aren't there in the new one. 

Plus, as lovely as Daveed Diggs is as Jambolin, how could anyone live up to Cantus as played by Jim Henson? I am very grateful that they came up with a new character and didn't try to recast. 

I alluded to this a few times, but you can really feel the love and respect that the writers of the new series have for the old one. It took me a minute to adjust to the idea that we've reset any personality growth characters went through in the original series back to square one (except for Cotterpin for some reason), but that's a minor quibble. 

Let's touch on music. The Bells of Fraggle Rock features the song "There's a Promise," which is a joyful tune that feels right for group caroling and it's quite focused on the solstice ideas with lyrics like "a dream of green that needs to wake." Meanwhile, the song "Night of the Lights" feels much more like a modern holiday pop hit with solos and syncopation. It's also quite good, just two different approaches. 

Back to the Rock uses a mixture of new songs and new recordings of classic Fraggle music, and Night of the Lights ends with the song "Magic Be With You." Which almost works as a holiday song, the rhythm, repetition, and the way it builds feels a bit like... maybe a Quaker hymn is the closest? But there isn't anything specific to the song that really fits with the episode or the lessons learned within. And that's because the song is originally from the final episode of the original Fraggle Rock, and it features during the final sequence - it's about the fact that the connections between friends can't be broken, and magic, once experienced, cannot be left or unknown again. 

I don't want to come down on the Back to the Rock people. I'm seeing reactions online from other fans who love using the song in the new episode. And when this episode was written, it is very possible that they didn't know whether this would be the last episode of the new series (it has been picked up for more) and just felt it was good to come back to this song. 

But for me, it doesn't quite work here, and it makes me sad that I can't wholeheartedly love this. 


Night of the Lights is really great and you should watch it, although long-time Fraggle fans might find it less than perfect.