Friday, February 10, 2012

Nostalgia Theater: ABC's Dinosaurs

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, after The Simpsons' early runaway success helped put the Fox network on the map, we saw a brief rush of attempts by the other nets to capture some of that "animated sitcom" mojo for themselves, resulting in a flood of blink-and-gone primetime 'toons like Capital Critters, Fish Police, Family Dog, etc. One of the few tries that actually made it for a little while was Dinosaurs, a puppet-animatronic sitcom initially developed by Muppets creator Jim Henson in the late '80s, but brought to fruition just under a year after his death by son Brian, Disney and ABC TV.

Premiering in April of 1991 as part of ABC's then-popular "TGIF" block of Friday night comedies, Dinosaurs enjoyed a decent amount of ratings and buzz initially. Following the workaday travails of the Sinclair clan, Dinosaurs stuck strenuously close to the Simpsons template (something the Simpsons folks had some fun with as well), with blue collar paterfamilias Earl toiling away for evil corporate tycoon B.P. Richfield, while long-suffering wife Fran handles the homefront, including two teenagers, and a catchphrase-spouting toddler who briefly spawned a Bart-esque merchandising bonanza:

Tackling issues such as religion, racism, classism, and sexism, etc. from a satirical bent, Dinosaurs enjoyed a decent amount of success early on, thanks to its novel format and some strong writing, but by the time of its fourth season ratings had fallen to a degree that, coupled with the high cost of production, made its final fate inevitable. Thus, the July 20, 1994 episode marked the extinction of Dinosaurs -- literally. Making one last topical point, the producers took the show out in a blaze of depression, with Earl loosing an environmental catastrophe that causes the titular titans' eventual decimation. Check out the last few minutes of the finale, bearing in mind that this is a kids' show.

Supposedly (per Wikipedia, anyway) that episode actually came with a parental advisory to warn grownups that their wee ones might end up horribly traumatized after watching it. And can you blame them? Heck, I'm a grown damn man and seeing that again makes me want to walk quietly into traffic. The good news for us is that the entirety of Dinosaurs is now available on home video, meaning you now have the opportunity to let your kids watch the entire run of the show, form an attachment to the characters and situations, and then have their innocence ripped away as they slowly realize that the Grim Reaper is coming for everyone they care about. Gotta love it!


Abu Ibrahim said...

Lord have mercy, I bet sales of Xanax tripled after this episode.

That has to be one of the most depressing things I've ever seen. I remember this show when I was about 12 years old or so.

But it did start to get corny after a while and I lost interest by the time I was 15 (not surprising that I started to be interested in other things around the same time).

Not sure what ABC was thinking about when they approved this one.

Zaki said...

They probably weren't even paying attention. Ratings for the show had no doubt dropped to the point where it was no longer a going concern. I can guarantee that if the ratings and/or the merchandising were doing better, there's no way they would have let it end this way.

In a way, y'gotta respect 'em going out the way they did.