|In Short:||Still topical and often hilarious, Dinosaurs stands the test of time (and adulthood).|
|BABY:||I'm the baby, gotta love me!|
I actually remember when Dinosaurs first aired on network TV. This probably dates me a little more than I’d like (but then, I also once had a secret Pop Rocks stash and a naïve crush on Boy George, so the time has obviously come for me to accept my aged decrepitude and get past it). I don’t remember, exactly, why my brother and I were ever permitted to watch this show -- as I’m pretty sure it aired in prime time, which was otherwise known as “when you live in your own house, you can watch whatever you want” time in our happy family -- but I do know that we did, and that this permission was revoked not too many weeks later due to excessive usage of the catchphrase “Not the Mama! Not the Mama!” (A similar fate had earlier befallen us after a few too many reruns of Diff’rent Strokes. But, seriously, what was Willis talkin’ bout?)
For those of you who ever watched Dinosaurs, you will perhaps recollect that it was -- at least, initially -- all about the catchphrases. Not only the aforementioned “Not the Mama!” but also “I’m the baby, gotta love me!” and “Again!”. These were all frequently uttered by the most memorable member of the animatronic cast, the newly-hatched infant dinosaur who eventually is officially named Baby -- a precocious poppet who would hit his father over the head with a frying pan and was prone to outbursts of insane cuteness. You may also vaguely remember, as did I, that the sitcom dinosaur family was rounded out by a teenage girl dinosaur with a love of “the Mall”, a rebellious and soft-hearted teenage son in a letterman’s jacket, a snide Grandmother and two Fred-and-Wilma-esque parents.
When Amazon helpfully recommended to me (somewhat peculiarly, I thought, after I bought the latest Robot Chicken release) that I purchase all four seasons of Dinosaurs on DVD, I was immediately besieged by three thoughts. One: Dinosaurs had four seasons? Two: Dinosaurs is on DVD? And three: hell, yes! When the box sets arrived in due course, I was apprehensive but intrigued; it had been at least two decades since I had even thought of this show, but I had definitely once been quite taken with it in a Muppet-y, Simpsons-y way, and was eager to see if reality matched remembrance.
And, as is all too rare an occurrence for most of us, my rose-colored glasses had not played me false. ‘Cause I found in Dinosaurs one hell of a funny TV series, and I don’t care who knows it.
The chief cause of this humor lies in the pointed allegory that is drawn between the series’ prehistoric civilization of clothes-wearing, car-driving, job-having dinosaurs and our own. And despite being a product of the decade that spawned it and putting forward more than one dated reference – the producer’s really hated Barney the Dinosaur, for instance -- the underlying issues that the show often addressed (the environment, sexuality, race and gender equality, exploitation, commercialization, family dynamics, conformity, corporate hegemony and political apathy) are remarkably – an sadly – as relevant today as they were then.
Yes, the metaphor is occasionally a little too pointed – subtlety was never going to be in the purview of a show peopled with what amount to muppets (well, except for in Farscape) -- but no more so than South Park (in fact, Dinosaurs had a TV censorship episode to rival the Terrence and Phillip “Blame Canada” affair), or The Simpsons (to whom it owes an obvious allegiance), or Terry Pratchett’s Discworld.
Dinosaurs is also pleasingly self-referential, particularly in its early episodes; the second season stand out, “How to Pick Up Girls” (02.10), features this laugh-out-loud exchange between the Sinclair parents:
EARL: Frannie, you gotta see this
FRAN: Earl, that’s a kid’s show
EARL: Yeah, you'd think that because they're puppets, so the show seems to have a children's aesthetic. (Turns to camera) Yet the dialogue is unquestionably sharp-edged, witty, and thematically skewed to adults.
I couldn’t agree more.
Indeed, Dinosaurs is filled with classic lines, an array of unexpected hilarity that I can see making its way into my general lexicon. “War” as an acronym for “We Are Right”; Grandma’s doleful reading of the children’s “classic” Goodnight Rock: “Goodnight rock. Goodnight stone. Goodnight stick. Goodnight another rock. Godnight dirt. Goodnight yet another rock…”; the reaction to brontosaurus Monica (voiced by the distinctively wry tones of the incomparable Susie Plakson) when she and other four legged dinosaurs are the victims of discrimination: “They fired me, two desks and a coffee table.”
Gold, I tell you! Gold!
The series also gives us some tender family moments, and while it has its share of Very Special Episodes (the ones where teenage daughter Charlene’s tail grows in and suddenly makes that boys all like her, and teenage son Robbie is caught doing “the mating dance” my himself, could not be more Seventh Heaven if they tried), it almost always manages to undercut these with subversive, sly wit.
Which leads me to perhaps my favorite quote from the series (and there are many), coming at the conclusion of the drug-addled “A New Leaf” (02.17)…
ROBBIE: Drugs ruin lives, divide families and lead to heavy-handed preachy sitcom episodes like this one. Of course, we managed to keep it delightfully funny and upbeat, but other shows aren’t so lucky. There’s an epidemic in television today that threatens to very fiber of the comedy we hold so dear. When one show does an anti-drug episode, other shows feel pressured to do one too… so, come on, say “no” to drugs! Help put a stop to preachy sitcom endings like this one. It’s up to you to make a difference.
All in all, revisiting Dinosaurs was an agreeable surprise for me: it is funny, thought-provoking, clever, edgy and still very timely. And while it has that cartoon-ish feel whereby nothing ever really progresses very much, where lessons learned are forgotten by the next episode and character development (particularly in family patriarch, Earl) rarely sticks, it still appeals on many, many levels. Its frequent parodies of television as a medium (again, still relevant) are always amusing -- the cable network dedicated to watching grass grow is an entertainingly apt swipe at televised golf, my life’s particular bugaboo -- and it is just fun. Even the very ending of the series, in which the future looks bleak indeed for the dinosaurs as a species, is a joy in all its ironic, revisionist-history symbolism.
But above all, this show features Baby Sinclair, who’s unbearable cuteness of being remains, and who’s cries of “Not the Mama!” just never get old.
SPECIAL FEATURES REPORT
There are a bunch, including the behind the scenes stuff I never watch, some audio commentaries I didn’t feel compelled to listen to and a featurette called “I’m the Baby, Gotta Love Me! which I most assuredly did. The Season 3 and 4 box set contains six bonus episodes never aired on TV, most of which are really very good. In case I haven’t made myself clear, I LOVE THIS SHOW!
-- Rachel Hyland