Steven D Greydanus on the subervise non-subversiveness of Phineas and Ferb

On the website of the ever-interesting Steven D Greydanus there is a piece on Phineas and Ferb, one of the many many children’s shows which are also calculated to appeal to adults, but one with a tone and tenor quite different from the easy cynicism and pseudo-sophistication of so much of this sort of thing:

There are at least a half dozen reasons “Phineas and Ferb” never should have existed, and how fortunate for viewers of all ages that it does. It’s no wonder show creators Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh were unable to get it on the air for 16 years. The wonder is that they ever thought they could, and that they finally succeeded, and that this amazing, oddball show — which ran from 2007 to 2015, with five one-hour specials and a small-screen feature film, “Phineas and Ferb: Across the 2nd Dimension” — found the audience it so richly deserves.

“Phineas and Ferb” should not exist, to begin with, because it’s too complicated; at the same time, it’s too formulaic. It’s weird-looking, which isn’t much of an obstacle these days, but it goes into deeper weirdness far from the beaten path for mainstream family entertainment. There’s lots of music, generally a mark of kiddie entertainment, yet much of the witty humor is clearly aimed at older audiences. Who on earth is this show for? I mean, besides me, and my kids, and everyone I know, and everyone else.

Mostly, “Phineas and Ferb” shouldn’t exist because its dominant spirit of exuberance, innocence, optimism, and generosity is so out of step with the abrasiveness of TV animation in the post–“Simpsons” era.

This disconnect is only highlighted by the fact that prior to “Phineas and Ferb” Povenmire and Marsh worked together on “The Simpsons” and “Rocko’s Modern Life”; Povenmire’s other credits include “SpongeBob SquarePants” and “Family Guy,” while Marsh has worked on “King of the Hill.”

What most of these shows share with “Phineas and Ferb” is a blisteringly fast-paced, gag-driven, winkingly absurdist style popularized by “The Simpsons.” What all of them except “Phineas and “Ferb” share are varying levels of cynicism and misanthropy.

Take “SpongeBob.” SpongeBob may be as cheerful and optimistic as Phineas, but he’s also a moron; other characters, like Squidward, are jerks. On “Phineas and Ferb,” no one is really nasty; all the characters are ultimately endearing, even busybody Candace, bullying Buford, and Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz, an underachieving evil scientist with an endless parade of failed doomsday devices (“inators,” as in “Destruct-inator” or “Inside-Out-inator”), who has no greater ambition than to take over the Tri-State Area.

Indeed, how much exuberance (for starters) is there in contemporary hyper-atomised, hyper-competitive culture?

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