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“Dinosaurs Seasons 1 & 2”
Wayne A. Klein
Studio: Buena Vista
Genre: TV-Series
Special Features: “Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of ‘Dinosaurs”, “The Art of Dinosaurs”,”Dino-Eggs” (Easter eggs)

What if “The Muppets” combined “Godzilla” with “The Honeymooners” or “All in the Family”? It might be a bit like “Dinosaurs”. It certainly makes sense because this is a Jim Henson Productions series. The show initially attracted attention when it first appeared probably as much due to the novelty of the convincing combination of puppetry and animatronics which brings the characters to life (and the terrific voice casting/acting for the series). Created by Bob Young (“My Two Dads”, “The Facts of Life”) and Michael Jacobs (“Charles in Charge”, “Boy meets World”, “The Torkelsons”) the series managed to last four seasons on network television. Interestingly there were also six episodes that aired only in syndication as the network had already cancelled the show including the second part of “Nuts to War” which aired during the second season. ***

So what if Dinosaurs truly ruled the Earth much as man does today with a society, homes, mechanical devices and the same politics of our world? The result would be the life of Earl and Fran Sinclair (Stuart Pankin and Jessica Walter) along with their three children Robbie, Charlene and the Baby (Jason Willinger, Sally Struther, Kevin Clash). Unfortunately Fran’s mother Eth yl (Florence Stanley) lives with Earl as well reminding him of what a loser he is throughout the show. You’ll note also that many of the character’s last names are the same as petroleum companies. It’s a nice in joke that many failed to catch. ***

The show’s producers/writers/directors went for social messages that you would never have found on “The Honeymooners” and where the series has more in common with “All in the Family” (interestingly Sally Struthers provides the voice of Charlene Sinclair and Sherman Hemsley provides the voice of B. P. Richfield Earl’s boss). We get everything from an anti-war message (timed around the Gulf War I might add) to episodes dealing with the destruction of nature in pursuit of business and the careful use of natural resources. None of these messages are subtle and within the context of the show they make an impact but I found the biggest weakness of the show was the lack of truly funny material. The conventional plots, characters and situations undermined much of the appeal of this show despite the messages and wizardry of the Henson crew at bringing the Sinclairs and their friends to life. Occasionally we’ll get a solid zinger (usually from Ethyl although some of the other characters get their due as well) but on the whole the show plays as too sincere to work as a comedy. Fans of the series will be happy that this show while extinct will live on in the fossilized remains of DVD.

Image & Sound:

“Dinosaurs” suffers from a lot of image softness. Colors are robust and digital artifacts are minimal throughout the set. It’s clear that Buena Vista went to a lot of trouble to clean up the show as there’s no dirt or debris. The 2.0 audio sounds fine and since this is primarily a dialogue driven show directional effects are minimal. Overall while this set could look better it could also look a whole lot worse particularly when compared to other shows from the same time on DVD. Kudos to Buena Vista for cleaning up the image quality now if they could just sharpen up the image a bit we’d have a nearly perfect set. ---

Special Features: We don’t get any commentary tracks which is a pity. We do get a pair of featurettes on the making of the show.”Pre-Hysterical Times: The Making of Dinosaurs” uses plenty of the archived footage shot for the show on the behind-the-scenes making of the series. We also get interviews with producers/writers Michael Jacobs and Bob Young among others discussing the creation of the show and some of the obstacles they ran into pitching the show to ABC and production issues that occasionally arose. “Creating Dinosaurs: The Sketches that Started It All” features Kirk Thatcher who designed much of the look of the series showing how the show evolved from first conception to just before the final execution. We also have Easter eggs that feature a variety of behind-the-scenes video footage. I’d suggest that audio gag reels run over outtakes be provided for the next set of the show. ---

Final Words:

Tackling a number of social issues “Dinosaurs” wanted to be a combination of “The Honeymooners”, “All in the Family” and “The Muppets”. While it failed to be as funny as any of those shows it had merit and did something that many other shows were afraid to do from the same time frame—actually comment on social issues we were facing (and continue to) at the time. It’s appropriate for the series to come to DVD now particularly when episodes such as “Nuts to War” attempt to tackle the larger issue of the ethics of war. Fans will be happy with this set and while the extras are not plentiful they are pretty good. Outtakes, gag reels and deleted scenes (along with commentary tracks) would be most welcome on later sets.


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