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With 104 days at your disposal, what sort of adventures and activities could you come up with to keep busy? For most of us, work or tv or books or video games would consume our time, cementing us to our couches and chairs. We wouldn’t take advantage of all the adventure and excitement that the world holds. The Disney X D show Phineas and Ferb explores this idea of making the most of each and every day, turning 104 days of sitting in front of a screen into 104 days of exploration and imagination. With three seasons and a full-length movie on Netflix, anyone can and should spend time watching how these creative kids spend their time.
Before delving too deeply into this review, I should point out that, yes, this is a cartoon, and one originally aimed at kids. However, Disney is masterful at making cartoons for kids that appeal to adults too. The company knows that the parents are going to be dragged into watching whatever the kids are watching, so small jokes and references are added into most Disney cartoons. Phineas and Ferb takes that to an even higher level. Many of the jokes are ones that kids would never get without explanation, ones that adults will find uproariously funny. So, even if you think that cartoons are for kids, and that you won’t enjoy the show, give it a chance. You may find the show funnier than you imagined. Each episode of Phineas and Ferb follows a pretty standard formula. Without commercials, the runtime of each episode is around 23 minutes, broken into two parts. Sometimes a storyline will take the whole 23 minutes, but most episodes have the two separate stories. Within each story, there are three intermingling plots.
The first revolves around the titular characters, Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher, step-brothers who are inventive and mechanical geniuses. The pair are not content with just sitting lazily around, they have to be building something new or else they get stir-crazy. These inventions often defy logic, explanation and physics. The science of the world seems to bend itself backwards in order to accommodate the brothers. Also included in their story for the episode are their three closest friends, a bully named Buford, a nerd named Baljeet and Isabella, the leader of the local Fireside Girls troop (think Girl Scouts meet Navy SEALS).
The next story involves their older sister, Candace Flynn, and their mother, Linda Flynn-Fletcher. Candace is spending her summer caught between trying to “bust” her brothers to their mom – her version of tattling and getting them in trouble – and trying to pursue the boy she likes. Linda tries to keep her daily life going despite all the interruptions by her daughter, and she never manages to see the crazy contraptions that her sons build, much to Candace’s dismay. Over time, Candace begins to believe that there’s a mysterious force at work that is plotting against her, ensuring that their mother never sees what the boys are building. More often than not, though, it’s just the work of an evil scientist fighting his nemesis.
The third plot line centers on the family’s pet platypus, Perry. While it’s weird enough for a family to have a pet platypus, this particular platypus also happens to be a secret agent named Agent P working for a group known as OWACA – the Organization Without A Cool Acronym. OWACA utilizes unusually smart and strong animal agents to combat evil; though the animals are talented, they cannot speak – they are just animals, after all. Perry the Platypus spends his days fighting Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, an inept evil scientist scheming to take over the Tri-State Area. Dr. Doofenshmirtz has a new device – which he calls an “inator” (as in “forgetinator” or “turn everything evil-inator”) – that complements whatever painful backstory he has in mind that day. The fight between Perry and Dr. Doofenshmirtz follows roughly the same formula each episode: Dr. Doofenshmirtz traps Perry in an overly elaborate trap, gives his backstory monologue, begins to activate his machine (which invariably causes whatever the boys are doing to escape the notice of their mother), and then Perry escapes, blows up the machine (and Dr. Doofenshmirtz at the same time) and flies back home, where he resumes his secret identity.
In the course of these three interwoven stories, there is always at least one musical number. The music is original to the episode, and the songs are often catchy enough that you’ll find yourself humming them days later (one of the most popular songs can be found below). Disney even released a cd of the top songs from the first season, well worth a listen. The songs are usually either funny or touching, sometimes both, and the stellar vocal cast that the show has gathered performs them to perfection. In fact, the musical numbers have earned the show four Emmy nominations, an impressive feat for an animated show.
One of the best features of this show that separates it from other cartoons is how it deals with the characters. Most cartoons – especially ones aimed toward children – will give the main character some sort of flaw that lasts for exactly one episode, and that they must overcome in order to beat the bad guy and resolve the story. Phineas and Ferb doesn’t do that. The characters have remained fairly stable since the beginning. Major changes in character are due to long-term story arc changes or due to outside forces such as one of Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s devices, not some personal failing that suddenly surfaced just in time for the character to learn some important lesson.
The language used in the show is a key factor in its appeal to adults. Now, by that, I don’t mean to suggest that the cartoon kids are doing their versions of the “Seven words you can’t say on tv.” Rather, the show does not talk down to the audience, either the kids or the adults. In fact, at times the show’s use of words may be beyond what a child could handle. Words such as sesquipedalian, techno-mimetic and septuagenarian have all appeared in just the last few episodes that I re-watched. The show managed to work them in seamlessly, too. Sesquipedalian is not an easy word to use in a punchline, but Phineas and Ferb found a way.
No show is perfect, though this one comes close. Apart from the pains of waiting for more episodes to go up on Netflix and the suspense of whether the show will continue to run, the only downside is in comparison to itself. The show has some phenomenal episodes, including two episodes that featured Disney’s recently acquired properties Star Wars and Marvel Comics. While there are no truly bad episodes of the show, some are weaker than others. This is mainly noticeable if you watch multiple episodes back-to-back in marathon style, though it can also be seen in the first few episodes of the series, while the show was still working to set itself up. Fortunately, there’s no real over-arching plot, so you can skip the early episodes and come back to them once you’re a devoted fan of the show.
Overall, I rank this in my favorite shows, so I recommend it to anyone of any age. I was introduced to the show by my 40-year-old high school physics teacher and my 22-year-old (at the time) best friend, independently of each other. I was resistant at first, thinking it to be a show for kids, and then laughed my way through the whole series. Multiple times. I’m even re-watching it as I write this review. There’s a lot of humor that will resonate with people of all ages. Give the show a try; watch two episodes, and if you’re not in love with it by then, you don’t have to watch any more. But I’m willing to bet you’ll be singing along to the theme song as you make the choice to start the third episode.
Phineas and Ferb is written by Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and airs on Disney and Disney X D. Three seasons and the movie are available to stream on Netflix Instant.
With the winter hiatus upon us and a lack of new episodes until mid-January at the earliest, now seems like a good time to take a look back at one of this season’s newest gems. Constantine premiered late in the season in the timeslot vacated for Hannibal’s season break. NBC didn’t stray far in swapping out the two shows – they’re comparable in terms of blood, mystery and number of gnawed on humans. Production on Constantine’s inaugural season halted after only four episodes had aired. However, right around the time of the fifth episode, things started picking up. Viewership increased, ratings went up and the plot began to truly resonate with the audience. Unfortunately, because the show hit its stride after the decision was made to halt production, we may only get to see the 13 episodes already made before this show is gone. That is, unless it picks up more in ratings and viewership. So, here’s why your date night on Friday, January 16th should involve a date with your couch and an NBC show about a British detective… who hunts demons.
Constantine – based on DC Comics’ Hellblazer series – centers on supernatural detective John Constantine and his companions as they fight the often referenced “rising darkness.” John’s core support team is his seemingly immortal friend Chas Chandler and the clairvoyant mystery woman Zed Martin, both of whom appear in the original comics in some form. Heaven’s support of the team arrives in the form of an angel named Manny, whose cryptic clues often frustrate John onto the correct path. How can a show get more interesting than when it has a spellcasting detective, a psychic, an immortal and an angel fighting evil? You add in a haunting backstory, powerful and threatening villains, and easter egg allusions to other DC properties.
Though the show is based on a comic book line, it’s not a direct port to the screen. John’s backstory in the show is from an arc that happened early in the Hellblazer run, but the detective’s introduction to the supernatural world happened differently in the comics and the show. Constantine opens with John in a mental hospital after a trauma from years before – the accidental casting of a young girl’s soul into Hell – finally caught up with him. The show has done a good job of building on this background with each episode while not rubbing it in the audience’s face. In these first eight episodes, John has teamed up with a number of others who were a part of that exorcism gone wrong, all of whom are dealing with the psychological damage in their own way, from drinking to drugs to joining a convent. Meanwhile, the mystery of Zed – who saw visions of John before they met and who is learning from him how to control her clairvoyant powers – is dangled tantalizingly both in front of the audience and in front of John himself, as Zed refuses to share any details about her past.
To counter such a crack team as this, the forces of evil moving against them have to be compelling and believably strong. While the show has started as a “monster of the week” type show, using the phrase “rising darkness” as a catch-all for the things going bump in the night, the individual villains don’t feel forced or out of place in this story. The only antagonist to show up more than once so far is a character named Papa Midnite, though his motives tend more toward personal gain and less toward outright evil. Papa Midnite is another character straight from the comics, and he’ll likely make more appearances in the back half of this first season. While remaining free of spoilers, it should be noted that the presumed cause of the “rising darkness” is introduced in the eighth episode, the cliffhanger episode that aired leading into the hiatus.
One thing that makes tv shows based on comic books fun is the connection to the source material. With such a rich and extensive history to look at, fans who have read the comics have the opportunity to speculate on what might happen next based on what they know of the characters and plotlines already. Not only that, but the linked nature the DC universe allows for other popular characters to show up unexpectedly. While we likely won’t see Batman or Superman or any of the other big names of the Justice League on the show anytime soon, there have already been some hints toward the characters Dr. Fate (his helmet was in the first episode) and Swamp Thing (mentioned in a message if you call the phone number on John’s business card). Jim Corrigan, known to DC Comics fans as the man who becomes The Spectre upon his death, showed up in episode five; his return as The Spectre was hinted at through Zed’s clairvoyant visions. While this does give a little extra treat to those in the audience who have read the comics, not recognizing these add-ins doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the show at all.
Every show has its growing pains, but Constantine got them out of the way early. It has become a solid show that deserves more than one truncated season. With over 25 years of source material to draw from and a skilled cast to bring the characters to life, the only thing this show lacks is the dedicated fanbase and audience to keep it on the air. January 16th, the return from hiatus, will be a key night in deciding the future of this show. In the meantime, new viewers can catch up on Hulu and NBC.com. I highly recommend this show to anyone who is a fan of fantasy, science fiction, comics, horror movies or any good, character-driven dramas with witty and sarcastic humor.
Constantine stars Matt Ryan, Angélica Celaya, Charles Halford and Harold Perrineau and airs Fridays at 8/7c on NBC, at least for five more weeks.