Sunday, March 29, 2009

Break out the sad tissues: Dinosaurs finale

Dinosaurs opening screen

The dinosaurs went extinct. So if you're going to make a TV show about the lives of a dinosaur family, the plot of the finale seems kind of inevitable. It doesn't make it any less sad, though.

Quick overview: Dinosaurs ran from 1991 to 1994 and followed the lives of the Sinclair family of thunder lizards. It was virtually identical to the Simpsons setup (blue collar father Earl, homemaker mother Fran, son Robbie, daughter Charlene, and infant Baby) but evidently Jim Henson had the idea for the show as far back as the 1970s. The characters were voiced by some fairly well-known voice actors (including Kevin Clash, the guy behind Elmo, for Baby Sinclair).

I was seven years old when the show started, so of course I was more drawn to the show because there was a character with a funny voice who hit his father on the head with a pot and said, "Not the Mama!" By the time it ended, I think I had grasped that there were a few other layers of humor that I wasn't quite appreciating, and watched reruns on the Disney Channel when I was in middle school. Most people seem to remember the show mainly for the Baby's antics, but there was a surprising amount of adult-themed subtext. For example, the dinosaurs discovering a "happy plant" or an entire episode dubbed "What Sexual Harris Meant."

The dinosaurs themselves were done with animatronics, and the range of movement and expression is still impressive today. The cost of operating the dinos and a declining audience were apparently the reasons behind the show's cancellation.

The dinosaurs were actually Cylons

The plot of the final episode basically had the moral "Don't try to fix the environment by fucking it up even more." A migration of beetles fails to appear as usual to feast on cider poppies because WeSaySo, the company Earl works for, has built a wax fruit factory on the beetles' breeding ground. The poppies grow out of control, and the dinosaurs respond by going Agent Orange on them, wiping out all plant life on Earth. WeSaySo gets the brilliant idea to bomb volcanoes to make clouds to make rain and bring the plants back, but it causes the planet's temperature to drop and...well, this is how the series ends:

When I first saw the finale, I didn't see the episode listed as the last one or something like that, so I was in active denial that it was ending. In a way, I was right; seven other episodes never aired but came out while the show was syndicated. When I saw the finale for the second time, I was in tears. The episode itself has an undercurrent of despair but still manages to be funny, until that last scene. Everything about it, from the music to the snowdrifts to the fact that no other show I know of ended with the death of all of the characters you'd grown to know and love, is extraordinarily depressing.

I also didn't notice until watching the clip again that Howard Handupme, a regular character and the newscaster who closes the show, is probably better at his job than anyone on cable news today. He closes a report on the end of the world with sorrow and gravitas that is downright Murrow-esque. Whereas CNN would probably be spending time trying to get unnecessary graphics to function, Fox News would be trying to pin everything on the liberals, and CNBC would be telling you that it's a good time to invest.

Dinosaurs was finally released on DVD some years ago. The announcement was made not long after I figured it was never going to happen and got bootleg discs of the 65 episodes that aired. I think the official DVD includes a featurette on the finale, but I wasn't able to find it online. I'll probably break down and buy the DVDs at some point. The bootlegs can still be valued if for no other reason than they've captured some old commercials from the era in which they were taped ("Whatever it is, I think I see...becomes a Tootsie Roll to me!!").

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