By Tyler Aquilina
August 28, 2020 at 10:15 AM EDT
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There may be 104 days of summer vacation, but there's more than 200 episodes of Phineas and Ferb. Over the course of those episodes, the Disney Channel series earned a reputation as one of the smartest and funniest family-friendly shows on TV, entertaining adults and kids alike with whip-smart, rapid-fire humor; intricate story lines; and genuinely well-written songs. With a new movie based on the series now streaming on Disney+ alongside the show's full run, the time is ripe for a new crop of viewers to discover it.

Early on, every episode of Phineas and Ferb followed a strict formula: Each day of summer vacation, the titular stepbrothers (voiced by Vincent Martella and Thomas Brodie-Sangster) create something outlandish or fantastical — a gigantic roller coaster, a time machine, a fusion of summer and winter — while their older sister, Candace (Ashley Tisdale), tries to "bust" them by exposing the project to their mother (Caroline Rhea). Meanwhile, the boys' pet platypus, Perry, leads a double life as a secret agent, fighting the hapless evil scientist Dr. Heinz Doofenshmirtz (series co-creator Dan Povenmire), who constantly schemes to take over the Tri-State Area. The story lines converge when Perry and Doofenshmirtz's battle causes the boys' creation to vanish just before their mom can see it, to Candace's great dismay.

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Though such a rigid structure would theoretically trap a show in a doomed spiral of repetition, this formula quickly became a rich well of humor, and a reliable structure for increasingly clever story lines. At its peak, Phineas and Ferb was truly comparable to the best of The Simpsons, with a similar skill for telling poignant and hilarious stories with equal aplomb. It was almost as quotable, from catchphrases like "Yes, yes I am" and "Watcha doin'?" to such absurd lines as, "If I had a nickel for every time I was doomed by a puppet, I'd have two nickels. Which isn't a lot, but it's weird that it happened twice, right?" And it built a universe nearly as vast and detailed as Springfield over the course of its run, with supporting characters like the boys' nerdy friend Baljeet, sensitive bully archetype Buford, and Perry's supervisor Major Monogram imbued with surprising depth.

Where, then, should a neophyte start? The assemblage below should serve as an excellent sampler platter, showcasing the best of the series and its various flavors. (One-hour specials were off limits, because it seemed unfair to compare 11-minute installments to super-size ones.) Read on for EW's picks for the 15 best episodes of Phineas and Ferb, and feel free to let loose a hearty "Curse you, Entertainment Weekly!" if you don't agree.

15. "Hail Doofania!" (season 1, episode 26b)

Phineas and Ferb shifted into a new gear when it began to self-consciously subvert its own formula, and "Hail Doofania!" was one of the show's earliest attempts at this. While Doofenshmirtz engages in a Phineas-and-Ferb-esque project, constructing his own floating city off the coast of town, the boys build a "Rainbow-inator" to create a giant rainbow spanning the entire Tri-State Area. Doof's teenage daughter Vanessa (Olivia Olson) fills the Candace role, trying to prove to her mother (Allison Janney) that her dad is evil. (In an inspired touch highlighting the flip-flopped plots, the writers have a dry-cleaning mixup result in Candace and Vanessa wearing each other's signature outfits throughout the episode.)

14. "Magic Carpet Ride" (season 3, episode 6b)

Most of Phineas and Ferb's songs were penned in-house, but for "Magic Carpet Ride," the creators brought in a ringer: Robert Lopez, the EGOT-winning songwriter behind Frozen and The Book of Mormon. The result was one of the show's finest numbers, "Aerial Area Rug," an affectionate spoof of the classic Disney tune "A Whole New World." The song is a series high point in and of itself, but the rest of this episode is no slouch, as Doofenshmirtz creates a "Stain-inator" to ruin a painting the town's mayor (who happens to be his brother) is unveiling, and Candace turns to fortune cookies for help busting her brothers.

13. "Nerds of a Feather" (season 2, episode 33)

A strange missive from a time before "nerdy" properties ate pop culture whole (Phineas actually declares that sci-fi and fantasy fans are "all outcasts," which rings even less true in 2020), "Nerds of a Feather" looks in hindsight like a preview of how noxious "fans" began poisoning cultural discourse as the 2010s went on. Of course, it's much more lighthearted than that sounds. Herein, the boys attend a fan convention where they find themselves caught in the middle of an "inter-genre geek war" between devotees of two different franchises. We also get a glimpse of Doofenshmirtz's creative aspirations as he pitches a TV show called Doof n' Puss, starring himself and Perry. Come for guest voices Kevin Smith and Seth MacFarlane; stay for the introduction of the recurring, seemingly insufferable in-universe kids' show Ducky Momo.

12. "Delivery of Destiny" (season 3, episode 23a)

In a rare move for the series, "Delivery of Destiny" spotlights a character outside the core cast, and a one-off character at that. Christian Slater guest-stars as Paul the Delivery Guy, who's having a bit of an existential crisis, pondering his role in society while making deliveries to some familiar faces. It's a perfect example of the breadth of Phineas and Ferb's universe; you get the sense that the show could have done a dozen episodes like this if the creators had wanted to.

11. "Primal Perry" (season 4, episode 8)

Name another Disney show that could have produced an extended riff on The Most Dangerous Game. In this late-period gem, Doofenshmirtz hires an Australian platypus hunter to help capture Perry, but is forced to team up with the monotreme when the hunter turns on him. ("I really shouldn't have ignored the 97 percent of customer feedback that says he tends to go rogue.") Meanwhile, Baljeet is paralyzed by indecision, so the boys give him the ability to split in two to explore all his options. Add in a hilarious C-plot, an emotionally scarring backstory for the platypus hunter that rivals any of Doof's, and the pinnacle of the show's best running gag (Doof's inability to recognize Perry without his hat), and you have one of the finest entries of P&F's later years.

10. "Excaliferb" (season 3, episode 20)

A fantasy-stew riff on The Lord of the Rings and Arthurian legend, "Excaliferb" is a delightful change of pace for the show, sending the boys and their friends on a quest to defeat the evil sorcerer Malefishmirtz. (In a nod to The Princess Bride, the episode is framed as a book read by intern Carl to a sick Major Monogram.) Phineas and Ferb wasn't often lauded for its animation, but the climax of "Excaliferb" — a battle involving a massive army of monsters — ranks among its finest visual moments. None of that really matters, though; any episode with a line like "What flaxen homespun have we swaggering here" automatically qualifies for the top 10.

9. "Dude, We're Gettin' the Band Back Together!" (season 1, episode 14)

The show's first venture into more dramatic storytelling remains one of its most poignant episodes. When their dad forgets his wedding anniversary, the boys and Candace scramble to reunite their parents' favorite band, Love Händel (one of the all-time great fake band names), as an elaborate gift to their mom on his behalf. Naturally, songs abound, including the tremendous banger "Ain't Got Rhythm" (see above) and the pop-metal ballad "You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart." Meanwhile, Doofenshmirtz recruits Perry to help set up a birthday party for Vanessa, giving us our first glimpse of Doof's softer side. There were times when P&F's storytelling could veer into overly treacly territory, but this entry successfully walks the line, deepening the characters and the show's world in the process.

8. "Wizard of Odd" (season 2, episode 26)

Phineas and Ferb sometimes strained to give Candace meaningful story lines, but when it succeeded, the results were often superb. "Wizard of Odd" sends her on a journey through a parody of, you guessed it, The Wizard of Oz, with other characters filling the supporting roles — Baljeet as a Nerd-Crow; Buford as a combination lion, tiger, and bear (oh my); Candace's boyfriend Jeremy (Mitchel Musso) as a tree in place of the Tin Man; and Doof as the Wicked Witch, of course. The spoof elements are fun enough, but the episode really benefits from putting Candace in the lead, landing on a resonant (if slightly clichéd) message reminding her, and viewers, to make the most of the time they have.

7. "What Do It Do?" (season 2, episode 19a)

The boys and Candace's mom, Linda, didn't often get a turn in the spotlight, but "What Do It Do?" gives her one, to great effect. When Doof's latest dastardly invention lands in the family's front yard, a series of misunderstandings and coincidences leads Linda to believe her husband built it, resulting in repeated Candace-ish attempts to get him to return home. (She remains unaware that the boys are meanwhile reverse-engineering the device to determine what it does.) A flashback also reveals that Linda once went on a date with Doofenshmirtz, which apparently went about as well as you'd expect, though that didn't stop the episode from launching a thousand fan theories that Doof is Phineas' biological father. Speaking of Doof, this episode finds him hoisted by his own petard-inator, as he and Perry must work together to escape the excessive series of traps he's laid out.

6. "Finding Mary McGuffin" (season 2, episode 18b)

The relationship between Doof and his daughter was one of P&F's best and deepest, and the show depicted the dynamics of a divorced family unit with surprising nuance. (How pleasantly unexpected it is to hear a line like "Dad, what are you doing here? This isn't your weekend" said casually on a Disney Channel show.) "Finding Mary McGuffin" adds another layer to this relationship, as Doof, after a decade of searching, gifts Vanessa a doll she wanted as a child. Unfortunately, that doll belongs to Candace, who put it in her box for the family's garage sale by accident. Thus ensues a terrific riff on film noir, with the boys becoming hardboiled detectives to help track down the doll. It's to the show's credit that one of its most touching story lines could sit side by side with one of its goofiest.

5. "Let's Take a Quiz" (season 2, episode 9a)

Around the middle of its second season, Phineas and Ferb hit a stride of comedic velocity unmatched in family-oriented TV. Case in point: "Let's Take a Quiz," 11 minutes of almost nonstop hilarity. While the boys stage a bizarre game show that Candace becomes desperate to win, Doofenshmirtz attempts to overcome his addiction to infomercial products by eliminating infomercials. (This will "actually be doing a civic good," he reasons, as "infomercials are almost universally hated.") It's a showcase for the series' terrifically absurd humor — the game show consists mainly of shouting random words back and forth, which is much funnier in practice than it probably sounds. ("Defenestrate." "Defenestration.") Also, keep your ears peeled for a vocal cameo from Tisdale's High School Musical costar Corbin Bleu.

4. "Flop Starz" (season 1, episode 4b)

This early outing is the high point of P&F's basic formula, as the boys pack the full career of a one-hit wonder into a single day. (Steps include: hit single, diva tantrum, hit single relegated to elevator music, reunion tour.) "Flop Starz" is a prime example of how inventive the show's creators could be within their deceptively restrictive structure; Marty the Rabbit Boy and his musical blender was perhaps the series' best-ever visual gag. It also features the birth of some of the show's best running jokes — the "Doofenshmirtz Evil Inc." jingle, the Tri-State Area, Linda's career as pop star Lindana — and one of its catchiest songs, "Gitchee Gitchee Goo," which prompted Disney to request a musical number in every episode.

3. "Thaddeus and Thor" (season 2, episode 8a)

Another comedic masterpiece of the show's golden season 2 period. What puts "Thaddeus and Thor" above much of the rest is, once again, Doofenshmirtz. This episode sees the bad doctor attempting to win his family's annual kickball game — and with it, his mother's affection — with the aid of a "Kick-inator" device. Meanwhile, Phineas and Ferb encounter their titular doppelgängers, and compete with them at Candace's behest to construct the best fort. It's noteworthy how this episode subtly deepens Candace's character, hinting at how she secretly admires her brothers' creations deep down. But let's be honest: The true highlight here is Love Händel showing up again to help explain Doof's kickball-related backstory, with a hilarious reworking of "You Snuck Your Way Right Into My Heart."

2. "The Chronicles of Meap" (season 2, episode 7)

But if any Doof backstory tops a Love Händel assist, it's the one featured in "The Chronicles of Meap," involving ocelots, a dunk tank, and a balloon that became his best friend. That's just one highlight of this episode, though, which follows the resulting adventure after an impossibly cute space alien, dubbed Meap after the only sound it utters, crash-lands in the boys' backyard. A sense of playfulness radiates from this episode, as the creators seem to be testing how fanciful they could get with the show. It's also just plain hilarious, never more so than when Doof's static-electricity machine, designed to help locate his helium friend, attracts enough balloons to send him and Perry floating into orbit. Says Doof with a sigh, "You know, on paper… this was the outcome too."

1. "Rollercoaster: The Musical!" (season 2, episode 39)

This might not be the episode to start an uninitiated viewer on, but it's possibly Phineas and Ferb's definitive entry. "Rollercoaster: The Musical!" audaciously restages the show's pilot with elaborate production numbers — with "no discernible music source," as Phineas notes. The witty songs, meta-commentary, and winking tweaks and additions to the original episode embody P&F's joyful spirit as well as its sense of humor, and closing number "Carpe Diem" concisely captures the show's mission statement in catchy-tune form: "Just grab those opportunities when you see 'em / 'Cause every day's a brand-new day / You gotta carpe diem."

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