Dinosaurs (1991-1994) was short-lived yet ahead of its time. The series couched its acid-tongued satire in an anthropomorphic and animatronic dinosaur family living the suburban dream. It would handle deeper, darker issues than most shows of its time, putting pop culture and social targets in its crosshairs, including the scourge of drugs and the conventions and tropes of family sitcoms. The more serious commentary is worth exploring but so is the lighter fare. One of the most memorable episodes is “Georgie Must Die,” the show’s penultimate story. It’s a satirical take on another, more popular dino who was making waves at the time: Barney the Purple Dinosaur.
If you weren’t around back then, Barney & Friends was the kind of kids’ show that tots adored and parents hated. Adults resented Barney’s cloying chuckle, treacly friendship jingles, and the fact that their kids had him on TV all the time. There’s an entire Wikipedia page dedicated to “ anti-Barney humor” of the era that helped adults process the saccharine emptiness of his appeal.
But perhaps the most cutting rebuke to the purple dinosaur’s felt-clad grip on ’90s American children came from Dinosaurs. Here, patriarch Earl Sinclair (voiced by Stuart Pankin) gets fed up with Baby Sinclair’s (voiced by Kevin Clash) obsession with Georgie!, a sickly kid’s program with a giggly orange hippo. Georgie calls his child audience his “backdoor pals” (eww) and sings a shrill soundalike of “I Love You, You Love Me” where every other word is “special.”
Completely over Georgie’s annoying omnipresence in his life, Earl dons a hand-crafted Georgie costume to see if an in-person visit will mollify Baby. This almost works until the police arrest him for copyright infringement (in his own home!) and haul him to jail.
The real Georgie comes by to visit Earl in the big house, which is where “Georgie Must Die” takes its most sinister turn. You see, behind the genial giggles of the orange hippo lies a greedy, money-grubbing capitalist (voiced by Ed Asner). And he’s ready to eliminate any disruption of his media saturation. “It was about smiley kids…for the first ten minutes!” Georgie snaps at Earl. “Now it’s about cash!”
Disney +/The Jim Henson Company
Dinosaurs’ depiction of Georgie, and Barney by extension, provides the ultimate existential threat to annoyed parents everywhere. No matter what they try, they won’t be able to get rid of him. Evil Georgie threatens Earl with his plans for “The Georgie Cable Channel” with non-stop Georgie programming and ads. He even plots to beam programming directly into children’s brains “through small receivers secretly implanted during routine dental checkups.”
Luckily, thanks to the intervention of the “Parent’s Resistance,” a French Resistance-like cabal of anti-Georgie parents, Earl breaks out of jail. He then plots to disrupt Georgie’s next show by revealing him for the fraud he is.
Donning his knock-off costume, and “with the hopes of dreams of millions of annoyed parents” behind him, Earl gets into a knock-down, drag-out fistfight with the real Georgie. Hilariously, it takes place in front of hundreds of confused children. “This is for all you parents at home,” Earl says to the camera before hitting Georgie with a well-placed haymaker. (The closing credits feature a news report announcing Georgie’s arrest for racketeering and tax evasion. Al Capone can relate.)
It must be noted that this wasn’t the first time Dinosaurs took aim at the big purple fella. A few episodes prior, a red hand-puppet dinosaur named Blarney can be seen hawking VHS tapes; some of the titles include “Blarney on the Farm,” “Blarney Just Sits There,” and “Blarney Helps You Organize Your Blarney Video Tapes.”
But “Georgie Must Die” isn’t just a more fleshed-out critique of the substance-less ’90s kid’s program. It’s a classic example of what the show’s format could let them get away with. Ironically, Dinosaurs’ marketing-friendly catchphrases (“Not the mama!”) and fan appeal of the obnoxious Baby made the show’s deeper subversions possible. In a Vulture interview, co-creator Michael Jacobs summed it up best: “As long as the Baby hit his father over the head with a pot, we could use that to hide anything.”
With “Georgie Must Die,” Dinosaurs took aim at the commercialization of children’s programming, and the increasing popularity of merchandisable kid’s entertainment at the expense of anything educational or palatable to their captive adult audience.
The “dumbing down” of society with television was a common talking point in the show’s roster of gags; and, well, you couldn’t get any dumber than Barney. The episode gave weary parents a welcome release valve and brief respite from Barney & Friends tooth-aching simplicity. When Earl floors Georgie at the end, he’s doing it for all of us.