Dinosaurs Is the Only Family Sitcom Grim Enough for This Moment
April 28, 2020 8:20 AM   Subscribe

"I’ve felt something like this before, some adulterated version of the family sitcom that shook me up because the stakes under the veneer of normalcy were off. It finally hit me when Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick suggested some weeks ago that the elderly were prepared to sacrifice themselves for the economy. I was catapulted back to a point in the spring of 1991 when, staring horrified at my television screen, I watched the grandmother in a family sitcom fix herself up beautifully in order to be thrown off a cliff."

"The reason I’ve had Dinosaurs on the brain is that the show combines the perfectly normal and low-stakes suburban problems we’re all used to with a jarring resignation to death. That juxtaposition resonates differently at a time when a locked-down America is baking sourdough bread while tens of thousands die."
posted by clawsoon (37 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
 
My mother has always said that Dinosaurs was one of her favorite sitcoms of all time. I keep meaning to eventually watch, but well, Dinosaurs? But maybe this is the kick in the pants I need to finally actually watch them.
posted by Mchelly at 8:35 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


This show really holds up- I rewatched it a couple years ago and really enjoyed doing so.

It's also one of the last things Jim Henson was working on before his untimely death.
posted by wowenthusiast at 8:36 AM on April 28 [16 favorites]


That finale devastated me as a kid. Now it seems like the only narrative truth available.
posted by PMdixon at 8:38 AM on April 28 [19 favorites]


Dinosaurs is great. There are definitely some low-brow elements to it, but there are some very smart concepts and jokes in it. (Plus, the line “we’re gonna need another Timmy!” works for almost every occasion.)

Kudos to the author for not going straight to the series ender to support this argument. I’ve had “are we dead yet?” spiraling in my head as the soundtrack to my 3 am panics for at least a few weeks now.
posted by lilac girl at 8:39 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Oh, man, I loved Dinosaurs.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:42 AM on April 28


In case anyone is looking for where to buy it: JustWatch has the answers.
posted by deezil at 8:45 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


My mother has always said that Dinosaurs was one of her favorite sitcoms of all time. I keep meaning to eventually watch, but well, Dinosaurs? But maybe this is the kick in the pants I need to finally actually watch them.

As a life-long Henson et al fan, the use of puppets has always been a feature for me, not a bug. But yeah, this one is really worth watching even for non-puppet fans.

That said, my mom was less of a fan. Maybe it was because I (being a rambunctious 12 year old), kept shouting "Not the Mama!" at her, which didn't even make any sense.
posted by jb at 8:59 AM on April 28 [11 favorites]


Those 'need another Timmy' scenes are pretty rough. Kinda surprising to see that coming from Henson.
posted by Reasonably Everything Happens at 9:10 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


Dad? Not the Mama!
posted by fairmettle at 9:18 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


"Not the Mama" was one of my favorite thing about the show!
posted by shoesietart at 9:22 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


Every now and then it becomes clear that I have been dismissive of some cultural thingy to my own detriment. This seems like one of those times. Not sure I even knew it was Henson-y.

In my defense I was a little busy at the time being a lawyer, and probably only watching Star Trek reruns. Heh.
posted by allthinky at 9:24 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


Kinda surprising to see that coming from Henson.

Henson was also a surrealist.
posted by anastasiav at 9:27 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


(Plus, the line “we’re gonna need another Timmy!” works for almost every occasion.)

Society missed out on the GOAT of pop culture references by not embracing Dinosaurs.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:32 AM on April 28 [6 favorites]


Not sure I even knew it was Henson-y.

The baby is played by Elmo.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:34 AM on April 28 [13 favorites]


My mother has always said that Dinosaurs was one of her favorite sitcoms of all time. I keep meaning to eventually watch, but well, Dinosaurs? But maybe this is the kick in the pants I need to finally actually watch them.

It's not actually about Dinosaurs. The dinosaurs were more of a way to get the show on the air past folks who weren't paying too close of attention. Also it's known to have probably the most depressing finale in the history of TV.
posted by jmauro at 10:03 AM on April 28 [3 favorites]


I completely missed this show. I remember it being on, but was not aware Henson was a part of it. This was a time period when every other show was "LOL dysfunctional family" with Married with Children, Roseanne, etc... I had the sense at the time that the runaway success of The Simpsons kicked off this trend. The knee-jerk reaction to The Simpsons (from those who didn't watch it) was that it was a crass, mean-spirited family sitcom that Dan Quayle thought was bad and a thousand shows then were created with mean, dysfunctional families, or family-like structures. My reaction was to not watch TV much in those days.

TL,DR never saw Dinosaurs, maybe I should have. I filed Dinosaurs in the same category as Herman's Head.
posted by SoberHighland at 10:19 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Just wanna add (because I'm bored) that I have always been put off by this type of fleshy, realistic looking puppet that resembles a caricature. Give me the Muppets with a cleaner, more abstracted style of puppetry any day!
posted by SoberHighland at 10:24 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


"Not the Mama" was one of my favorite thing about the show!

That is the very thing that kept me from watching at the time.
posted by MrJM at 10:38 AM on April 28 [4 favorites]


Oh god, please don’t remind me of this show. The characters were just too grotesque to bear. Watching it was a next-level masochistic enterprise.
posted by Sterros at 10:40 AM on April 28 [5 favorites]


I don’t know how it holds up today, but S2E13, “What ‘Sexual Harris’ Meant” included a dinosaur rendering of the Clarence Thomas hearings, including dinosaur versions of multiple senators. I don’t remember if there was a Dinosaur Joe Biden or not.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 10:48 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]


Dinosaurs and Roseanne were two of my favourite sitcoms at the time. The working class' steady slide towards precarity sure spawned a lot of excellent TV.
posted by tobascodagama at 10:59 AM on April 28


I think I watched every episode of Dinosaurs when it aired on Fridays. I watched all of Herman's Head, too; don't judge me. I was a child raised by TV who also really liked Yeardley Smith.

One of my favorite jokes from Dinosaurs stemmed from the family's TV being destroyed by a falling space rock. When they tried to cash in their insurance coverage their policy was denied because while they had meteor coverage, technically when one hits the ground it's a *meteorite* instead. So, their claim was denied.

Somehow that lesson really resonated with me as a kid and I read insurance policies really carefully to this day. Herman's Head was not as educational.
posted by Alison at 11:01 AM on April 28 [30 favorites]


Those 'need another Timmy' scenes are pretty rough. Kinda surprising to see that coming from Henson.

They've been smoothed and shaped into something for kids but The Muppets in their pre-Muppet incarnation (when Henson was using them to do ads) and the OG Muppet Show and 60s and 70s incarnations could get REALLY dark and surreal. Look for the Wilkins Coffee ads on Youtube. Or this array of clips from The Muppet Show. I mean they put on Alice Cooper when he was controversial.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 11:07 AM on April 28 [7 favorites]


And then there's Farscape...
posted by kalimac at 11:23 AM on April 28 [9 favorites]


My wife and a friend used to riff on this show for years. I thought they were making it up to pull my leg.
posted by doctornemo at 11:41 AM on April 28 [2 favorites]


::pushes glasses up nose::

Um, actually, I believe the baby's name was "Help Help I'm Dying You Idiot Sinclair".
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 11:46 AM on April 28 [1 favorite]


In case you need some context: Best of Baby NOT THE MAMA, and a playlist of a few full episodes on YouTube, which have been cropped or skewed to bypass the copyright filters. *Link posted for educational purposes only* :)

We're going to need another Timmy!
posted by filthy light thief at 12:36 PM on April 28 [2 favorites]


I'm a big Henson fan but I feel like he kind of started to run out of gas in the early eighties. He still did some great things after that (Labyrinth!) but a lot of his output had a really tired, strained feel. I gave Dinosaurs a shot but at the time it felt like what you'd expect, kind of a puppet mashup of Flintstones gags about everything being made of rocks and a Married with Children deal about a snarky dysfunctional family saying catchphrases at each other. The baby drove me nuts with that little nightmare face and the Elmo voice and the "Gotta love me" stuff. I gave up and was amazed years later when I heard about that profoundly grim series finale. Nothing I'd seen had suggested the show had the guts to get that dark. In hindsight I think the show catches Henson right when his gifts were really failing him, but at the same time he was still a freaking genius with a lot of heart. There's an anecdote about how, later in life, he was running some ideas by a friend and the friend said the ideas weren't very good. Henson looked annoyed and said, "Look, I'm trying." The man never, ever stopped trying his very best, and you gotta love him for that.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:21 PM on April 28 [9 favorites]


The great thing about Dinosaurs was that you could cloak serious topics with absurd framing that no one would believe could exist in the modern world, like gleefully killing the elderly for illusory benefit, letting capitalism run amok until it renders the planet uninhabitable and kills everyone, or flat-eartherism.
posted by ckape at 1:34 PM on April 28 [13 favorites]


I still occasionally recall the episode when Robbie started taking steroids (or a funny Dinosaurs-adjacent substitute) and got angry and grew spikes. Most other shows at the time would drop a "very special episode" where a character is offered drugs by some stereotype, immediately reports it, and the police run over and act all upset and the episode ends. Watching this kid, this teenager, actually abusing drugs and dealing the the repercussions was something else.
posted by Imperfect at 1:52 PM on April 28 [7 favorites]


One line I remember is the daughter complaining about her corduroy pants because she's losing weight and she can't hear her thighs rubbing together.

The show was a pretty clever (if at time broad-brush) satire that worked fairly well. The amount of effort put into actually making it was pretty huge, so it's amazing it actually ran for as long as it did. I'm surprised the episodes aren't available anywhere to watch!
posted by hippybear at 7:16 PM on April 28


Episodes are everywhere, no? Amazon, Google Play etc..
Anyway what strikes me when remembering all this late 80s early 90s sitcom social commentary stuff is how depressing it seems that the culture in really big broad ways (excepting lgbt, Occupy/socialism, times up and maybe some BLM related stuff) hasn't changed much at all. Like, parts of the culture had the "right" answers to social issues 30+ years ago and yet here we are, with a new Clarence Thomas (Kavanaugh), opiates instead of crack, homelessness instead of crime waves and global warming instead of the ozone layer or whatever. Its like we've all been trapped in this neverending nightmare of a culture circling the drain for my entire conscious life and we even have the same assholes from 30+ years ago like all the rightwing politicans and tricksters (Trump, Stone, etc) and yes, even Biden. Its really depressing! Can we just put the late 20th century to rest already?
posted by flamk at 1:57 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


flamk: Its like we've all been trapped in this neverending nightmare of a culture circling the drain for my entire conscious life and we even have the same assholes from 30+ years ago like all the rightwing politicans and tricksters (Trump, Stone, etc) and yes, even Biden. Its really depressing! Can we just put the late 20th century to rest already?
Earl’s anxiety comes from the fact that the Sinclair dinosaurs are pretty much the first “civilized” generation, having only recently started to get married and live in homes. He’s concerned about it, and so is the culture, which is rife with rituals meant to appease masculine anxiety about being effete, domesticated, or bloodless.
It feels like we've been coming up with "rituals meant to appease masculine anxiety about being effete, domesticated, or bloodless" for 10,000 years or so now.
posted by clawsoon at 10:00 AM on April 29 [6 favorites]


Reasonably Everything Happens: "Kinda surprising to see that coming from Henson."

Henson did The Storyteller, and that could get pretty dark.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:00 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Henson wasn't afraid to depict the darkness in human nature. He never talked down to his audience, or coddled them, or insulted their (emotional) intelligence. He was no Disney, and that's why I loved him.

Having said that, I never watched Dinosaurs (didn't own a TV for large stretches of my younger life). Now I'm going to correct that. Thanks for this post!
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:59 PM on April 29 [2 favorites]


Had a girlfriend who loved this show. It certainly was more grim-dark than anything else I was watching at the time. We used variants on needing another Timmy a lot when we'd see people doing something foolish even if not obviously fatal.
posted by Mitheral at 2:53 PM on April 29


Imperfect: I'm nearly a month late to this thread, but Dinosaurs did in fact take a chunk of "Just Say No" money. They produced an absolutely dreadful by-the-numbers "I MUST HAVE MORE OF THE PLANT" script. It was clearly just phoned in as quickly as possible from start to finish.

But then, in an epilogue shot, Robbie steps in and addresses the camera, almost Ferris Bueller style. He describes the societal problem of a plague of "preachy sitcoms" caused by the drug trade, and encourages people to stop so they can "Just Say No to Preachy Sitcoms".

I never felt quite so much that I understood exactly how an episode of a show got made, before that.
posted by rum-soaked space hobo at 9:35 AM on May 20 [2 favorites]


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