Disney’s 'Phil’ Needs To Find More Future

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It’s called Phil of the Future, but it plays more like the present day with a laser paddle thrown in. Disney Channel’s new half-hour live-action comedy is fun, but not as innovative as what you might expect from a show bearing that moniker.

Phil is lighthearted and amusing, but the parents provide more laughs and action — with dad’s rapping and mom’s drop kicking — than their children. The show also lacks a defining element to distinguish it from Disney tween fare like Raven or Lizzy McGuire — other than the main character’s gender.

The Diffys, a 22nd century family on a time travel vacation, get stuck in 2004 and must muddle through a life of strip malls and McMansions.

Their biggest problem is keeping their identity secret, something that drives dorky-engineer dad Lloyd (Craig Anton, Curb Your Enthusiasm) to paranoia. Add the fraying circuitry of mom Barbara (Lise Simms, The Young and the Restless) and you have a futuristic family of the present where dad and son enjoy “laser” racquetball and meals are sprayed out of a can.

But certainly a show about tomorrowland should include more futuristic elements than an episode of The Jetsons — alas, the robotic maid and treadmill for the electronic dog are nowhere in sight.

In the first two episodes, we learn that the title character, 15-year-old Phil (Ricky Ullman, Pixel Perfect), values his family and friends. Mature beyond his years, Phil’s screen-friendly face and persona give him a solid likeability quotient.

Daughter Prim (Amy Bruckner, ER, The West Wing) takes advantage of the few gadgets she stowed away on the trip, using them to trick her brother and outwit her parents. The young girl is entertaining, whether morphing into a replica of her father to get out of chores or convincing her ever-perky arch enemy to get mean in order to impress a boyfriend.

The big question here is whether the show is targeting teens, tweens, boys or girls. Independent Prim will appeal to young girls, but Phil’s character is a little too flat to appeal to young boys.

Phil does have a chance. Series creators Douglas Tuber and Tim Maile (Lizzy McGuire) and executive producers Tuber, Maile, Tim O’Donnell (Lizzy McGuire), and Hayma Washington (The Amazing Race) supply enough corny jokes essential to kids’ fare and evoke some moments of genuine laughter. The key to success: give Phil more future.

Phil of the Future premieres June 18 at 7 p.m. on Disney Channel.

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