Generally speaking, I am not a fan of the Disney Channel. Parents think the teen-oriented shows are innocuous, because they are free of references to sex and drugs. That’s true, but what they have in bushel-loads is attitude, bad attitude. Whether you’re watching Hannah Montana (mercifully out of production), the Suite Life of Zach and Cody (or the Suite Life on Deck, its sequel), or Pair of Kings, or the Wizards of Waverly Place (another show that is defunct), you be assured of a few things: inept, absent parents; humor that’s premised on one-liner insults; appallingly bad acting, with the teen stars pausing after every woodenly delivered one-liner to give the laugh track a chance to kick in; plots and camera work that cater to one-minute attention spans; and relentless Disney product promotion, since the shows are really just extended commercials for the teen stars Disney grinds out at its studios.
Put more succinctly, the shows are frenzied in pace and mean-spirited in tone. If your tween or young teen is giving you attitude, you don’t have to look further than the Disney channel (or its evil twin, Nickelodeon) to figure out where your child learned those techniques. It’s small wonder that so many former Disney stars have crossed to the dark side. Aside from living in the artificial, sycophantic world of Hollywood, stars such as Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears, and Demi Lovato, all of whom have had drug or mental health issues, have also been carefully taught on the Disney lot that adults are idiots, that the only people who matter are their peers, and that morality is defined by feelings, with every person’s own navel being the ultimate moral arbiter.
Even Selena Gomez, who has just slipped free of the Disney studio, seems to be moving towards the dark side, as her costumes become sleazier and sleazier. Sleazy costumes were pretty much the canary in the coal mine for other troubled Disney stars. In other words, breast- and thigh-baring were the first outward manifestations of the actress’s imminent physical or moral collapse.
And yet, in this darkness, there is a little bit of light: Phineas and Ferb. The only thing that Phineas and Ferb has in common with the other Disney shows is that the parents are absent and clueless. I forgive the show, though, for that conceit, because it allows the main characters’ lights to shine so brilliantly. In a TV world defined by jaded, sarcastic, bored, trouble-making youth characters, Phineas, Ferb, and their friends are distinguished by boundless enthusiasm for and interest in the world around them, and a complete absence of cynicism.
The premise is simple. Phineas and Ferb are stepbrothers who have the perfect bond in their shared genius and their intellectual curiosity. Their friends admire their brilliance, and enthusiastically participate in their ideas. The ineffectual counterweight to their manic genius is their shrill older sister Candace, who talks on the phone endlessly with her best friend, and spends most of her energy trying to attract Jeremy, the laid-back teen dude who is unselfconscious, kind, and clueless about Candace’s crush. In every episode, Candace tries desperately, and without success, to make her parents aware of Phineas’ and Ferb’s escapades. The show also has a subplot with an evil genius and a platypus, but I pretty much ignore that part, which is just silly.
The show’s introductory song pretty much sets the tone. It describes an exciting world, with endless interesting things to see, do and learn. It urges children to participate wholeheartedly in life:
That theme song reminds me of another nice thing about Phineas and Ferb, which is the music. Every show has a song. Musically, the songs range from tolerably bland to surprisingly sophisticated. Take for example the song from “Ferb Latin.” Although the lyrics are nonsensical, it is a remarkably sophisticated example of counterpoint, a technique that takes two apparently incompatible songs and weaves them together into a single, successful melody:
So if you should ever find yourself in a room with a kid who is watching Phineas and Ferb, don’t change the channel or leave the room. Sit down, instead, and get a very rare glimpse of delightful children’s programming.