Phineas and Ferb has been television’s most underrated treasure trove. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh’s hit Disney show sat in pitching hell for sixteen years while the two worked on The Simpsons, Rocko’s Modern Life, and Family Guy, honing their comic skills right up until the day Disney decided to give their plucky show a chance. The show debuted in 2007, after about a decade of bland(ish) animation entertainment, and pretty much jump-started the current “Silver Age” of animation that we’re going through (along with Adventure Time). Phineas and Ferb’s contributions to the medium are so often overlooked–the fusion of A and B stories within a scant eleven minutes, the deconstruction and decimation of formulaic plotting, the sporadic-but-intricate layers of continuity (that rival greats like Community or Venture Bros.), the use of genuinely-good songs within an episode–and I’m happy to at least attempt to give the show a proper and respectful send-off as “Last Day of Summer” ends the series for good.
Yet I feel somewhat unqualified for this. Looking at the outpouring of support and accolades for the show, it’s clear that there is a generation that truly related to the show. They grew up on it. They bonded with their parents on it. They were inspired by its positivity, its optimism, its creativity and sense of imagination. I had only caught wind of the show when a friend casually mentioned seeing it while babysitting while I was in college; since then, I had quickly gobbled up as many episodes as I could. But that ultimately kept me removed from aging along with the show. It was easy for me to notice how truly in-depth Phineas and Ferb could be, but I’d never be able to engage with the show with the kind of passion and nostalgia that the generation after me will do so in a few years. Looking back at Animaniacs or Rocko’s Modern Life has rewarded me with hidden references and a shocking amount of rich characterization; future adults will too observe Phineas and Ferb and marvel at the show’s sheer intricacy and exploration of its characters (Doofenshmirtz, in particular).
So it’s somewhat sad to say that “Last Day of Summer” was rather disappointing. Not to say that it wasn’t fun, or entertaining–Phineas and Ferb could never been outright “bad”–but considering every single thing that the boys and, consequently, Perry, has been through, we’re merely provided with an elaborate, complex take on Groundhog Day by way of Doctor Who. It’s a fun episode but takes a while to get to the thrust of the plot, and it feels as if it’s missing a lot of the small but unassailable elements that makes it a true episode of Phineas and Ferb, and in particular, the series finale.
Marsh and Povenmire have mentioned that the penultimate episode, “Act Your Age,” was the spiritual finale of the series, which jumped ten years into the future and gave Phineas and Isabella the romantic closure that’s been teased throughout the series (the final song calls back to that). Beyond that, that episode gives mostly every side character a future, a direction, a sense of place and purpose that stands beyond the breadth of the show. “Last Day of Summer” needed to feel like it truly was the last day of summer, but it mostly felt like a regular episode of the show. Which is fine, I suppose, but considering how much the show has done in the past, with epic missions into space, crazy conflicts in Hawaii and Africa, multiple trips into the past, and an amazing adventure into an alternate dimension (the TV movie), a basic play on time-space rifting seems almost quaint.
Again, not to say it was bad or anything. The opening sequence (and the subsequent trek through the “everything” ride) was vintage Phineas and Ferb. It’s a show not often cited for its animation, but the hoverboard scene and the insane water slide was incredibly well done. The music sparkled and made me tap my toes, and the jokes were still on point (Candace’s mom’s muted, sad meta-statement about her endless errands was perfect). The actual plotting was pretty astute, with Baljeet’s explanations of the dwindling presence of the time-space continuum fairly easy to follow (and Buford was there with a pointed “PLEASE STOP TALKING” for those who just wanted to the show to get on with it).
Yet there was no Stacey. There was no mention of the Meep, or the weird relationship between Doofenshmirtz’s and Peter the Panda (or his ex-wife Charlene), or the more normal relationship between Monty and Vanessa. There was no reference to Doofenshmirtz’s remarkably poignant, sad backstory (“This is Your Backstory” is essential watching). There was little mention of the sheer amount of crazy the cast had been through. There wasn’t even a Giant Floating Baby Head cameo (and no, mentioning all that in the final song doesn’t count). The focus was on Candace’s desire to bust her brothers, and Doofenshmirtz’s plot to be Tri-Governor, and their multiple attempts to succeed. The episode seemed reluctant to reach into its vast history or really mess with the episode structure, except maybe in the climax when time was converging on itself. If “Last Day of Summer” was attempting to create a parallel between Candace’s and Doofenshmirtz’s obsessions, it did so at the barest minimum.
Ultimately, the most disappointing thing was the lack of a sense of purpose, the lack of that kind of creativity and imagination that drives both Phineas and Ferb, and Phineas and Ferb. With the brothers mostly in passive mode, and with the Perry/Doofenshmirtz’s conflict mostly falling flat, “Last Day of Summer,” in some ways, felt like a genuine last day of summer: entertaining and fun, but ultimately leading towards a dull, generic future. As much as I truly loved Phineas and Ferb, that is completely against the spirit of the show.
- Apologies for this going up so late: my Mac Pro pretty much died tonight.
- I know this review comes off a bit harsh for a kid’s show, but Phineas and Ferb is capable of so much more (I re-watched a few episodes prior to this). It can be really effective, or really adventurous, or really hilarious when it wants to be. I don’t think it ran out of ideas, but it does seem like it ran out of energy. (I also take my cartoons more seriously than most).
- The subplot in which Vanessa wants to move out so she can get that O.W.C.A. internship seems like it’s the set-up for “The O.W.C.A. Files” which is airing in the fall. And Doofenshmirtz’s sudden change to go good seems like the set-up to “Doof 101,” the show’s throw-away vision of a spin-off. (It’s actually a hilarious episode, with J.K. Simmons, Josh Gad, and Stephen Root as a group of bugs because screw it.) What’s missing is a clear scene between Vanessa and her father coming to some sort of understanding. This has been on of the show’s most complex and endearing relationships, and it just felt like it was undercooked here.
- Inevitable “Favorite song/moment/quote” question goes here. I always loved “Floor after Floor,” it’s so insanely catchy and easily singable. As for moment? That’s tough to explain, but it involves the clearest and best example of true “irony” I’ve seen in a while.