My favorite show this past season aired on Thursdays at 8pm on NBC. This was, of course, Community. It also happens to be one of my favorite shows of all time (up there with Firefly, Lost, and Chuck). It’s smart, excellently written, and consistently hilarious.
I’m not sure when my favorite cartoon airs. I know it’s on Disney Channel, but I just watch it on Netflix. Phineas and Ferb, my favorite cartoon, is smart, excellently written, and consistently hilarious.
They’re very different shows: one’s about a group of community college students and the escapades they get up to, the other’s about a pair of step-brothers and their attempts to make the most of the 104 days of summer vacation. The two, however, do share a comedic style that’s right up my alley. Both are meta, post-modern, fourth-wall taunting, and trope playing shows that have far more in common than not.
The foundation for a series such as these is a setting in which just about anything can transpire. For Phineas and Ferb it’s the brothers’ ability to create literally anything in their backyard; for Community it’s the unpredictably goofy campus of Greendale Community College. Both worlds are slightly (okay, very in the case of Phineas and Ferb) fantastical but grounded in some semblance of reality. Both shows have done westerns, science fiction, alternate realities, and musicals. Since they’ve established that reality is malleable in their worlds they’re free to play around with it as much as they want. Of course, their little winks and nods to the audience helps us play along.
Beyond their bouts of fantasy, both shows are very self-aware of not only the tropes they play with, but their own tendency to play with these tropes. Phineas and Ferb knows it has a wealth of catchphrases and so aired an episode set in prehistoric times with the entire episode’s dialogue simple grunts. Yet, due to the nature of the show, anyone who’s seen a few episodes knows exactly what each character means and where the plot is going. Community not only gleefully pointed out that the episode ‘Cooperative Calligraphy’ was a bottle episode but expressed disdain at the very idea of bottle episodes. Within their bottle episode. The result is one of the most cleverly written episodes of the series.
They know what they’re doing, and they know that you too know what they’re doing. So they take you in stride, welcome you to the fold, and have fun.
But all the shenanigans in the world mean nothing if you can’t connect. To that, both shows have a core cast who you quickly grow to love. The Study Group from Community may be involved in hijinks aplenty, but the characters and their interactions are treated with gravitas and respect. Sure, their world may not be real, but the people at the core are. Phineas and Ferb has the titular brothers and Isabella, Buford, Baljeet, and Candace stick together for all the adventures. No matter how absurd their worlds may get, the characters and their relationships are very real. It’s both shows wonderful artificial families that give us a frame and reference for the adventures.
Phineas and Ferb and Community are very different tv shows. One’s aimed primarily (well, more halfway intended) at kids and the other at adults/teens. Yet both shows share a very similar sort of humor and sense of family. It’s no guarantee that liking one show means you’ll like the other, but it’s certainly a very strong possibility. Again: it’s that post-modern sense of humor and slick writing with the artificial family at its core that unites the shows.
This is quality television.