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Dinosaurs have been wiped from the earth a second time. Well, assuming that “wiped from the earth” means the same thing as “pulled from the list of TV shows streaming on Netflix as of today.” I’m specifically referring to Dinosaurs, the bizarre family sitcom that aired on ABC from 1991 to 1994. The sitcom with possibly the saddest ending in television history.
For those of you who don’t remember, Dinosaurs was produced by the Jim Henson Company and centered around a family of animatronic dinosaurs. Like The Simpsons, the show was goofy enough that kids liked it even though most of the jokes were actually intended for adults. For most of its run it appeared on TGIF, ABC’s Friday night lineup that also included shows like Full House and Family Matters. Earl Sinclair, the dad, was a schlubby crankypants who worked as a tree pusher for a big corporation called Wesayso. He was a little bit Fred Flintstone, a little bit Homer Simpson, and a little bit Archie Bunker.
Earl’s wife Fran was tall and very patient, as wives on family sitcoms usually are. There were two teenaged kids named Robbie and Charlene, the latter of whom was voiced by squeaky Sally Struthers. The voice of Sally Struthers is hard to forget, especially if you were alive in the early nineties and remember the days of the International Correspondence School.
But most episodes of Dinosaurs were dominated by Baby, a very self-absorbed infant voiced by Kevin Clash, the same guy who voiced Elmo on Sesame Street. That man has a really unique talent for ear-piercing noises. Baby had a number of trademark quirks, which included hitting his father with a miniature frying pan while shrieking his signature catchphrase, “Not the momma!”
He also screamed a lot. He seemed funny at the time but rewatching the show in 2015 that screaming sound is almost unbearable. The baby is so annoying that the writers clearly got sick of him, too. The second-to-last episode is a parody of The Exorcist. But really he just wanted to be loved, as evidenced by his single, “I’m The Baby”.
When Dinosaurs was canceled, the show’s writers decided to go out with a bang. Perenially low ratings meant it bounced around from Friday to Sunday and then over to Wednesday, where it perished as summer filler. Dinosaurs‘ final episode, “Changing Nature,” begins with the characters awaiting the annual arrival of the Bunch Beetle, an insect that lives on an invasive creeping poppy. But the swarms don’t show up. One beetle does, but he’s lost. Charlene leads him to the swamp where the bunch beetles mate, only to find that the Wesayso Corporation has paved over it and put up a wax fruit factory. With no beetles to cut back the poppies, the plants get out of control and Wesayso is blamed. Their solution? Spray the land with a defoliant that will kill the poppies.
Unfortunately, that plan backfires and all plant life on the planet is also killed. Wesayso couldn’t be happier, since they specialize in processed foods with no real nutritional content, but they decide that the plants will grow again if they can just make it rain. And how do you make it rain? Drop bombs in volcanos, of course. But volcanic clouds aren’t the same as rain clouds, and the volcanic ash blocks out the sun. The earth gets rapidly colder, and the episode ends with all of the the entire Sinclair family sitting in front of the TV together, freezing to death.
The show was made by Jim Henson Productions and produced by Disney, so the heavy-handed environmentalism seems a little surprising and even disturbing by today’s standards. On the other hand, TV shows were more political in the early nineties than they are today. It was also a time when children’s programs had strong environmental messages, with cartoons like Captain Planet and the less fondly remembered Widget the World Watcher.
“Changing Nature” is gone from Netflix but there’s always Youtube. Get the Kleenex ready.