In 1991, I was 12 years old. I was just beginning to think for myself, form my own opinions, decide what I liked and disliked, etcetera etcetera. In short, I was figuring myself out. As a “tween,” or as we were known back then, a pre-teen, in the 90’s, I spent a lot of time watching TV. Back then, you read, watched T.V., or played games on your Nintendo. The internet was practically a dream in those days and television was still the most popular source of information and entertainment. Most kids my age spent their time after school doing their homework and watching sitcoms. One of the T.V. series I remember most is the Dinosaurs TV Show. When I first started watching it, I just thought it was funny but as I grew older, I began to understand all the social commentary that was inserted into the content so it became more than just entertaining, it became a way for me to look at the world and my place in it.
The Dinosaurs TV Show
The Dinosaurs TV Show first aired in 1991 on ABC. It was created by Jim Henson for Disney Studios. It was a comedy series about a family of dinosaurs in a modernized Stone Age: The Sinclairs. It showed every day family issues, problems, celebrations, and milestones albeit portrayed in a humorous light. It could very well have been any normal family in America except that the Sinclairs were, well, dinosaurs.
Who are the Sinclairs?
The Sinclair family was a family of dinosaurs living in the Stone Age with modern-day conveniences. They had a refrigerator in their kitchen, had regular nine-to-five day jobs, went to the supermarket, and even had cavemen or cavewomen as pets or wild animals.
- Earl Sneed Sinclair is the man of the house. He is the head of the family, husband to Frances, and father to the three kids, Robbie, Charlene, and Baby Sinclair. A megalosaurus, he is 43 years old in the series and works as a tree pusher for the Wesayso Corporation. He is incredibly overweight, often gullible, but he works hard in providing for his family.
- Frances “Fran” Sinclair is Earl’s wife and the mother of his three children. She’s a stay at home mom who cooks, cleans, and does all the housework for her family. Just like any mom, she sometimes feels like her efforts aren’t appreciated by her family.
- Robert “Robbie” Mark Sinclair is the oldest of the Sinclair children at 15 years old. He’s a bit of a rebel as he tends to question traditions that he thinks have no apparent purpose. He seems to be wise beyond his years and attends La Brea High School.
- Charlene Sinclair is 13-years old. She loves to shop, gossip, and do what most pre-teen girls her age love to do.
- Baby Sinclair is the youngest at about 2 years old. His age changes quite a bit throughout the series although the other members of the family don’t seem to age sort of like Maggie from the Simpsons. He probably has the most interesting “history” among the family. In the 2nd season, there was an episode implying that Baby Sinclair may have been switched at birth and after DNA tests, it was proved that he was, indeed not their son. He’s gone through several names, having been called “Junior” once or twice throughout the series, and even for awhile as “Aaagh aagh I’m Dying You Idiot” when the previous elder had a heart attack during his naming. But it was later on changed officially to “Baby.” He is quite possibly the most memorable of the Sinclairs especially with his famous line “Not the Mama,” which is what he calls Earl.
Who are the people in your neighborhood?
Of course, the world of the Sinclairs would not be complete without a set of supporting characters and the Sinclairs lived in a very interesting neighborhood:
- Ethyl Phillips Hinkleman is Fran’s mother. A 72-year old, myopic, wheel-chair-using, grandmother, she moves into the Sinclairs’ home during the first season that the show aired. Relishing the idea of making Earl’s life a living hell, she moves in regularly trying to hit him with her cane while calling him “Fat Boy.”
- Roy Hess is Earl’s best friend and co-worker. He is in love with Fran’s friend, Monica Devertebrae, and is often portrayed as dull-witted, just like Earl.
- B.P. Richfield is Earl’s boss. He is Earl’s supervisor at the Tree Pusher Division of the Wesayso Corporation. He is intimidating and often terrorizes Earl along with the rest of his employees.
- Monica Devertebrae, a friend of Fran’s, is a strong, independent woman.
- Spike is Robbie’s best friend. Sometimes accused of being a bad influence on Robbie, he was once arrested for trespassing and for knowing how to hot-wire a car. And although he is often depicted as having issues or problems with authority, he later proves to be a positive influence on Robbie.
The Dinosaurs TV Show and the “real world”
Unlike other sitcoms, The Dinosaurs wasn’t just about being funny. As I grew older, continued to watch the show, and did more research, I started to see more and more connections to what was going on around me at the time.
In the 1990’s, people started getting more and more aware and concerned about the environment and The Dinosaurs TV Show was the perfect medium to comment on some environmental concerns that were popular at the time. Earl Sinclair works for a large corporation where it’s his job to push trees thereby harming the environment in the name of profit. This was also a time when AIDS and homosexuality were hot topics and in one episode, Robbie’s decision to suddenly turn herbivorous became a metaphor for vegetarianism, homosexuality, and even drug abuse. There were also several references to ongoing wars, religion, and, of course, conservation.
The TV Show
The Dinosaurs TV Show first aired in 1991 on ABC premiering with an episode entitled “The Mighty Megalosaurus” where the Sinclairs are first introduced with Earl telling Baby Sinclair the story of the day he was hatched. It goes on to air for 4 seasons finally ending with their Series Finale in 1994 entitled “Changing Nature.” This episode shows how the Dinosaurs’ inattention and attitude leads towards the Ice Age. It ends with Howard Handupme saying goodbye to his audience as he finishes his final broadcast.
This last episode for the Dinosaurs TV Show was actually quite memorable in that it was a departure from the usually light comedy that we had gotten used to. It was actually such a departure that TV Guide’s listing for the show included a warning to parents about the shows content and how it could affect younger children.
Looking back at the Dinosaurs TV show today, I can see how relevant it was at the time and how appropriate it is even for today. We still have the same issues all over the world and every day we see signs that we are nearing a turning point for our planet in terms of the environment and how we treat it as well as how we treat other human beings. Today, we see sitcoms that are made purely for their entertainment value and we forget, even if it’s for the space of an hour, what’s going on around us. I understand the importance of entertainment especially for getting our minds off most of our everyday problems, but it seems to me that sitcoms and TV shows can be entertaining as well as informative. It can make us laugh but at the same time popular media should also educate us about our world. Towards the end of the last episode, Earl apologizes to his family for what he did to contribute to the coming Ice Age. To me, he was apologizing to his family for being unable to take care of them or for allowing his actions to put them in danger. It was a light bulb moment for him when he realizes that if he had thought more about his family, and if more “dinosaurs” out there thought more or cared more about their family, then things would be very different today. And that is what the Dinosaurs TV Show taught me. That your actions today, no matter how small they might be, could affect you and your loved ones’ futures drastically.
The Dinosaurs TV Show was ahead of it’s time. Entertaining, relevant, and ultimately, eye-opening. Now, if only more TV shows took a page from their book, there would be better shows to watch and maybe it would make more people better by watching it.