Saturday, May 2, 2009

The Funniest Show You've Never Seen

Phineas and Ferb stars Perry the Platypus [ fedora], Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz [top, right] and characters Phineas, Ferb and sister Candace.

I write today about the greatest comedy on television today, and one you probably have never either seen nor even heard of. I speak of the twice-Emmy-nominated Phineas & Ferb from Disney Channel. Originally aired in August 2007, the animated series is - without fear of contradiction - the funniest thing on television. Bar none. Rescue Me? Great series. Too serious for a comedy. Big Love? Funny, but it's hard to consider polygamy and child-rape as appropriate fodder for humor. Hannah Montana? Also funny, but that God-awful singing just makes it impossible to laugh enough to call it a comedy.

No, it's P&F. The shows - which run in 15-minute cycles with the occasional 30-minute special - always contain two simultaneous plots. The first involves Phineas and Ferb - two step-brothers - and their never-ending search for something to do during summer vacation ["There's a-hundred-and-four days of summer vacation...." says the title song]. This normally involves creating something impossible, like a portal to Mars, a monster-truck stadium in the back yard, or searching for the feared Lake Nose Monster ["Of all the lakes we could have picked," says Dad en route, "I'm so glad we picked the Nose."]. All the while, addled teenage-sister Candace tries to catch the boys in the act to "bust them" - that is, to show Mom that her little ones are really mad scientist-types and not cute little boys with a "wild imagination".

The second concurrent plot - and, to me, what makes the series pure genius - is between P&F's pet platypus [brilliant named, Perry the Platypus] and the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz. You see, Perry - a mild-mannered unintelligible pet platypus to the boys - is really a secret agent. As Agent P, Perry works for O.W.C.A ("Organization Without a Cool Acronym"). Apropos of nothing, as the boys are beginning whatever crazy adventure planned for the day, Phineas will turn to someone and say, "Hey, where's Perry?" At which point, Agent P - who, like most platypuses walks on all fours when he's a family pet - sprints upon his two hind legs, dons a fedora, and is catapulted, dropped, flown, or otherwise dispensed to some other locale where he gets his instructions - via video, of course - from a Bond-like handler known as Monogram.

Perry the Platypus' instructions always deal with handling the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz, played with the appropriate Colonel Klink-like-German accent by series co-creator Dan Povenmire. Dr. Doof isn't really a doctor, as becomes apparent in one episode when his daughter - yes, Dr. D was married but is now divorced from a wife that has to pay him alimony - finds a price tag [$15.00] on his doctoral degree. He is, however, an "evil genius" dedicated to "spreading evil across the tri-state area!"

Povenmire and his collaborator Jeff "Swampy" Marsh met as layout artists on - surprise, surprise - The Simpsons. For much of the next 16 years, they worked on their concept of an animated series, which began with Povenmire's sketch of a boy with a triangle head. After 16 years of pitching, they finally convinced Disney to order a series. P&F just wrapped up its second season, and have produced a total of 36 episodes.

Each one is a gem. Literally. Not a bad one in the bunch. How do I know? Well, my children discovered P&F and haven't stopped watching them, so I've seen each episode about 100 times. Ok, I haven't seen every episode, but I've seen about half of them and they are brilliant. Whether it's the one where Dr. Doofenshmirtz seeks revenge on hot dog vendors [as a young man he was a bratwurst vendor and - after hot dogs took off and became so popular - "I vowed there and then that I would get my revenge!"; or the one where Dr. D tries to suck all of the zinc out of Lake Nose - "There must be some evil use for zinc," Doofenshmirtz says to Agent P at one point. "No, seriously, Perry the Platypus, do you know any evil uses for zinc...'cause I got nothing!"; or the one where Dr. D seeks to destroy the billboard that is obscuring his window view "from where I used to watch the world's miseries (from there, the shot goes into flashback and we see Dr. D sitting in an easy chair, eating popcorn while he looks to his right at a chiropractor's building and we hear a large "CRACK" and the patient yells, "OH MAN!"; Dr. D then looks to his left and we see a Tax office and a woman says, "Ok, sir, you owe $730,000." and a guy says, "OH MAN!", and so on)" - you'll laugh so hard you'll wet yourself. Particularly if you are incontinent.

Of particular genius is the relationship between Perry and Dr. D. Each episode features Perry barging in on Dr. D, to which Doofenshmirtz, reacts in mock horror and surprise, "PERRY THE PLATYPUS????!!!! YOU'RE EARLY. I'm not ready yet..." or some such banter. At one point, Doofenshmirtz even has Perry wait in "my waiting room, while I get ready. There, go read a magazine. I mean, they're all in Spanish. I steal them from my neighbor. Remember, evil never rests." Dr. D then captures Perry in a trap and proceeds to tell him every detail of his evil plot. The insanity of this is captured in one episode when an evil collaborator says to Doofenshmirtz, "Are you sure you want to take HIM [Perry] with us?!" To which Dr. D says, "Who, Perry the Platypus? I HAVE to take him. He's my nemesis. I have to tell him everything." Invariably, Perry saves the day, leaving Dr. Doofenshmirtz screaming, "Curse you, Perry the Platypus"!

Of course, concurrent with all of this is some attempt by Phineas and Ferb to do something impossible, all while their sister Candace tries to get them "busted" by catching them in the act. This story-line is for the kids, while the Dr. D/Perry storyline is for the adults. What's great is, P&F are actually good kids. That, I think, is what makes the show better than all of the other crap cartoons out there, where the animated kids are either dumber than cup of semen or bigger assholes than that guy who thought to send the planes over New York City last week.

Instead, P&F are good-hearted, smart - even somewhat nerdy - but yet COOL kids, with friends and they have impossible adventures. My favorite friend - and here is the only area, perhaps, where the series veers into the realm of distasteful - is their friend Baljeet. He is the stereotypical Indian-American youth who is brilliant, shy and timid, under tremendous pressure from his parents to be a genius, etc. Even here, though, there isn't anything mean spirited about the portrayal of Baljeet, even if he does reinforce a stereotype (in one episode, Baljeet calls on P&F to help him because his science project got him only an A-. After P&F try to help him improve the project but initially fail, Baljeet moans, "I'm calling my parents and telling them to get the curtains of shame ready to hang." To which Phineas says, "Don't worry, it'll work, you'll see." "Not through the curtains of shame, I won't," says Baljeet).

So, do yourself a favor and check out Phineas and Ferb. Be warned, however: you'll never look at a platypus the same again.

copyright 2009 by EBBP Redux. If you are reading this on a blog or website other than EBBP Redux or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.

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