The hardest part of any series finale is wrapping up the story and giving viewers a sense of finality, and there are a lot of ways a TV show might approach this task, for better or worse. The inability to ever come back to said characters can help solidify this closure, and no series pulled this off better than ABC's Dinosaurs. As the show's finale reaches its 25th anniversary, let's look back at what truly killed the dinosaurs.
What Was Dinosaurs?
Airing from 1991 to 1994, Dinosaurs was created by legendary puppetry house Jim Henson Productions. The show was known for its bizarre premise: a sitcom starring a family of dysfunctional dinosaurs, who were brought to life through Jim Henson Productions' legendary puppetry, living on prehistoric Pangaea. Although he'd died a year before the show aired, promotional material stressed Henson's involvement in the project. It was the prolific creator's last project.
The show fit right in on '90s television, combining the decade's penchant for comedies focused on lower-middle class families with dinosaurs. The rather rotund and cartoonish designs of the dinosaurs ensured the protagonists were more Homer Simpson than Jurassic Park. Despite its kitschy concept, the show, like many of its era, dealt with numerous serious topics in "very special episodes." These topics ranged from drug abuse, body image and even racism. Environmentalism was another subject tackled by Dinosaurs and played a major role in the finale.
A Poignant End
In the final episode, titled "Changing Nature," Dinosaurs' requisite evil corporation, the rather on the nose WESAYSO, builds a "wax fruit" factory on the mating grounds of "Bunch Beetles," essentially rendering the species extinct. Sinclair family patriarch Earl is tasked by his triceratops supervisor to find a way to reverse the public relations nightmare, resulting in a series of environmentally invasive actions. The result is a blotted out sun, and a climate that continues to grow colder and colder. The show's main protagonist literally brings about the end of the world (and the show itself) because he cared more about the comforts of artificial processed foods than about the natural world and the other creatures dwelling on it.
To make things even more harrowing, the show doesn't shy away from Earl's actions, with the character plainly admitting he's made a mistake and mulling over the fact he has inadvertently caused extinction for what could be all life on Pangaea. There are still jokes, but they pale in comparison to the show's final warning about the dangers of harming the environment and neglecting the responsibility of taking care of the planet for the next generation. The show's climate change-oriented ending is also more topical than ever, as concerns over the opposite continue to bring into question humanity's carbon footprint.
The similar arrogance of blind technological "progress." namely at the expense of anything else, it also brought up. Earl revels in having conveniences such as grills, microwaves and junk food, even if it means an entire species such as the Bunch Beetles go extinct in the process. Earl's own insistence on making way for the future morbidly foretells the fate soon to befall the dinosaurs and the world that they inhabit.
Corporate Meddling Killed the Dinosaurs
With its goofy concept and awkward puppets, Dinosaurs was a ratings hit for ABC. However, before the show reached its fourth and final season ratings began to slip. Much of this was due to its time slot getting continually shuffled before finally landing between '90s TV juggernauts Family Matters and Full House.
The pricey puppetry didn't help matters. In an interview with Vulture, Stuart Pankin, voice actor for Earl Sinclair, remarked. "It was the most expensive half-hour tv show, at least at that point." Thus, ABC decided to cut its losses and end Dinosaurs when the show hit its bottom line too hard. Considering the finale's focus on greed, it's hard not to draw some comparison between the events that led to the show's cancellation and the way WESAYSO quite literally causes the end of the dinosaurs. Dinosaurs became TV's most shocking finale precisely because it opted not for some moderately funny ending joke, but to subvert all expectations by advancing an important message through the protagonists' house, and their world at large, being engulfed in a fatal freeze.
Dinosaurs is available on Hulu.