There were 104 days of Summer vacation, and these two characters found a good way to spend it. As Phineas and Ferb comes to an end with tonight’s finale, “The Last Day of Summer,” it’s amazing to look at the series as a whole and realize while there were only 104 days to do it in, there were over 250 adventures fit into that very busy, very funny summer.
To celebrate, we talked with Dan Povenmire and Jeff “Swampy” Marsh, the series’ creators and showrunners, about all they’d accomplished. We touched on some very light spoilers (if you’ve seen promos, you’re covered) for the finale, shared a few laughs, found out a secret connection between two characters, and discovered something that didn’t exist (in this case, a show with optimism and characters who weren’t either jerks or idiots). We have some exclusive images and a clip from the finale to share with you along the way.
Dan, Swampy, First, I’d just like to say, (As Norm:) “Door slams mean sadness!”
Dan: (laughs) That’s good!
Swampy: (laughs) Thank you for that!
Dan: I don’t remember who’s line that was, I think it was Kaz. I’m trying to think of which of our writers pitched that line, but it made us laugh.
I had to pause while watching the finale last night, so my wife and I could just appreciate and laugh at that line.
Anyway, when did you realize you were close to, in the words of the theme song, having “done it all?”
Dan: Well, there did get to be a point in the fourth season where we were sort of pitching things, then realizing, “Oh no, we did that. What episode did we do that in?” The way we would always check that was Wiki, because they keep much better tabs of what Doofenshmirtz’s Inator was, what the boys have made, and what happened. If we ask people around here, including us, we’re like, “I don’t really know.” Sometimes they’re so random that we’ve had to check someplace else. The fans are always keeping better track than we are.
Swampy: Thank God for the fans!
Dan: So we said we’d do 104 days, and we did 126 half-hours.
Swampy: That’s 252-ish days!
Dan: Yeah. We always said, it’s not like only one episode happens in a day – sometimes they’ll do one in the morning, one midday and one in the afternoon! So we were sort of able to get around it. But we felt like it was time to put a bow on it before it started feeling tired and we feel like we’re just spinning our wheels.
Maintaining the same basic two premises with the boys and Doof for 250 episodes is really quite a feat. I know there were a small handful that strayed from the formula, but how beholden did you make yourselves and your writers to the general layout of the show’s structure?
Dan: We always sort of wanted the two stories to connect in some way. We always thought it was more satisfying if Doofenshmirtz’s thing connected in a way to get rid of what Phineas and Ferb have done. That’s how it started off. Then we started saying, it’s just got to connect in some way at a few parts of the story.
Swampy: And we never minded veering from that, as long as it didn’t violate the characters. We just wanted to make sure that when we did, it was worth it, it was worthwhile, a good story that really felt different.
Dan: And we didn’t want it to feel like the two stories were completely unrelated. We wanted it to feel like they were affecting each other in ways that the characters couldn’t always see. That was the fun thing.
Swampy: It was mostly important in the beginning that we realize, if the show was going to go on for awhile, we really needed to set up that formula. Then it became more funny when you broke the story.
So you really were creating the Inators specifically to take away the kids’ creations?
Dan: Yeah, most of the time, we’d work backwards. Like, how could we take away this in a new way?
Swampy: For the longest time, we had a big wall just filled with Inators that we had brainstormed. The idea was we could go to that wall and pick them off…
Dan: But we ended up using very few of those Inators, actually. (laughs) The writers would often say, “how about if there thing doesn’t go away, it turns invisible, or how about if it gets picked up by a flock of birds, or Candace eats it?” Then we’d back-engineer a ridiculous story.
Swampy: Like, we left the building to the Moon on the Moon! It’s still there!
Dan: Yeah, it’s still there, it’s just facing the other direction, so people can’t see it. Every time – we had this episode, if any of your readers didn’t see it, where they build the world’s tallest building, and it goes into space, and stabs into the Moon, then Doofenshmirtz rotates the moon 180 degrees.
So every time we saw the Earth from space after that, every single episode, we always had that building sticking out from the other side of the Moon. We never mentioned it again, but there were a lot of times that you saw the Earth from space and you’d see the Moon and then the building! I feel like, if people missed that episode, they’d all be very confused, going, “What is that sticking out of the moon?”
It was interesting that you went with a little meta-commentary for the finale, showing us a world literally without Phineas and Ferb… When did you come to that being part of the final show?
Dan: Well, we had thought of doing a Groundhog Day-ish episode, but we wanted to have some really high stakes. We felt like getting rid of Phineas and Ferb was the biggest stake we could do.
Then we thought about, “Well what if it was Groundhog Day put in a blender with the Langoliers,” the Stephen King novel where there’s a space that’s out of time.
Swampy: Kids love Stephen King references. (laughs)
Dan: Yeah, they like references to Nietzsche, Stephen King…
Swampy: And Tom Stoppard.
Dan: Yes, those are the big things that kids really respond to. (laughs) But I felt like, you know, that was a big stakes thing we could do. We’ve done a lot of really huge episodes lately with Star Wars and Marvel and all of Danville turning into Doofenshmirtzes for the zombie movie thing that we did. So we felt like it would be nice to go out on an episode that’s really just our main characters. There are no guest stars on it at all, it’s really just Candace, Isabella, Phineas and Ferb, Buford and Baljeet, and Doof and Perry. So it really comes down to the core characters, and becomes more of a personal story then.
Yeah, I’m sure there are a couple Stacy fans who will be very upset she was left out, but you know…
Swampy: Sorry Stacy fans.
Dan: (laughs) Yeah, Stacy and Jeremy are both left out. We thought about trying to wedge them in, but no, they sort of joined later, and we should keep it to these guys.
I found the parallels between Doof and Candace in the finale really great, and now it’s all so obvious I can’t imagine how I never saw it before.
Dan: (laughs) I don’t think we recognized it before we wrote this one!
Swampy: Yeah, not in that kind of extreme way.
Yeah, after seeing that, now I’m going to watch older episodes and see how obvious it is that they’re such similar people going through the same thing just in different context.
Dan: “Do you know what it’s like to have one unrealized dream day after day?” [As Doof]: “Oh, that’s crazy, must be some sort of teenage thing.”
Doof just doesn’t even get it, I love his complete lack of self-awareness.
That was really funny. How did that become the focus for the final episode?
Dan: Well, we needed a story – we realized if the day was repeating, we need someone who’s outside of it. And in our case, we need two people because we have two stories to tell. So how do we get Candace and Doofenshmirtz to be outside of it? So we get her over to his place…
Swampy: Yeah, otherwise, she becomes a victim. This is something that she, in essence, is driving.
Dan: Yeah, exactly. She pressed the button, she messed with powers she doesn’t understand, and they’re both right by the machine at the time, so they’re outside the loop and can see when things are disappearing.
But when we put them in the same room, we finally realized how much alike their stories are, and how they’ve both been sort of butting their heads against walls all summer. And it was fun to give them a song! It was the first time Doof and Candace got to sing a song together, which I thought was really fun.
Doof had the realization that he wasn’t really a bad guy – but you leave Candace a little more ambiguous - did Candace have a similar revelation in regards to her brothers and her busting complex?
Swampy: Well, we’ve seen Candace in the future, and we didn’t want to negate the future that we created for her. We didn’t mind tempering her, but we didn’t want to undo any of that.
Dan: And we’ve also done episodes where Candace sort of comes over to the boys’ point-of-view. “Summer Belongs To You” was a special we did. So for at least a day or so, we sort of redeemed her away from busting. I felt like, let’s leave her still up in the air a little bit, so if we ever come back and do “Phineas and Ferb: The Next Summer,” we have something to do with her.
When you were creating these characters, did you purposefully set them out to be iconic archetypes?
Dan: I think you do that a lot, especially in cartoons. “This guy’s the bully who really has a heart of gold.” “She’s the sister trying to bust the boys, but she does love them and doesn’t want anything to happen to them.” So you set up their main objective: Phineas wants to have the best day ever, Ferb wants to help his brother, Doofenshmirtz wants to take over the tri-state area. Then that just helps you write the characters better!
Swampy: We also wanted to defy a little bit what the normal stereotypes were. We talked a lot about not wanting to populate our world with jerks and idiots!
Dan: Yeah, so many cartoons at the time we were developing Phineas, every character was either a jerk or an idiot. We wanted to make one with people who were nicer!
Swampy: It’s why we did so much work with Candace, making sure we defined her conflict with Phineas and Ferb in a specific way. We wanted to make it clear early on that she’s really about fairness. The thought was that if she did anything her brothers were doing, she’d get busted. It wasn’t that she hated them; she wouldn’t do anything to hurt them, and she wouldn’t lie to get them into trouble. So we set up criteria like that to make our characters more interesting and much less one-dimensional.
Did you expect, or set out, to make a show that would be beloved pretty equally by parents, kids, and even childless adults like me, alike?
Dan: Well we tried to make a show that would make us laugh. Luckily, we have senses of humor that range from sophisticated to really, very childish and immature. (laughs) So that was just a happy accident that we could make kids and adults both laugh.
Swampy: (laughs) I think that’s something that everyone would be a little better off if they did: Just make a funny show! Don’t try to pigeon-hole it into “is it a show for boys, is it a show for girls, is it a show for kids, are they 6-12,” all of that is just limiting what you can do! For us, the only thing we didn’t do was put in stuff that was inappropriate. We still wrote jokes that made us laugh.
Dan: And we tried to write enough jokes that if the first one didn’t land with a 6 year-old they wouldn’t change the channel, there’s something coming for them in the next five seconds.
I won’t ask you for your favorite moment or character because I’m sure that’s impossible, but what was something, be it a character or a gag that worked, that surprised each of you?
Dan: In, I think it was called “Hard Day’s Knight,” the first one where they go to Britain, and Doof goes to “Evil-Con,” and he and Perry do battle in a giant robot Dragon and a giant robot Queen Elizabeth the First. When Doofenshmirtz realizes he’s in the Queen Elizabeth the First robot, he’s like, [As Doof:] “Um, Perry the Platypus would you mind switching robots with me?”
He realized Perry is in a dragon and he’s in Queen Elizabeth the First. So they walk down and he’s just saying, [Doof:] “Oh thank you, thank you, I just prefer this one, I don’t know why.” They get there, and his cockpit is in the middle of the dragon’s mouth. He says, “Yours might have laser eyes but mine breathes FIRE” and the fire gets going, and of course he is in the mouth and just burns for like fifteen seconds with this scream.
(laughs) That was really funny in storyboards, but when it came back in color, Swampy and I must have watched it fifty times, and we were just in tears laughing! This long scream that ends in in “ow.” That is still one of my favorite gags ever in the show, it makes me laugh out loud every time I see it.
Swampy: I’ll always be grateful for what our writers and storyboard artists brought to Major Monogram, who is a character we never had any plans for!
Dan: He was only there because Perry couldn’t talk!
Swampy: He was just exposition. But other stuff that our team brought to that character, and the relationship with Carl and the whole organization, I got to watch that grow organically into something that I frankly never imagined could be there. It became this wonderful, endearing, sweet thing, and I like the fact that it came from the other people involved with the show.
Looking ahead to the future, how familiar will the tone and humor of Mikey Murphy’s Law be to Phineas and Ferb fans?
Dan: Well, it’s our tone and our humor, so I have a feeling it’ll be very familiar.
Swampy: We’re still making a show to make each other laugh.
Dan: Exactly! We went through several different show ideas before we settled on this. We feel like it’s a good follow-up to Phineas because it has the same kind of positivity. We think that people who grew up with Phineas and the new generation coming up will really respond to it.
Anything else you’d like to say to the Phineas and Ferb fans before we all say goodbye here?
Dan: Yeah, thank you so much for joining us on this adventure. It’s been a great summer.
Swampy: And thanks for making us a part of your family. We’ve had so many people say to us, “this is the one show we can all watch together.” For me, that’s the most rewarding thing that we ever hear.
Phineas and Ferb: The Last Day of Summer airs on Disney XD tonight, June 12th at 9pm ET/PT. A marathon continues until then. All images courtesy Disney XD.