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The SmarK DVD Rant for Dinosaurs – The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons
Once again, great TV leaves me wondering why networks keep derivative junk afloat and then jettison quality projects from big name talents like the Henson Company.
Case in point: Dinosaurs.
As I noted in my previous review of the first and second seasons, this was a show seemingly written for kids, but written so smartly and with such pains not to be condescending that it was almost more for adults. Well, the third and fourth seasons, collected in one 4-disc set to finish off the series, offer no such ambiguity. This is a show written for adults, that kids also can enjoy.
For those who missed the first review, Dinosaurs is the story of the Sinclair family (named after the Big Oil company), who are pretty normal in most regards, except they’re dinosaurs living in 60,000,003 BC. The calendars run backwards, counting down to some unknown event, which makes for a nice meta-joke as Robbie questions why they work that way. You’ve got Earl, the patriarch of the family who slaves for the Wesayso Corporation pushing down trees, his wife Fran, son Robbie, daughter Charlene and the obnoxious devil child Baby Sinclair. Thankfully Baby’s role is much toned down from the second season, because he was really grating on my nerves by the end of the last set. The show is basically, like The Simpsons, social satire disguised as a sitcom, as the family faces thinly-disguised social issues and watches thinly-disguised TV parodies.
Whereas the first set had its share of clunkers, the set is so strong that you can pick pretty much any episode at random and get a good one. Which again makes me question why ABC couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find a home for it in the first place. My favorite episodes include…
“Nature Calls” – The third season debut sees Earl engaged in a war of the potty with Baby, and features one of the best sight gags of the show’s run, with a squirt gun making for a well-timed sight gag in a Baby-eye-view moment. Also features commentary by the producers, who sound like they’re having fun looking back at the show.
“Network Genius” – The ultimate TV parody episode, as Earl gets used as a focus group for ABC during lunch at the mall, and ends up as programming executive after panning new hit shows like “House Full of Dads,” “Info 411” and “Tricera-Cops”. Some great lines here, like Earl justifying his increasingly stupid programming choices (“We don’t CAUSE stupidity, we REFLECT the stupidity inherent in the population”) and some equally great TV parodies, as Earl scores huge ratings with stuff like “The Happy Colors Show” and then decides to educate Pangea with “Economics Hoedown.”
“The Discovery” – Earl and Roy learn, while playing golf, that the end of the world isn’t just a two-stroke penalty, it’s an entire paradise just waiting to be exploited for profit! However, if cavemen are already living there, then they didn’t really discover anything, did they? I’m sure you get the subtle jab here, but it’s handled very smartly, especially when the IRS gets involved in the proceedings.
“The Son Also Rises” – Robbie is tired of living under Earl’s rules, so in the ancient tradition of dinosaurs before him, he challenges his father to a battle to the death for male supremacy! But first there’s paperwork to be filled out. Luckily the clerk is an old-fashioned guy who craves excitement, and luckily has a Pit of Death at the ready, just in case the situation should arise.
“Steroids to Heaven” – The funny-because-it’s-true plot sees Robbie worried that chicks only dig muscular oafs, so he tries Thornoids — thorny creatures with bad attitudes — which allow him to grow muscles overnight but leave him with a REALLY bad temper and spines growing out of his back. They should show this one to HHH. Robbie would have been signed to a developmental deal with WWE were he a real person.
“Dirty Dancin'” – The delicate subject of sex education is broached here, as Robbie finds himself unable to control his urges to do the mating dance, and even finds himself dancing in class! Naturally Fran is worried that the kids in school aren’t learning about the mating dance before they get into the real world and experience things like Mating Dance Related Injuries (complete with educational video from the Navy). Some of this stuff would fly so far over kids’ heads that it’s kind of weird that people even thought of this as a family show, like the very subtle mantra of the mating dance “best being appreciated in a loving, monogamous relationship, preferably marriage” and a million different masturbation jokes.
“The Clip Show II” – Normally I hate clip shows, but this one was particularly brilliant because it was essentially a half-hour fake infomercial for a home study course in Paleontology, with lots of jokes about how well-paid they are and how you’ll attract boatloads of hot chicks with the cool pith helmet that you get absolutely free with the course. There’s some fairly funny clips of the show to illustrate the points being sold, but this was very much an in-your-face season finale for the third season, basically shattering the fourth wall and being unapologetic about it.
“Georgie Must Die” – An unaired episode from the aborted fourth season included on this set, it shows that they were still going strong when they were canceled, as Earl makes the mistake of dressing up like Georgie the Hippo (a thinly veiled reference to you-know-who the purple dinosaur) and discovers that the most powerful force in nature is actually copyright law. Once Georgie reveals himself to be a megalomaniacal power monger, it leads to a fistfight with Earl at a children’s party, with Roy left to sing “Brick House” to entertain the kids. Truly hilarious stuff.
“Changing Nature” – And of course the series finale, although not the final episode shown in this set, this is probably one of the most definitive and well-done finales for a series ever. When a rare group of beetles stops coming one year, it sets off a series of events that lead to Earl and the Wesayso Corporation gradually destroying the world in their quest to restore the balance of nature. A very powerful message about how draining the wrong swamp can lead to much worse things, and the ending, with the family huddled in a snow-covered house and awaiting the inevitable end, is the kind of moving and thoughtful moment that even Al Gore can’t shove down our throats. The sign off for the series, with TV announcer Howard Handupme stoically saying “Goodnight…and goodbye” as the ice age closes in on them, is a great end to the series. If any episode can sell an entire DVD set, it’s this one. Truly a must-see for even casual fans of the show, or even for schools who want to impart an environmental message to students in a non-preachy way.
With not only the complete third and shortened fourth seasons, but also seven extra episodes that never made it to air, this set is a no-brainer for hardcore fans and a good choice for casual fans as well, featuring some of the series’ best episodes and a great example of how you SHOULD end a series.
The set is split over four discs, and features the following episodes:
Disc One: Nature Calls, Baby Talk, Network Genius, The Discovery, Little Boy Boo, Germ Warfare, Hungry for Love, License to Parent, Charlene’s Flat World
Disc Two: Wilderness Weekend, The Son Also Rises, Getting To Know You, Green Card, Out of the Frying Pan, Steroids to Heaven, Honey I Miss The Kids, Swamp Music, Dirty Dancin’, If You Were A Tree
Disc Three: We Are Not Alone, Charlene and Her Amazing Humans, The Clip Show II, Monster Under the Bed, Earl Don’t Be A Hero, The Greatest Story Ever Sold, Driving Miss Ethyl, Earl’s Big Jackpot, Terrible Twos, Changing Nature
Disc Four: Into the Woods, Scent of a Reptile, Working Girl, Variations on a Theme Park, Life in the Faust Lane, Earl and Pearl, Georgie Must Die
Pretty standard fare from the 90s, presented in full-screen format. The first season is a bit darker and murkier, but as things move to the second season it brightens up a lot. Either way, it makes me glad we live in the digital era where everything is pre-formatted for DVD release. This could have used some restoration, but it looks fine otherwise. The AudioStandard Dolby stereo. Dialogue is clear, if a bit quiet, and other than that it’s a standard TV mix.
A little light again, but better than nothing. You get commentary on two episodes, and it’s fun stuff featuring the creators goofing on each other and watching the episodes again. Plus there’s a pair of featurettes on the fourth disc, one about the Baby and the other about the issues presented by the show and how they got around the censors and stuff. And again, tons of little easter eggs with the creators giving trivia from the show with varying degrees of interesting-ness.
The Show: ****
The Video: **1/2
The Audio: **
The Extras: **
Dinosaurs was truly a show coming into its own when it was unfairly killed off by ABC, much like the real dinosaurs were unfairly killed off by the meteor or Jesus or whatever it was that we think killed them this week. Either way, it’s a show that was smarter than most other shows on at the same time and deserves a second life on DVD, especially in an age of idiotic reality TV (much of which is parodied on this very set, years before it became trendy to do so) and sitcoms where a fat comedian is married to a supermodel. Highly recommended.
Tags: SmarK Rants