Tonight, Steven Spielberg takes us back to the land of dinosaurs. How crazy will Terra Nova be? We'll find out over the next few weeks. But it can't possibly go as bonkers as some of television's other dinosaur shows. Here are our picks for the most demented dinosaur-centric TV shows in history.
Top image: Dinosaucers: Allo+Genghis Rex, by VanillaXD on Deviant Art.
Jim Henson Productions decided to create a sitcom-style show about dinosaurs, using animatronic puppets. The Sinclair family taught us typical sitcom social morals from a dinosaur's perspective all while tackling relevant social issues like environmentalism, steroid use, racism, and women's rights, among others. Environmentalism was a common reoccurring theme throughout its four seasons — and many of the characters and corporations were named in jest after prominent figures in the petroleum industry, but in the final episode, the dinosaurs callous use of technology finally destroys them.
I remember watching the final episode as a kid and being disturbed by it, knowing that after the credits rolled the fate that awaited all the characters I loved so much was death.
Denver the Last Dinosaur (1988-1989)
The ultra-catchy theme song, which repeated the show's title over and over, was better than the actual show. The premise for this show goes something like this: A group of teenagers find a giant tar egg in a construction site near the La Brea Tar Pits. It cracks open revealing a very large baby dinosaur that seems to understand English, so they name it Denver and take it home. Cheapskate concert promotor Morton Fizzback sees this, and wants to use Denver to make tons of money. Most of the show centers on the kids keeping Denver a secret, and showing him the finer pop culture points of growing up in the late eighties. No one else ever seems to realize that Denver is a dinosaur when they take him out in public in disguise. Also the stereotypical 1980s voice acting is extra stereotypical. Watching it now is like time travel back to a forgotten era in television. Oh and the tar egg Denver hatched out of has magical time travel properties. Whenever anyone touches the shell it transports them back to the time Denver originated from. Because why the hell not?
Cadillacs and Dinosaurs (1986-1994):
First it was a comic called Xenozoic Tales by Mark Schultz, in which natural disasters drive humanity into underground cities for 500 years. When humans finally return to the surface, they discover that dinosaurs and other previously extinct animals were back, along with a super lush ecosystem. Technology in this dystopian future is limited, and those with any mechanical skills are held in high esteem. One such mechanic is protagonist Jack Tenrec, who has a fondness for Cadillacs. With no way to refine oil, Jack modifies his cars to run on dinosaur-poop. He also keeps a pet Allosaurus called Hermes that he raised up from a baby, which is basically the best guard dog to have in a world where everyone wants your stuff. Like the comic, the TV show was full of heavy ecological messages, as well as political storylines where evil politicians and industrialists want Jack to come to the dark side and help them re-conquer nature. As opposed to just letting the world be overrun with dinosaurs, that is.
Dino Riders (1988):
The Valorians were just a peaceful superhuman race, when the evil humanoid Rulons attacked. In the first episode, the Rulons get a tractor beam fixed on the Valorian ship, when a fluke power surge causes the Valorians' Space Time Energy Projector (S.T.E.P.) to malfunction and transport both ships back in time to prehistoric earth. Minutes after landing, the Valorians use their psychic powers to bond with an Apatasurus. Later, they're all riding around on velociraptors and pterodactyls. Meanwhile, the evil Rulons use brainwashing technology to enslave the dinosaurs and mount lasers on them to destroy the Valorians. The main goal of evil Rulon leader Krulos, who sounds like Claw from Inspector Gadget, is to steal the Valorian's S.T.E.P., so he and his lackeys can return to their empire and continue being evil. Every episode follows this basic set up: The Rulons make a plan to steal the S.T.E.P. and the Valorians stop them. Sometimes the Valorians learn moral lessons.
It always seemed like the Valorians were cheating with their psychic powers. I mean, they show up in the past, and no one gets eaten by dinosaurs? WTF. Also, where are they getting all the materials to build all their weapons? Do they have a mining and refinement plant on their ship? And why do they keep building walls of logs when they know the dinosaurs charged through them like paper? But the dinosaurs had lasers, and at least that was sort of cool. The animation and characterization of Dino Riders certainly holds up better than Dinosaucers.
The Dinosaucers and evil Tyrannos hail from a planet called Reptilon, and they've brought their ongoing battle to Earth for reasons the show never seems to explain. But who cares about why, when anthropomorphic dinosaurs from space are battling each other with dinosaur shaped ships and weapons called the Fossilizer and Bazukasaurus Freeze Balls? The Secret Scouts are the human allies of the Dinosaucers, who clearly didn't need much convincing to join the team. Who wouldn't want to fight alongside dinosaurs from space? They get flying motorcycles just for signing up! The evil Tyrannos' main goal, aside from annihilating the Dinosaucers, is stealing a piece of their technology called Dinovolving, which allowed the Dinosaucers to revert into their prehistoric, non-anthropomorphic state while retaining all their intelligence. The Dinosaucers don't seem to have a goal, beyond being peace keepers and tourists, and they only jump into action with the evil Tyrannos are up to no good. As far as evil villains go, the Tyrannos are pretty inept. With no human allies to explain how things on Earth really work, the Tyrannos always fail comically against the Dinosaucers.
Remember when growing up to be a dinosaur was a valid career choice? Dinosaucers totally solidified this idea for me. My six year old self was convinced that Dinovolving could be reworked to change humans into dinosaurs. Unfortunately, logic and reality conspired against my dream. In retrospect, I'm more preoccupied with why they're called "Dinosaucers." There's nothing saucer like about any of them or any of their technology. Based on their namesake I want them to be dishware fighting each other. That would've made a terrible tv show, and parents everywhere would never get their dinosaur enthusiast children to eat without turning dinner time into an epic dinosaur battle.