38 Years Ago, Jim Henson Made The Fraggle Rock Christmas Episode Timeless
With Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock rocking Apple TV, we caught up with Dave Goelz, a veteran Fraggle, for a trip down memory lane.
This year, Fraggle Rock dropped a new holiday special, Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock Night of the Lights Holiday Special. But, for those of us who remember the 1980s, the Fraggles are old friends. As of this holiday season, you can stream both this new Fraggle holiday special and also, 1984 classic “The Bells of Fraggle Rock” on Apple TV+. To dive into the enduring appeal of the Fraggles and to talk about Christmas specials new and old, Fatherly caught up with Dave Goelz AKA the Fraggle is known as Travelling Matt. Here’s a brief recap of everything Fraggle that’s happened up until now.
Way back on January 10, 1983, the world first made the acquaintance of the Fraggles, Doozers, Gorgs, and Silly Creatures (a/k/a humans) that populated Fraggle Rock, the outlandish, colorful, inventive, and entertaining show from the beloved Muppet maestro, Jim Henson. Over the course of five seasons, Henson and company produced 96 episodes, and fans – primarily kids, and often whole families – fell in love with the Fraggles, beings that lived in caves, worked a half-hour a day, dined on radishes, and found joy in each other and everything around them. Lessons (some pretty serious) were learned and songs were sung.
A short-lived animated Fraggle Rock debuted – and ended – in 1987. Henson produced it, but different actors voiced the familiar characters. Another animated show, a spin-off called The Doozers, debuted in 2013 and ran for two seasons. In 2020, during the pandemic, Apple TV+ resurrected Fraggle Rock as a six-episode series of digital shorts. Apple TV+ then ordered new episodes of the classic series — Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock — and recruited several surviving puppeteers/voice artists. So, for example, Karen Prell once again operates the Red puppet and voices the character. And Dave Goelz, the man behind the Great Gonzo and other cherished Muppet Show characters, not only voices Boober and Uncle Travelling Matt again, but serves as an executive producer on Back to the Rock. Apple TV+ dropped 13 well-received episodes of Back to the Rock in January 2022, with Foo Fighters, Daveed Diggs, Cynthia Erivo, Ed Helms, and Kenan Thompson making guest appearances. And on November 18, Apple debuted the new holiday special, Night of the Lights.
“This is what I do,” Uncle Travelling Matt told Fatherly of reporting on his latest explorations, during a recent Zoom conversation. “This is, I believe, my bag, as you Silly Creatures say. Anyway, I love doing it.” Uncle Travelling Matt laughed when asked if he’s ever met a Silly Creature named Dave Goelz, who’s 76 years old, hails from Los Angeles, and weaved his magic not just on The Muppet Show (where he also performed Beauregard, Zoot, and Dr. Bunsen Honeydew) and Fraggle Rock, but also The Dark Crystal, and Labyrinth.
A week later, Fatherly chatted by telephone with Uncle Travelling Matt’s alter ego, Goelz. In a voice that was warm and friendly, he tried to put into words why Fraggle Rock endures. “When you're a kid, you can watch this show, and you think you're watching a big adventure, which you are,” Goelz opined. “By the time you're an adult, you realize it was a show about treating each other well, finding harmony in the world, respecting the environment, and understanding other cultures. I love it. I love the fact that that message is embedded in something that's fun for kids to watch.”
Fraggle Rock fans will remember the popular Christmas episode, “The Bells of Fraggle Rock,” which premiered in 1984. “Night of the Lights” broadens the horizon, as Uncle Travelling Matt drops in on several families celebrating their respective holidays. In this day and age, Goelz noted, it’s vital for a family show to be all-embracing and not solely spotlight Christmas.
“This is one of the things I learned from working with Jim [Henson],” Goelz says and credits Henson for ensuring the original Fraggle holiday episode touched on various holiday celebrations, not just Christmas. “Through Traveling Matt, you can see that everybody in the world wants the same thing,” Goelz explains. “They just want to live, have a family, prosper, and be comfortable. We immediately, as soon as I joined, became international. We started going to England. We went to Japan and Germany and worked in various cultures. What I realized is that they're all the same. There are some differences, going to a location, (in terms of) what foods they eat, where they are in the world, the weather, all those things, but underneath it, people are the same. And they’re generally pretty wonderful.”
Goelz plans to remain as active a participant as possible, for as long as possible, with Fraggle Rock and any Muppet projects. He’s hopeful that Apple will renew Back to the Rock for another season, and he recently completed work on The Muppets Mayhem, a Disney+ show that will debut in May.
“The Muppets Mayhem is about Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Band trying to create their first record album,” said Goelz, who, as always, plays the groovy saxophonist, Zoot. “And, I love Fraggle Rock. I love the people who are involved. It's a remarkable group. There are only three of us who were on the original show; everybody else is new, and they were either raised with it or they just bought into it as soon as they found out what the original show was. Our creative group in Los Angeles and our studio group up in Calgary, they're all on board. They love what the show tries to do.”
Fraggle Rock, and Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock are both streaming on Apple TV+.