Christmas Episodes: Phil of the Future - Christmas Break
Ever since I first saw an episode of Phil of the Future, which was just in February of this year, it has been one of my favorite tween shows on television. I've now seen the entire run of the series, mostly multiple times over, thanks to constant repeats on the Disney Channel. And I have to say that it remains one of my all time favorites. While I unsurprisingly prefer the first season (when it had Kay Panabaker) the second season was still great TV. With that in mind here's a quickie review of one of the episodes in that second season, "Christmas Break".
The Episode: "Christmas Break"
Year of Production: 2005
Episode Number: 36 of 43
Brief Series Summary, For the Totally Clueless: Disney Channel's hit series, Phil of the Future, tells the story of the Diffy family, a futuristic family from the year 2121. When the eccentric dad, Lloyd, rents a time machine for their family vacation, everyone is excited. But then something goes wrong. Their time machine malfunctions and they are thrown out of the space/time continuim in the year 2004. The time machine has broken, and Lloyd is having trouble fixing it, so he, his part-robotic wife Barbara, and his kids: fifteen-year-old Phil Diffy (Ricky Ullman) and his thirteen-year-old daughter Pim, the little menace of the family, are forced to live in the past and pretend to be a normal family in the suburban town of Pickford. The only person who knows their secret is Keely Teslow, Phil's best friend. Together they deal with the things that every teenager in 2004 must deal with: school, bullies, significant others, crushes, homework...and then add the Diffys' habit of getting into trouble by using their futuristic gadgets, such as the Wizrd, the Insta-Morph, Skyaks, the DNA Scramber, and much more. [Attribution to Tv.com.]
Episode Summary [Contains Spoilers, As Such!]: The episode opens with Keely Telsow (Aly Michalka) visiting the Diffys in order to help them trim the tree. After some lighthearted humor, it ultimately slips out that Phil knew that Keely was at one time the Pickford Yuletide Star Princess. But Phil didn't know Keely at that time, so how could he know that? Phil ends up telling the story of how he first met Keely (unbeknownst to her). [flashback]. The Diffys arrive via time machine in the year 2003. They talk a bit about how the kids can go out and explore the area for a while (they want to go shopping at a mall). Opening credits. When the opening credits end, we pick up the story of the Diffys in early 2003. They flip a coin to decide which mall to go to, but the coin slips away from Lloyd Diffy's hand and Keely finds it. The kids have to retrieve it because it is made of a futuristic metal that doesn't exist yet, and they don't want to disrupt the time line. Back in the Diffy's living room, Lloyd (Phil's dad) interrupts the story to start telling about how they bought their house. Lloyd and Barb have stayed behind while their kids retrieve the coin (lazy!) Then, since Barb really wants to see the house, they notice the house is for sale and pose as buyers to get a chance to tour the house. Back to the Diffy's living room, where Phil takes the conversation back over. Phil and Pim follow Keely to HG Wells High. Some exposition from Keely explains that she is the Pickford Yuletide Star Princess and is therefore solely responsible for keeping the antique star safe until the tree lighting ceremony (doesn't really make any sense but whatever). When Keely is distracted, Phil grabs the coin, but Pim steals the star too. Phil tries to make her give it back, but in the struggle, the star is dropped and broken. Phil feels pretty bad, so gets the idea to use the time machine to go back in time and save the star. We cut back into Lloyd's story. Lloyd and Barb continue to look around, and there's a bunch of "The Diffys are from the future" related humor that is mostly lame. What follows next is a lengthy and rather clever montage where Phil and Pim repeatedly go back in time to save the star, only to have it break in a different way. Ultimately Phil is able to save it. Lloyd cuts back to his story. It turns out that the exhaust from time engines are pure, flawless diamonds. Worthless in the future but obviously extremely valuable now. He trades a few handfuls of diamonds for the house (intended to be used as a vacation house). Phil and Pim meet back up with them and they decide to go back to the future, but the time machine is broken! Since they have to stick around anyways, they decide to go to the lighting ceremony because Phil wants to see Keely light the tree. There's a rather cute scene where Keely gives a touching speech and then places the star as they all watch on.
Cut back to the present in the Diffys living room. A little bit of light humor ensues. Some touching Phil/Keely stuff. Then, Pim places the star on the tree and they all sing Christmas carol from the future.
Greg's Review/Comments: Unlike most Christmas episodes, such as the Lizzie one, there are no grand Christmas lessons learned. Nobody learns that the true meaning of Christmas is helping people, there's no religious content spewed, no Santa content, nothing about giving or receiving presents, nothing like that at all. In fact, this episode deftly avoids all the Christmas cliches while still being very heartwarming and giving a positive pro-charity message for the Christmas season. One could argue, and could argue validly, that for a so-called "Christmas episode" there is very little Christmas content at all. The object they are saving for Keely is a "Christmas star" but it could just as well be any other valuable, breakable object and the episode would not be changed at all. Nevertheless, I'm glad this episode handled the Christmas stuff in the way it did, with it in the backdrop, rather than providing the impetus for the on screen action. In addition, rather than being a stand-alone, throwaway episode, this is a vital episode to the overall plot of the series. Most Christmas episodes are intended to stand by themselves, but this one tells the story of how the Diffys first came to 2003, and how Phil first met Keely (stuff you would think they would have gone over in the pilot, but whatever). I'm not sure how I feel about that, but it's certainly something. And once again, though it's never explicitly stated I think the episodes message is an inherently Christmas-y one. That being the joy of charity and helping others out at the expense of yourself. Although a majority of the episode, like a majority of most Phil of the Future episodes, was spent developing the Phil/Keely relationship, that message does shine through, at least to me.
This episode, in fact, highlights a lot of the best aspects of Phil of the Future. First, there's the originality and avoidance of cliches, as cited above. The humor, particularly in the scenes involving Aly Michalka, is often genuinely funny. (Keely: "Oh no, I broke the Christmas star!" Mr. Hackett: "Yes you did. I'd hate to be the one in your size 8 sparkle pumps come the Christmas pageant"). The problem with providing quotes is that what makes the jokes funny is not the quality of the jokes themselves but the delivery and performance of the cast. Aly Michalka continues to repeat that she prefers singing to acting but I refuse to believe that's true. She's just so natural and amazing in front of the camera, and seems so comparatively nervous singing on the stage, that I really hope she continues acting. Which highlights another of the best parts of the series, which is the outstanding acting for a Disney series. The entire cast are gifted comedic actors, with not a weak link in there. But Ricky Ullman and Aly Michalka also have amazing chemistry, and they are very capable of handling the dramatic scenes as well. I've said it before, but I think people thought I was joking: Phil and Keely go together so well on the screen, and the friendship is portrayed so well, that there are literally hundreds of fan-made montages of touching scenes with them together set to pop music on YouTube. This speaks, I think, to how well-crafted the relationship was. And as this is obviously a key episode in the development of their relationship, their on-screen chemistry really helps out matters here. A lot of the humor still doesn't work (especially the humor based on the Diffys being from the future), but the episodes are always fun, and I can always appreciate them for what does work. Not only all of the above, but even for a Christmas episode, the plot is exceptionally cute. And Keely's speech at the end had me way more emotionally affected than anything in "Xtreme Xmas" or Santa Baby could even dream of getting me.
Then again, the episode also highlights the number one problem with Phil of the Future: the mind numbing monotony of the Phil/Keely relationship. Listen, I'm a "Pheely" fan as much as anybody. When Phil and Keely got together in "Back to the Future" I thought it was pretty much the cutest thing ever. Then, when they finally kissed at the end it made me want to get up and cheer. That doesn't change the fact that every episode covers the exact same ground in their relationship from about the 5th episode all the way up to the last one. Phil and Keely are perfect for each other, they are good friends, they love each other but won't get together. It gets extremely tiresome when every episode in the entire run of the series is built around that. At a certain point it started to go on way too long, and as this episode came towards the end of the show's run, it was definitely in the part of the series where the relationship was dragging.
Final Rating: Despite the lack of Kay Panabaker, excellent performances, funny comedy, and a really cute plot make this one of the best episodes in the entire run of Phil of the Future. In all honesty, this is probably my favorite episode from the second season, barring the series finale "Back to the Future" (which made me almost embarrassingly emotional) ("The Giggle" was good too). 9/10. ("I liked it because it was cute")