I spent much of yesterday lying on the sofa and watching Phineas & Ferb. We had a fun panel about this at FenCon, and they just happened to have on some of the episodes we discussed in the panel. The tor.com blog called this the best science fiction show currently on television, and I have to say that it kind of is (since there's a severe shortage of good science fiction on television at the moment -- most of the good stuff is more on the lines of paranormal or fantasy). For those who haven't yet discovered this Disney Channel gem, it's a cartoon about two stepbrothers who have decided they don't want to waste a moment of summer vacation. When it comes time to write that "what I did this summer" essay, they want to have something to say. And so every day they set out to do something really cool. It helps that they're mechanical geniuses, so they can do outrageous stuff like building a massive roller coaster that starts in their backyard and goes all over town, creating nanobots that can transform into anything, repairing crashed spaceships, turning their house into a carnival fun house, building shrink rays, etc. Their teenage sister is horrified by how dangerous the stuff they're doing is and is constantly trying to prove it to their oblivious mother (in between trying to flirt with the cute boy she likes and avoiding his evil baby sister). And meanwhile there's an evil scientist in town who keeps coming up with schemes to take over the Tri-State Area, using his own crazy devices ("inators"), and the boys' pet platypus is a secret agent assigned to stop him. Usually the latest evil scheme somehow ends up canceling out whatever crazy thing the boys built before they get caught. Plus, there's always at least one musical number. Yes, it sounds crazy, but it's this hilarious spoof of the mad scientist movies and spy movies, with cultural references that would go way over kids' heads flying fast and furiously. Some kids might catch all the subtle Star Wars homages, but then there's the obnoxiously perky killer robot that has a cow skull land on his head and then he chirps, "Check me out! I'm a Georgia O'Keefe painting!" Or there's the "Nostradamus was right!" running gag.
It occurred to me yesterday while I was lying on the sofa in a Benadryl haze that the real crux of the series is that in a town that actually has an organization of mad scientists and another organization of secret agents dedicated to stopping them, the most successful mad scientists are the two boys, and they fly under the radar both because they're just kids and because their motives are so pure. They just want to have a good time and to give their friends a good time. They aren't out to take over anything, they have no scores to settle, nothing they want to prove. They aren't even trying to hide what they're doing. When their sister threatens to tell their mom, they're okay with that. They're proud of what they've done and want their mother to see it. They have nothing to do with the fact that the evidence always seems to disappear. If those two boys ever did turn evil, they'd be formidable because their stuff works -- and, in fact, the plot of the movie-length episode they did last year hinged on the boys discovering the evil scientist's latest inator and unwittingly helping his evil scheme by fixing what was wrong with it (the whole thing was wired through the self-destruct button). So, I think at some point they're going to have to do an episode that shows what would happen if Phineas & Ferb were evil.
I think part of the addictive nature of the series comes from how densely layered it is and how it's built to reward repeat viewing. There's continuity, but not in the sense that you have to start watching at a certain point or watch episodes in order. You can start anywhere, but the more episodes you've seen, the funnier it becomes because of all the callbacks and running gags, and then the next time you see an episode, it takes on a different meaning after you've seen other episodes and understand more of the references, callbacks and running gags.
So, I think that's some of the reason why my whole group of friends is utterly addicted to this kids' show. The nice thing is, the fact that I recognize Perry the Platypus t-shirts and can intelligently discuss the show makes the kids I work with think I'm incredibly cool.