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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The wildly fun Milo Murphy’s Law must escape Phineas And Ferb’s shadow

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One day, people will finally realize Phineas And Ferb was a genuinely great show. It was hilarious, smart, sweat, exciting, adventurous, and–above all–just pure fun. Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh’s show was a huge hit for both Disney and Disney XD (they switched networks during its run), but for some reason it always lacked the critical or social media attention that it deserved. Sure, I gave the season finale a B, but it was the strongest B possible, and it only received that grade because it didn’t quite hit the creative heights that the show could reach. It’s no surprise then that Disney would give Povenmire and Marsh another show to work on. Milo Murphy’s Law is just as fun as Phineas And Ferb, but the show needs to find a way to establish itself as something beyond that show’s framework. At times, the show kind of feels like Phineas And Ferb, just with a new coat of paint.

I don’t doubt Milo Murphy’s Law will eventually stake its own claim though. Povernmire and Marsh are industry vets who’ve worked on a number of animated shows, and they’ve managed to snag “Weird Al” Yankovic to voice the titular Milo Murphy. There’s an infectious, enjoyable positivity to Milo, a young boy who somehow manages to attract mishaps and chaos, yet maintains a can-do, spirited attitude about the whole thing. The name is based on the jokey adage of Murphy’s law, and while there’s a lot of comic mileage you can grab from that concept in animated form, it’s tricky to tell if the show can build something else from it. Phineas And Ferb’s loose, devil-may-care premise allowed that show to do whatever it wanted. Milo Murphy’s Law’s even looser, more devil-may-care premise most likely will allow for similar amount of insanity, which may be both a blessing and a curse. It can indeed have all the fun it wants, but there’s a sense that it could just become too chaotic for its own good.

The two episodes that aired today (and on iTunes and Youtube and on the Disney XD app) both get at that dilemma. “Going the Extra Milo” exemplifies the potential of the show, as new kid Zack Underwood arrives within Milo’s orbit. In a series of ridiculous, Rube Goldberg-esque situations, Milo and Zack escape a giant rolling pipe, a crazy wolf with bees, a massive wave of water, and even some aliens. The animators are really having fun with the bizarre interconnectedness of events, and watching the two boys, particularly Milo, push through every single disaster is, at the very least, fun as heck to watch. I don’t know if I personally buy Milo’s assertion to Zack that the “cyclone of calamity” that surrounds his life is more “fun” than the other kids’ lives. Milo’s a positive kid but it doesn’t seem like he absolutely loves everything he goes through, and the other kids who took the bus have a heck of a time betting on the odds Milo and Zack get to school on time. (Also, as the second episode showcases, those other kids often get sucked into Milo’s disaster aura, so it feels like an unearned contrast). Perhaps the show can search for something a bit more meaningful to draw from Milo’s life? Right now though, watching all the bedlam happen is good enough.

That’s sort of why “The Undergrounders” is a bit of letdown. It’s a more straight-forward affair than “Going the Extra Milo,” and other than the nifty subway-car-crash sequences, it doesn’t have much visual excitement for the animators to sink their talented teeth into. A lot of the jokes feel a little more strained, mainly because the episode is really just meant to emphasize Milo’s preparedness. There isn’t much to build off that, which is why it brings in a group of “Undergrounders,” the kind of characters that the Phineas And Ferb crew thrive with. Other than their nutty, quirky perspective (and their sheer dedication to creating an underground civilization in a month), there isn’t much to engage in here, nor is the group particularly funny–although lines like “It’s a democratic hierarchical society” might elicit chuckles more from parents than their children. Melissa, Zack, and Milo make for a fun team but the Undergrounders are just a running, one-note joke. There’s a whole class of students with their own lives to learn about, but the best we get from them is the moody Bradley and his running commentary about how everyone is more interested in Milo’s antics than whatever he has to say. (It’s a little early to play with those kind of meta-gags, right?) Milo Murphy’s Law has spunk, but I’m looking forward to when it’s applied to the characters that we’ll actually see on a regular basis.

Stray observations

  • We’re looking into covering this show at The A.V. Club, so let us know if you want want to see that happen! There are early rumors that the show may have some Gravity Falls-esque mythology.
  • “The Undergrounders” is paired with” Going the Extra Milo” online, but the schedule says “Sunny Side Up” is airing with “Going” on the actual channel. I hope this is just a mistake. If “Sunny Side Up” does air instead of “The Undergrounders” I’ll post some quick thoughts here after I see the episode later tonight.
  • UPDATE: So Disney XD did air “Sunny Side Up” on the actual channel! It was a stronger episode than “The Undergrounders,” allowing a better dynamic among Milo, Melissa, and Zack to shine through. It consisted of a number of both rational and irrational events that kept disrupting the ol’ egg-drop experiment–the combination of both allowing the comedy to stay tempered We get a better sense of some of the characters, too: we learn Melissa is obsessed with maintaining her high grade-point average, and that their teacher is obsessed with her desk in a… sexual way. The jokes were hilarious all the way through, too. I think Milo is too reactive and passive at times, though, but I can see the show adjusting quickly to give him a bit more to actively do. B+
  • I don’t think Milo’s dog (update: it’s spelled “Diogee”) will be as perfect as Perry, but so far he’s just cute and fairly helpful, so there’s that.
  • Despite having “Weird Al” as the lead, there doesn’t seem to be much of a push to have songs in every episode like Phineas And Ferb. That’s fine. I’m sure we’ll get a few songs here and there, and they should be a doozy. The theme song is super catchy.