For some reason, I’m still on Facebook. And one thing I’ve noticed about Facebook recently is that approximately half the posts I see are not from accounts, pages, or groups I deliberately followed. Instead, Facebook haphazardly tosses posts at me from various pop culture nostalgia pages, many of which are about sitcoms. They have names like “Classic Sitcom Nostalgia” or “We Certainly Do Have Fond Memories of Sitcoms from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s.”
One show that comes up repeatedly in these posts is Dinosaurs. And it’s not just Facebook posts. In my Google alerts for the phrase “Jim Henson,” I also frequently get links to articles and blog posts about Dinosaurs.
That’s swell! Dinosaurs was a funny show, and a unique one – and I really do mean “unique,” in that it was one of a kind. As far as I know, there have not been any other major network sitcoms starring a cast of animatronic talking prehistoric reptiles.
All of these posts and articles provide a general overview of the show, and a few words about the brief period when Baby Sinclair was America’s second-favorite TV character after Murphy Brown, delighting viewers of all ages by hitting his dad on the head and saying “Not the mama!” But the majority tend to end up focusing on the same thing: the series finale.
For those who happen to be unfamiliar with Dinosaurs, the final episode is called “Changing Nature,” and it involves the titular dinosaurs making some careless decisions that damage the environment and cause a disastrous chain reaction. As the episode concludes, it looks like we’re witnessing the extinction of the dinosaurs. That’s right: Show’s over, so all the characters are about to die!
I understand why so many websites and social media accounts want to write about this. It was a bold way to end a series – especially a comedy! Most of these posts and articles say something like “Hey, did you know this family-friendly puppet show concluded by KILLING all the characters? Isn’t that SO dark and crazy and SO not for kids?”
And yeah, it is dark and crazy. And weirdly interesting, even! But from the very beginning, Dinosaurs covered topics that you would not normally see on the family-friendly TGIF lineup where it premiered. And “Changing Nature” was just ONE of SIXTY-FIVE episodes! There are 64 more we could be talking about! And okay, maybe not all of them dealt with Mature Themes. But a bunch of them did!
For example, did you know there’s an episode (Season 2’s “Family Challenge”) where the Sinclairs’ TV gets destroyed, and everyone except Fran is devastated because they can’t live without it? That’s right – the producers of Dinosaurs got ABC, a television network, to air an episode about the dangers of addiction to television! Isn’t that so wild and bonkers? Or at least a little bit wild and bonkers?
And then there’s “What Sexual Harris Meant,” also from Season 2. In that one, there’s a dinosaur named Harris who makes suggestive comments to Fran’s friend Monica, then has her fired when she rejects his advances, which leads to an official corporate hearing to determine exactly what Sexual Harris meant.
I find the existence of this episode just as startling as the finale’s. It seems like it must have been inspired by Anita Hill’s testimony regarding Clarence Thomas’s proclivity for sexual harassment during Thomas’s Supreme Court nomination hearings. But Muppet Wiki says this episode was taped in November 1991 and aired in December. Hill’s testimony happened in October of that year.
Did they really put together such a topical episode of such a technically challenging TV series in less than two months? That would be extremely impressive! And definitely worthy of a Facebook post or an online article!
Dinosaurs did an episode where a bunch of characters do drugs (Season 2’s “A New Leaf”), an episode about two-legged dinosaurs blaming all of their problems on four-legged dinosaurs and passing laws to make life harder for for-leggers (Season 3’s “Green Card”), and a two-parter about how stupid war is… which aired just about a year after the conclusion of Operation Desert Storm. Surely that’s weirdly interesting enough to talk about on social media!
Hey, have you noticed how a lot of conservatives these days are trying really hard to eliminate ideas they don’t like – banning certain concepts from the classroom and calling for boycotts of media producers?
Way back in 1992 (in Season 3’s “Charlene’s Flat World”), Dinosaurs did an episode where Charlene is arrested for giving a report at school — because the dinosaur leadership doesn’t like her introducing a new idea (namely, that the Earth is round). And an episode (“Baby Talk”) where Earl sees a TV show that includes a bad word (“smoo”), and rather than simply choosing not to let his children watch the show, he petitions the government to ban the word altogether… which becomes the start of a slippery slope in which dozens of words are banned based on the demands of over-sensitive parents.
Oh, and here’s one more – not so much a hot-button issue, but still worthy of a raised eyebrow (though sadly, dinosaurs didn’t have eyebrows). You know all those episodes of mid-‘90s ABC sitcoms where the characters take trips to Disney World? Full House did it, Family Matters did it, Step by Step, Roseanne, and Boy Meets World did it. Many of these happened around the time Disney bought the ABC network – or a few years earlier, when the Mouse and the Alphabet had already established a friendly relationship.
Dinosaurs did an episode that’s essentially the opposite of those. Sure, “Variations on a Theme Park” takes place at Wesaysoland, not Disney World, but it’s pretty clear that Disney parks are the target.
But where all those other episodes try as hard as they can to convince viewers that going to a Disney theme park is the most exciting and magical experience a family could possibly have, Dinosaurs shows the Sinclairs having a bad time on their Disney-style trip! Everything costs too much and the rides are broken! And by the way, that episode is on Disney+ now.
Where are all the Facebook posts spotlighting this episode and overreacting to it? Like “Can you BELIEVE the Jim Henson Company got away with this, RIGHT UNDER DISNEY’S NOSE?”
You get the idea. Dinosaurs was much more than just the show where the baby hit the dad on the head and said “Not the mama!” and everybody died at the end. If you’re reading this and you run a Facebook page called “Super Cool Retro TV Basement,” I hope you’ll feel free to make mention of these other fascinating examples of SHOCKING episodes.
And in conclusion: It’s pretty funny when the baby hits the dad on the head and says “Not the mama!”
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by Ryan Roe – Ryan@ToughPigs.com