Friday, November 16, 2012

Not the Mama, But the Mighty Megalosaurus

"I believe that there is one story in the world, and only one...Humans are caught - in their lives, in their thoughts, in their hungers and ambitions, in their avarice and cruelty, and in their kindness and generosity too - in a net of good and evil."
- John Steinbeck, East of Eden

Originality is gone.  Perhaps it never existed.

Every creation, every idea is based on human reaction to the world they experience.  We can mold these thoughts into seemingly new patterns and constructs, but ultimately, everything can be traced back to a preceding source of inspiration.

Dinosaurs, which premiered in 1991, is still often accused of ripping off other sitcoms.  The two main comparisons are made with The Simpsons and The Flintstones.  Similarities are obvious, as the show toyed with the notion of a conventional American family sitcom (like The Simpsons) and had fun at the expense of modern day topics presented against a prehistoric backdrop (à la, The Flintsotnes).  However, the show had a creative brilliance behind it that few seemed to notice.  Rather than skirt by on the humor of dinosaur puns and anachronisms, Dinosaurs actually tackled cliched sitcom conventions by showing us how these unoriginal ideas can still be entertaining when played with.

The very first episode, "The Mighty Megalosaurs" introduces us to the Sinclair family, but most importantly, Earl, the patriarch of the family.  Like many sitcom fathers, he is overweight, dim-witted, beaten-down, stuck in a menial job, but ultimately kind-hearted.  Everything about him, we have seen before.  So why should we bother caring about this incarnation of a repeated trope?

Honey, I'm an overused stereotype.

For most of the episode, nothing appealing stands out about his character.  He is recounting the story of Baby Sinclair's birth, starting with the day his sub-par life went further south.  With a wife and two teenaged kids constantly begging him for money, he attempts to get a raise from his ill-tempered boss B.P. Richfield.  This act of foolishness gets him fired, just before he learns that his wife has laid an egg with a new baby on the way.  He spends the entire episode acting like a whiny man-child and a misogynist, refusing to listen to his wife's needs.  So when the news of the baby hits him, he decides to run away into the forest and live the way his dino-ancestors did.

He keeps his shirt of course.

While in the forest, he meets up with the little mammal who was supposed to be his dinner.  The mammal tells him that he is ready to die at Earl's hands since his home has been destroyed by a dinosaur (Earl) causing his family to go missing.  Earl originally thinks that the creature is better off on his own, without a family to care for and leech off of him, but after a heart to heart with the animal, he realizes that there is one thing he does miss about his family.

Being the BOSS!

This is where Dinosaurs proves it will be different.  Earl doesn't learn an inspirational, wholesome lesson.  He decides to return to his family because they are the only people he can boss around.  His kids have to listen to him and he can still insult and demean his wife.  It's the one source of happiness he's got.

This moral probably would have been more at home in the antiquated attitudes of the 1950s, but in the 1990s, it's clear that the message is played as a joke.  Earl returns to his family even worse than before.  Yes, it's inspired him to care for his newborn son, but only to ensure that his son will grow up to be a jerk like him.

And if there's one thing Baby Sinclair is good at, it's believing he is entitled for everything.

This is the beauty of Dinosaurs.  It's a show that we know will have a tragic ending because, well, the dinosaurs are no longer with us.  Earl ends the episode with Baby, looking out over the landscape populated by gigantic beasts, confident that dinosaurs will remain on top forever.  But, the show quickly reminds us that homo-sapiens are on their way.

Dinosaurs plays on humanity's innate hubris.  It is able to allow its characters to behave like pompous morons who win in the end.  One day, all of their follies and vices will catch up to them.  But until then, we can appreciate the irony.

So yes, Dinosaurs is just like every sitcom that came before it.  But it brings with it the true original story: Dinosaurs were caught in a net of good and evil and evil was the more appealing option.  Maybe us humans can learn from their mistakes.

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