After waiting for what feels like a century, Disney Channel is finally making Phil of the Future, a show about a family time traveling from the year 2121 who get stuck in present day, available for streaming, thanks to Disney Plus.*
Phil of the Future turned Raviv Ullman, who then went by Ricky, into a household name overnight. But his rise to Disney fame simply felt like another audition at the time.
Living in Fairfield, Connecticut and doing theatre and TV movies, Raviv was actually in ballet class when he learned he booked the role of Phil Diffy. But he didn't immediately rev up his Skyak and jet out to LA.
"As part of the ramp up to Phil of the Future, [Disney] gave me Pixel Perfect [which filmed in Salt Lake City]," Raviv told Seventeen.com. Pixel Perfect premiered several months before Phil, so that role would be Disney Channel audience's first introduction to Raviv.
From there, he'd go on to do Phil, as well as guest-star on That's So Raven and lend his voice in Kim Possible: So the Drama. Oh, and don't forget he was part of the Circle of Stars and did interstitials, like "Express Yourself."
"As an actor, you get the opportunity to stretch your wings and try a lot of different things, all under the Disney family, and that was really cool."
This tactic worked, and an entire generation grew up knowing Raviv as Phil Diffy, a kind-hearted teenager from the 22nd century. However, Phil was initially going to be much different, at least physically.
According to trivia on IMDb, Phil was originally going to be 12 years old, not 15 or 16. While Raviv couldn't definitively confirm if this was true, he did note how at the very first audition he did for Phil, he walked into a waiting room with a bunch of much younger kids.
"I remember thinking to myself, ‘Well, this is never gonna happen because I’m a good few years older than these guys,'" Raviv said. Obviously, it did work out, so it's possible one of the first renditions of the script called for a younger Phil, but there was never a moment where Raviv was going to try and play a 12-year-old. (He was 16 when they filmed the pilot and 17 when they started filming the series.)
The formation of the show changed a lot from script to screen.
The series was originally called The Out of Timers when Raviv booked the role, and it centered more around the Diffy family instead of Phil. The unaired pilot even had a different actor playing Curtis the caveman.
Fun fact: Actor J.P. Manoux, who played both Curtis and Vice Principal Hackett, was apparently so convincing in his dual roles, Raviv said that for the first couple of weeks of filming, several crew members didn't realize the roles were played by the same person. He deserves all the wallaberries for pulling that off.
Going into further detail, Raviv explained, "Because we had shot the pilot in an actual house, set in an actual school, to match all of that we ended up building all of those sets on sound stages in Los Angeles. With a little bit of recasting and a little bit of story change and locations, we ended up starting from scratch from the first episode that aired."
Another major change from script to screen is also the strangest: Barbara Diffy originally had a robotic head and detachable body.
Yes, you read that correctly.
On paper, this idea looked great and screamed "futuristic," but in practice, the concept didn't work quite as well as the creators had hoped. The best part? They actually filmed scenes with actress Lise Simms sitting underneath a fake table with only her head poking out. It was used in early advertisements for the show. They were super early advertisements, because when it came time to air the "prequel" short that set up the premise for the show to entice viewers to tune in, Barbara's head never leaves, uh, her body.
When I asked Raviv about this hair-raising character trait, he shared how they shot episodes with the head gag, but after editing it together and showing it to test audiences, he thought maybe it didn't work as well and Disney decided to cut that out.
"I think we had shot the entire first season that way, where she had a detachable head and robot body. Then for the second season, we actually had to end up going back and reshooting a bunch of things so that basically any scene where she had that situation was just kind of a regular scene again."
Even better, IMDb listed how Barbara wore chokers and turtlenecks during the first season to hide where her head was supposed to detach. That tracks.
Phil and Keely were always endgame, but that wasn't necessarily the goal.
While many changes to the initial storyline occurred, one aspect that always remained constant was the strong friendship between Phil and Keely. Unlike many other shows, Phil didn't make its main focus on making "Pheely" — aka one of the earliest ship names during a time before that was common — official.
"When we were shooting, it didn’t feel like this is a romantic relationship we’re all just kind of waiting to happen, which I think is really sweet," Raviv said. The writers allowed Phil and Keely's friendship to truly blossom before including hints that something more could be at play. None of the cast were sitting around, anxiously waiting for the big romantic moment to happen. Because that wasn't the point of the show.
As Raviv pointed out, there'd be an episode involving jealousy every now and then, such as when Keely had a crush on a robot in a virtual mall and Phil didn't handle it well. But for the most part, the series "was about a really strong friendship, and about trust and building confidence with someone."
The ending of the show remains a mystery to this day.
Phil of the Future was quite unique for the network at the time. It was the last single-camera show for many years (for reference, That's So Raven was a multi-camera show), and it included many special effects that were time-consuming to produce.
Back in the Golden Era of Disney Channel, the network had an infamous 65-episode rule, meaning that once a show hit 65 episodes, it was done. Both Even Stevens and Lizzie McGuire had 65 episodes, and that was considered the norm until That's So Raven changed the game by making 100 episodes.
Since Phil of the Future aired around the same time as these shows, why did it only get 43 episodes — and ended on a cliffhanger finale, no less? Not even Raviv knows why the series was canceled when it was. The cast wasn't ever given an explanation; they didn't even know the show was going to be over when they wrapped season two.
But Raviv has one plausible theory for why his show had a shorter run: money.
"It can be a lot more expensive to shoot a single-camera show." For starters, single-cam series film five days a week, while multi-cam ones film for two days and rehearse during the other three. This means you're paying crew more for a single-cam show.
Moreover, Phil had special effects that other Disney shows, like The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, didn't, so creating all the gadgets and gizmos for a family from the 22nd century was an expensive and time-consuming process. "I know that we were just a much more expensive show than what they were doing at the time. For a network, a lot of it is business and trying to figure out," Raviv said, which makes sense.
Another thing the cast wasn't ever told was what was supposed to happen after the finale. To recap, the episode ended with Phil and Keely sharing their romantic feelings for each other and kissing, with Phil saying he'd wait for her. But when the Diffys all piled into the now-fixed time machine and were headed home, they realized they left Curtis behind. The final shot was of Curtis hanging out in an empty house.
So, what gives? Do the Diffys live out their life in the 21st century? Do they swing back to grab Curtis and then return to the year 2121? Does Phil ever go back and see Keely again? These are the questions that keep fans up at night.
Unfortunately, Raviv is just as in the dark. Though there were rumors about making a TV special and/or movie to wrap up the loose ends, nothing was ever discussed with the cast. The show just... ended.
Is there any chance for a reunion in the future?
"I'm hoping that it means there’s still room for us to go and explore what that ending was," Raviv said, adding, "I'd like to think that Phil is still out there somewhere, trying to find his way back to Keely and his friends here. And with time travel, time doesn’t really exist in the same way, so anything’s possible."
He makes a good point. Filming a reunion special or even reviving the series wouldn't have too many logistical issues. If Raviv and Aly Michalka and the rest of the cast returned, looking like they do now, it's totally plausible. Phil could spend 15+ years in the future, with Keely thus spending 15+ years in her (our) time, and when Phil returns, they're still around the same age.
No one would need to be recast to play the parts, whereas if Disney wanted to continue the adventures of twin boys going to high school on a boat for a Suite Life on Deck reboot, you'd probably need to recast Dylan and Cole Sprouse. The Sprouses' current age just wouldn't make sense with the story.
And speaking of revivals, what would Raviv like to see happen, should Phil get the Raven's Home treatment? He'd want it to involve protecting the environment.
Raviv is a big environmental activist — he's even working on a documentary called Standing Ground, which focuses on how pipelines are affecting our planet — and could see Phil either returning from the future to convince people to use our resources and preserve our land more carefully, or going forward in time to help set things straight for future generations. "I think there's probably room for Phil to maybe go on an environmental crusade."
He also pointed out how Keely was into activism and fighting for what was right, so this idea wouldn't be off-brand for the series. Keely did want to be a reporter, so her skills and Phil's futuristic knowledge would go hand in hand for this crusade.
While Aly told ELLE.com in 2017 she'd be down for a reunion, would Raviv also want to do another Phil-related story? It's been 15 years since the show first premiered, and he's gone on to do more adult projects, including starring in the Off-Broadway play Usual Girls and guest-starring on an episode of Broad City, where he played a stoner.
"I would have no ill will towards a reboot. I think that they’re really fun." He shared that he recently hung out on the set of Raven's Home (again) and loved seeing that cast back together.
Raviv pointed out how the Phil cast is kind of spread out across the country right now and working on different endeavors, but he "wouldn’t be the one to put the brakes on [a reunion]."
Hopefully, with Phil of the Future finally — FINALLY — available on streaming, thanks to Disney Plus, fans can rewatch episodes and generate renewed interest in the show.
Disney Channel is nailing this revival era, thanks to Raven's Home and the upcoming Lizzie McGuire series that's reuniting the entire McGuire family. It's time they bust out those Cinespecs and dust off the Wizards, because it's clear Phil and Keely's story isn't over just yet.
*I'm taking ~full credit~ for making Phil of the Future available to stream, since I've been complaining about this atrocity in many different articles and tweets and to anyone who would listen for the past three years. You're welcome, everyone.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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