"DINOSAURS: THE COMPLETE FIRST AND SECOND SEASONS"
by Kevin Carr
|| MOVIE: ** (out of 5 stars)
DVD EXPERIENCE: ** (out of 5 stars)
Stuart Pankin as EARL SINCLAIR
Jessica Walter as FRAN SINCLAIR
Jason Willinger as ROBBIE SINCLAIR
Sally Struthers as CHARLENE SINCLAIR
Florence Stanley as GRANDMA ETHYL PHILLIPS
Sam McMurray as ROY HESS
Sherman Hemsley as B.P. RICHFIELD
Kevin Clash as BABY SINCLAIR
Created by: Michael Jacobs and Bob Young
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A television show like “Dinosaurs” is a classic example of the parts being greater than their sum. If you break the show into different aspects, there is absolute genius to be found. However, with it all put together, you’re left with just another average family sit com.
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“Dinosaurs” was a modern sit com stuck in a prehistoric world. It took place when dinosaurs ruled the earth, but in settling down and becoming civilized, they started their downfall. The main family is the Sinclairs (subtly named after the petroleum company). Earl (Stuart Pankin) was the head and Fran (Jessica Walter) was the wife. They had two older kids, Robbie (Jason Willinger) and Charlene (Sally Struthers). A new baby (Kevin Clash) has just hatched, and it seems to annoy Earl almost as much as his live-in mother-in-law Grandma Ethyl (Florence Stanley).
Earl works as a tree-pusher, clearing forest for condominium housing. He lives in a macho, male-dominated society, which gives us a throwback look to the 1950s situation comedies from the golden age of television.
Let’s start with the good points. First, the concept was brilliant. Who doesn’t like dinosaurs? And making them a prehistoric version of a modern family definitely tapped into our popular culture’s love for “The Flintstones.”
Then there was the creature design. Although this was one of the first major productions to be launched after the untimely death of Jim Henson, it still had his special touch. The strong hand of the creature shop made some fantastic characters. We forget in this day and age of computer generated creatures that the Muppet designs were state-of-the-art. The look of the show was brilliant, and the animatronics were some of the best and most expressive you’d see in the day.
Finally, I’ll give a nod to the general attitude behind the show. Ever since Jim Henson got involved in “Sesame Street,” he brought a snarkiness to him that was sarcastically loveable. That attitude blossomed during “The Muppet Show,” which is still brilliant to watch to this day.
However, with the legacy of Jim Henson just getting off the ground, I felt that “Dinosaurs” as a show tried too hard to capture this snarky magic. Instead of poking fun at silliness in society, the show took on an overtly activist role. It quickly became an issue-driven show, going out of its way to do socially-relevant shows on drug use, the Anita Hill sexual harassment case and the first Gulf War.
The politics behind the show was so unapologetic that is used over-simplified straw men to make its point. What started out as a nice little show about dinosaur with occasional snarky jabs at societal flaws became an issue-of-the-week sit com.
This is an indicator of a greater problem: mediocre writing. Even as it got well into its second season, the show never gelled as a character piece. Especially when they found their direction, the writers spent more time wrapping the plots around modern social issues that they forgot to develop the characters. Rather, these poor prehistoric schlubs became mere pawns for the writers to spout political philosophies.
The four-disc DVD set comes with all five episodes of the short season one and all 24 episodes of season two. There’s also two featurettes on the first disc, “Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of Dinosaurs” and “Creating Dinosaurs: The Sketches That Started It All.”
Of course, because dinosaurs lay eggs, there are a several dino eggs hidden in the menu, revealing special insight into the show, including a touching photo retrospective by the guy who wore Earl’s suit.
Specifications: Dolby Digital Surround Sound. Full frame (1.33:1). English language subtitles for the hearing impaired.