With Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom hitting screens very soon, we thought it would be a good time to look back at Dinosaurs, one of the strangest sitcoms in TV history. The show was a collaboration between the Henson and Disney companies, ran for four seasons, and ended with the most devastating finale imaginable. It’s a very strange story.
The Birth of ‘Dinoaurs’
The Muppets and Sesame Street creator Jim Henson spent years trying to get a sitcom about dinosaurs off the ground, with little joy. Because — in spite of the success of The Flintstones two decades previous — TV folk couldn’t get their heads around a weekly programme set in prehistoric times.
Hope came in the shape of a very modern show, however. The success of The Simpsons — a sitcom about an average family that didn’t look like an average family — finally helped TV executives to see the potential. Sadly Jim died before he saw his vision come to fruition, but Henson Productions collaborated with Walt Disney Television (and Michael Jacobs Productions) to get Dinosaurs on air in early 1991.
The show’s protagonists were brought to life via ground-breaking, full body animatronic puppets. But in spite of the fact that they were prehistoric creatures living in Pangaea in 60,000,003 BC, their story was a very modern one, revolving around a family of five — Megalosaurus Dad Earl Sinclair, Allosaurus Mum Fran, and their kids Robbie, Charlene and the undisputed star of the show, Baby. But more on him later.
They dealt with problems that average American families faced on a daily basis, to do with office politics, marital issues, growing pains, and many more sitcom staples. But Dinosaurs also tackled more serious issues like racism, religion and sexual harassment; unusual for a show that, on the surface at least, was squarely aimed at children.
Not the Mama
Dinosaurs debuted on April 26, 1991, and immediately became both a ratings and merchandising hit as part of the channel’s TGIF line-up, sandwiched between Full House and Family Matters. And that initial success wasn’t just because the show was a clever parody of everyday American life. It was also because of Baby.
The only character without a name was the cutest of the Sinclair clan, spouting a collection of adorable catchphrases that quickly caught on. “Gotta love me!” and “AGAIN!” were repeated on playgrounds and in households all over the world.
But it was “Non the Mama” that put the show on the map. Baby’s insistence on using this term — rather than Dad — caused Earl consternation. And was never not funny. So-much-so that if you now mention Dinosaurs to anyone who watched it, they’ll probably respond by quoting “Not the Mama” in Baby’s voice.
As the series progressed, Earl and co tackled ever-more-unexpected issues. A show about vegetarianism featured Bob Dylanosaurus performing ‘This Lamb is Your Lamb.’ “What ‘Sexual Harris’ Meant” touched on rape culture. And “Nuts to War” was a two-parter that attacked the Gulf War and mocked the President. All on ‘Prime Time’ TV.
But the success was short-lived. ABC moved the show to Wednesdays for Season 2, but the TGIF audience didn’t follow. They then pushed it back to Fridays, where the ratings further fell-off. Meaning that in 1994 Dinosaurs was cancelled. Ending in the most brutal way imaginable.
The Death of Dinosaurs
Dinosaurs tackled social and political issues, but when it came to serious stuff, the subject the show most frequently focussed on was the environment.
Many of the character names were inspired by oil companies — most obviously Earl’s boss B.P. Richfield. Similarly the show constantly hinted that the work Earl was doing clearing forests was having devastating consequences on the ecosystem. The WESAYSO Corporation that he worked for was also constantly doing things that were good for their bottom line, but bad for the planet.
It all comes to a head in final episode “Changing Nature”, during which WESAYSO decimates swampland where the Bunch Beetles live, building a wax fruit factory on their mating ground. This results in Bunch Beetle extinction and the vines they feast on growing out of control. Earl suggests using chemicals to kill said vines, but they also kill all plant life on the planet. And B.P.’s efforts to create clouds and rain to bring those plants back — by dropping bombs on volcanoes — effectively leads to a nuclear winter.
Meaning that the final scene — in a kids show, remember — played out with Earl delivering the following speech to a grieving Bunch Beetle, and his own family…
“Wax fruit’s important. But so are Bunch Beetles. I guess I owe the rest of you an apology too… for bringing on the end of the world and civilization and everything. I know I put too much faith in progress and technology and had too little respect for nature. It’s so easy to take nature for granted because it’s always there.”
The show doesn’t forget its comedy roots, with Earl’s mother-in-law chiming in with “I always knew you’d screw things up. I just didn’t know how bad.”
Then, before the the camera pans over an Ice Age forming outside his house, Earl signs off in devastating fashion, saying “dinosaurs have been on this earth for 150M years. It’s not like we’re just going to… disappear.” A truly tragic end to both the Sinclair story, and life on the planet.