People say that the traditional sitcom is becoming extinct. Ratings for them are down and the plots seem recycled — there’s a certain "been there, done that" feel to many traditional sitcoms. Looking at the recently released Dinosaurs – The Complete Third and Fourth Seasons shows that there can still be relatively fresh takes on the traditional sitcom mix.
Unquestionably, there are numerous episodes in these two seasons that aired (or would have had the show not been taken off network TV) fifteen years ago that could easily, with only minor alterations here and there, be next week’s According To Jim, or even an episode of Everybody Loves Raymond.
Take for instance an early episode in the third season of Dinosaurs, in which the father, Earl, is forced by his wife, Fran, to change their baby’s diaper. Earl, in classic, stereotypical fashion, deems this woman’s work and initially balks at the idea. As the episode progresses Earl realizes that the baby simply ought to be potty trained. Hilarity ensues as Earl tries to do this.
It’s an absolutely classic sitcom setup, and could be seen any given week on any family-based sitcom, be it I Love Lucy, All in the Family, Everybody Loves Raymond, According to Jim, or Dinosaurs.
While some of the storylines may be familiar, Dinosaurs does have one outstandingly different aspect to it from all those other sitcoms: the family in question, the Sinclairs, are dinosaurs living in the year sixty million and three B.C. (they even reference that they’re counting down to something but aren’t sure what). Created by those fantastic folks at Henson’s creature shop, they are a mixture of puppeteering and computer controls and they are at work in all the members of the family: Earl (the dad), Fran (the mom), Robbie (the brother), Charlene (the sister), Ethyl Phillips (the grandmother), and Baby (the baby). The Sinclairs live back in prehistoric times, but have all the modern amenities we take for granted today (mainly television).
Not all the plots are as interchangeable with a present-day based sitcom as the above one either (certainly a good thing). The show is at its best when it mocks, or at the very least questions, our society today — which, happily, it does on a regular basis. No one is safe from skewering in this sitcom. There are episodes that focus on television, what is on and what could or should be on, episodes on scientific advancements, puberty, and many on family life in general. Despite its taking place millions of years ago, the family is unquestionably of today.
It’s a wise, witty show, that on a few too many occasions opts for the cheap, fast, easy joke rather than going for something longer and deeper. This seems to mainly be a result of it being a family oriented program and keeping in many jokes that operate at a level that is easy for children to understand.
If there is one breakout character in the series, and it’s certainly the one your children will most love, it’s Baby Sinclair. Baby, voiced by Kevin Clash, is the character that got all the catchphrases in the series, most notably “not the mama,” (how Baby refers to Earl) and “I’m the Baby, gotta love me.” While usually cute and innocuous, there are moments during these two seasons when Baby’s attitude and mannerisms are pushed over the edge into the realm of the obnoxious (at least for adults).
Extras included in the four-DVD set include a close-up look at Baby Sinclair and another piece that looks at the show’s ability to go after our society. There are, additionally, commentaries for some episodes and hidden “Dino eggs” that reveal other extra content.