Review: the best Disney Channel original shows

Review: the best Disney Channel original shows

Photo Credits: KAITLYN PANG / AGGIE

And you’re watching Disney Channel

For most college-aged students, the pay-television Disney Channel was a household staple and a huge part of their childhoods. The original movies and shows resonated with many young viewers and provided iconic characters for teens and pre-teens to look up to.

Having entered the age of streaming, Walt Disney Company launched its own streaming service to rival competitors such as Netflix and Hulu. Disney+ not only produces new content, but it allows members unlimited access to the shows they grew up watching on Disney Channel. 

Before delving into the nostalgia, here’s a list of the best Disney Channel original series. 

Hannah Montana (2006-11)

Miley Cyrus was only 14 years old when this series shot her into stardom. She played Miley Stewart, an average teenage girl who moonlighted as a world-famous pop star in disguise. The series was immensely popular with its viewers, especially young girls. There is a universal fascination with the rich and famous, but many secretly hope that celebrities are just like everybody else. “Hannah Montana” perpetuated this fantasy and gave a new definition to the idea of living a double life. Young teens gravitated toward Cyrus and her co-stars, sparking the release of multiple soundtracks and live concert tours based on the series. The series premiered with 5.4 million viewers, one of the highest openings on the channel yet. 

Good Luck Charlie (2010-14)

“Good Luck Charlie” emerged in 2010 after series such as “Hannah Montanta” and “Wizards of Waverly Place” had dominated viewership on the channel. This show was refreshingly normal compared to the teenage pop stars and secret wizard societies that had been featured on the channel for so long. Bridgit Mendler led the series as Teddy Duncan, a high-school student who makes video diaries for her younger sister to watch when she grows up. With both Duncan parents working full time, Teddy and her two brothers help raise their youngest sibling. The family dynamics are realistic and relatable. This a rare children’s show where the parents, played by Leigh-Allyn Baker and Eric Allan Kramer, are just as funny and likeable as the younger actors. Together, the relatable nature of the series and the strong performances from the cast made this series a memorable one.  

Suite Life of Zack and Cody (2005-08)

Before “Suite Life on Deck” where Zack and Cody attended a strange and questionably legal boat school, the twins were endearingly mischievous pre-teens living in a high-end hotel in Boston named The Tipton. In the series, Zack and Cody (Dylan and Cole Sprouse) are being raised by their single mother Carrie (Kim Rhodes), who works as a singer for the hotel in exchange for a room. Phil Lewis portrays Mr. Moseby, the hotel’s stern manager. The amazing chemistry Lewis had with the rest of the cast led Mr. Moseby to become a father figure to many of the characters whose own fathers were absent. The genuine friendship and care the characters held for one another allowed the series to be rather poignant as well as comedic. Brenda Song and Ashley Tisdale rounded out the cast and gave female viewers characters to root for and relate to. Due to the diversity of the cast and characters, the show was enjoyed by many and is pleasing to watch at any age. 

Wizards of Waverly Place (2007-12)

This program premiered in 2007 and was met with praise from children and critics alike. After the rise of the “Harry Potter” franchise, the coupling of the fantasy genre with relatable teen characters resonated with viewers. Disney capitalized on this public fascination and created a lighthearted comedy about a wizard family living in New York and running a sandwich shop. In 2009, the series won a Primetime Emmy award for Outstanding Children’s program. Selena Gomez carried the show as the main character, Alex Russo, who constantly quarreled with her two brothers and struggled with normal teenage problems. The writing for this series felt more mature than other series at the time, which resonated with older viewers as well as Disney’s target audience.  

Lizzie McGuire (2001-04)

This series cornered the market on relatable teen issues. Lizzie, played by Hillary Duff, is an entirely average girl in the seventh grade. Duff is likable and real, while at the same time perfectly portraying the awkward transition from adolescence to teen. Lizzie deals with issues such as going bra shopping with her mom and trying to look cool for a class picture. Lizzie McGuire was a role model for girls to look up to, a character in which nearly every fan saw at least some aspect of themselves. What made the show unique was an animated version of Lizzie’s alter ego that would often express all the emotions and confusing feelings that Lizzie had. It was a manifestation of the little voice in every teenagers head that was deeply relatable and loveable. Not to mention, “The Lizzie McGuire Movie” that was the first theatrical film released based on a Disney Channel series. The film had cult fans raving and its soundtrack is still favored in many hearts today, so it’s unsprising that a reboot starring Duff will premiere on Disney+ sometime soon. 

Phil of the Future (2004-06)

“Phil of the Future” is arguably one of Disney’s most underrated series. Lasting only two seasons, the series follows the Diffy family — a family from the future whose time machine breaks down in the present day. Raviv Ullman played Phil, the likable oldest son who comes to appreciate the present more and more. He meets a best friend, Keely, played by the loveable Aly Michalka. The two have amazing chemistry and portray an adorable young romance as well as a genuine friendship. Watching the family adjust and attempt to blend in to modern times is comedic and enjoyable. The family dynamic feels natural to watch and the cast is impeccable in their roles. The tone of the show is playful and quirky. It was one of the few single-camera shows on the channel at the time, which made it unique among its contenders. With season two ending on a complete cliffhanger, the series feels unfinished and left fans wanting more. 

Phineas and Ferb (2007-15)

This 2007 animated series, while seemingly a bit goofy, became one of the most entertaining and clever animated series Disney has ever created. Each episode follows a very simplistic formula that younger viewers can follow, but imbues wit and running jokes into the storylines that can get people of any age laughing. The writers of the show assumed that children were smart and therefore wrote for smart children. While watching precocious step-brothers Phineas and Ferb build impossible inventions in their backyard is enjoyable, the perpetual B-story between pet-detective Perry the Platypus and the evil Dr. Doofenshmirtz is one of the most memorable running gags on a Disney show. The eccentric and bumbling Doofenshmirtz often distracts himself with monologues from childhood traumas that get increasingly ridiculous with each episode. Matched with the blank stares from Perry the Platypus, scenes with these characters is what took the series from being a lovable kid’s show to a respectable comedy for all ages. 

That’s So Raven (2003-07)

Arguably one of the most enduring and respected Disney Channel shows was “That’s So Raven.” The series stars Raven-Symoné as a teenage psychic growing up in San Francisco. Having to hide her powers as well as get out of zany schemes with her friends and family showcased Raven-Symoné’s physical comedy prowess. She would often dress in disguise or impersonate other characters in the nature of Lucille Ball from “I Love Lucy.” Raven was also a great role model for young and impressionable girls; she was unapologetically strong and always spoke up for what she believed in. The series takes on controversial topics such as racial issues and body image. Raven has a strong moral compass and the show was never afraid to allow Raven to use it. “That’s So Raven” was the first Disney Channel series to surpass the 65-episode barrier and remains close to the hearts of fans who grew up with Raven as their role model. “Raven’s Home” on Disney Channel is in its third season and follows Raven raising her children (one of whom also has psychic powers) alongside best friend Chelsea. 

Written by: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org