For most of us growing up, there were three television channels that were the epitome of children’s entertainment on cable TV: Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, and the Disney Channel. My generation has a habit of looking back on our childhood and coveting the programs we grew up watching on these networks; most of them were filled with imagination and wonder, taking us to worlds we could only wish to inhabit. Some were more rooted in reality and spoke to the real world struggles we were all going through. The latter is especially the case for the Disney Channel, hence why you usually see people from older generations – usually my own – complaining about how modern Disney Channel shows don’t have that same feel to them at all. And that’s putting it nicely.
In the late-00s and early-10s, Disney Channel started becoming obsessed with music-related shows and people really became tired of them, to the point that they constantly categorized the shows as “crap”. The fact that their humor also became more controversial (even to the point of offending former stars of the channel) didn’t help matters. So yeah, it was a dark time for the channel. But does that mean all the shows were bad? And what about the shows they currently air; are they worth a watch? And were the shows we grew up with even that good to begin with? This is all a matter of opinion, but I decided to give my own opinion and I’m gonna give it the Tuesday Top 10 treatment.
Now I must point out that just as the title says, I’m only focusing on the live-action shows. This means no Proud Family, Kim Possible, or Phineas and Ferb…for now. Don’t worry, I got something planned for them in a future Top 10; so keep your eyes peeled for that. Also, I’m focusing on shows from the year 2000 to now, so now Mickey Mouse Club either; not that it would have even made the list since I’ve never seen it.
Now that I got that out of the way, let’s get start with my Top 10 Favorite Live Action Disney Channel shows!
#10. Austin & Ally
As I said before, the older generation loves bashing current Disney Channel shows and as stated, Disney’s over-reliance on music-driven shows is a big reason why. People also seem to take offense to Disney putting their protagonists in usually silly situations with no life lessons to teach (we’ll get to the life lessons in a bit). Well, you’ll find both music and silly situations in Austin & Ally. The show revolves around singer Austin Moon (Ross Lynch) and songwriter Ally Dawson (Laura Marano) as they team up with one another to take the music world by storm. They’re joined by two of their friends who are basically walking running gags: aspiring director Dez (Calum Worthy) is the dim-witted best friend and manager Trish (Raini Rodriguez) is gifted with the tremendous inability to maintain a job longer than an hour. Despite the fact that it is the very definition of early-2010s Disney, the show does have its funny moments and can even get serious when they want to. Ally is a likable protagonist in all her bad-dancing glory and it’s admirable how Austin tries to remain down-to-earth the entire way. Again, most people will probably find this show incredibly corny, but it’s ultimately not a terrible show in the long run and it’s managed to find a fanbase for itself.
#9. Phil of the Future
It was while working on this article that I realized just how short of a run most of DIsney’s old shows really had. Here I was thinking this one in-particular was on for at least four seasons like Disney and Nickelodeon shows usually run these days. Lo and behold, I look the show up and we were only with Phil (Ricky Ullman), Keely (Alyson Michalka from one of my favorite childhood musical acts), Pim (Amy Bruckner) and the rest of the gang for two measly seasons and less than 60 episodes. I guess there was only so much time they could believably have before Phil’s dad figured out how to fix that time machine. Anyway, the show is about a teen named Phil and his family, including pesky, semi-evil little sister Pim, who are from the future. They jump in a time machine, head to the past, and get stuck there. So the kids are forced to attend school while their father attempts to fix the time machine. While there, Phil befriends Keely and they get used to modern life. It was at this time that will-they, won’t-they romances/friendships were kind of a thing and Phil and Keely kind of had that, which I believe was a big part of the show’s appeal. Pim was probably the biggest hoot of the show; she was like the Disney version Megan from Drake & Josh, with the only difference being that Pim didn’t really hide her wicked evil mannerisms like Megan did. While a lot of episodes have escaped my memory, the show itself was pretty entertaining and I wish Disney Replay aired it more.
#8. Wizards of Waverly Place
I feel like I should like this show more than I actually do; I mean, obviously I do enjoy the show, otherwise it wouldn’t be here. And I know that a lot of people really love this show, and a lot of that love is due to highly popular lead actress Selena Gomez. So it might be a little weird that this show isn’t in my Top 5; but I feel like it should be though. I don’t particularly get hyped to watch reruns of this show like I do the ones I’ve ranked higher, which is why it’s only #8, but I do admire that it had a lot of elements to it: comedy, fantasy, and even action at times. Name another TV show that featured a fight scene between Selena Gomez and…Selena Gomez? Yup, that happened. Selena plays one of the titular wizards, the sarcastic Alex Russo; she and her brothers Justin (David Henrie) and Max (Jake T. Austin) are all set to one day battle in a duel of some kind to determine which of the siblings gets to keep their powers for good. So the entirety of the show focuses on them training for when that day comes. Alex also has a friend named Harper (Jennifer Stone) who dressed funny; and this premiered about a year or two before Lady GaGa made it big. Like I said, this show had a little bit of everything thrown in the cauldron and that’s probably why it was so beloved. Selena took the world by storm with her admittedly hilarious character and the show had enough specials and even a TV movie that kept it a big deal. You’ll even notice some familiar faces; not only did Bridgit Mendler have a huge multi-episode arc, but actresses like pre-PLL Lucy Hale, pre-Oscar Octavia Spencer, and pre-Scream Queens Skyler Samuels had appearances on it. Even The People’s Champion had an appearance on it. The TV movie had a very cliché plot, but once again, those fantasy elements make it worth a watch. It’s the show that launched Selena Gomez’s career and it’s a show that Disney fans young and old may get a kick out of.
#7. Sonny With A Chance
Ask me who my favorite former Disney Channel star is, Demi Lovato is a very likely contender for the crown. She’s a very beautiful woman, a talented performer, an inspiration to human-kind, and just recently she decided to let us know that she’s more confident than she has ever been in her life, whether it be via vulnerable photoshoots or music video fisticuffs with Michelle Rodriguez. And it all started with the Disney Channel; after graduating from those forgettable As The Bell Rings shorts, she got on the map through Camp Rock and her album Don’t Forget before landing her own Disney sitcom Sonny With A Chance. On this show, she plays the role of Sonny Monroe, a young girl from Wisconsin who lands a role on her favorite comedy sketch show. Her co-stars include the conceited Tawni (Tiffany Thornton), the silly Nico & Grady (Brandon Mychal Smith & Doug Brochu), and the zany Zora (Allyson Arm). Their biggest rivals: the cast of opposing drama show Mackenzie Falls, led by their incredibly vain main star (and Sonny’s eventual boyfriend) Chad Dylan Cooper (Sterling Knight). And I’m just putting this out there right now: as much as I love Demi Lovato, she’s not the best part of the show; that would be Chad Dylan Cooper, easily one of Disney Channel’s funniest characters in recent memory. The show was off-the-charts silly and admittedly corny at times, but I still got some enjoyment out of it’s comedy; even Raven-Symone and Selena Gomez appeared on it before. Sadly, the show only had two seasons as Demi’s highly publicized rehab-stint and eventual semi-retirement from acting to focus on music bought the show to an end. Disney took the show-within-a-show So Random and made it a spinoff once Demi departed, but it just wasn’t the same and was quickly cancelled (this is the funniest sketch from that show, for the record). For helping launch Demi’s career and being hilariously over-the-top, SWAC makes the list.
#6. Girl Meets World
Another big criticism of modern Disney Channel is that none of the shows teach life lessons to the viewers anymore; they just wanna rely on lazy, insulting humor. Well, when it comes to this spin-off of 90s classic Boy Meets World, it’s the inverse: this show teaches life lessons EVERY episode and it’s style of humor is not at all insulting. Part of the fact could also be because they delve into drama more than your usual Disney Channel show. The show sees Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel revive their iconic roles as the greatest TV couple of the 90s, Cory and Topanga as they try to navigate their daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) through life in order for her to take the world and make it hers. Along for the ride are Riley’s negative influence BFF Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), braniac Farkle (Corey Fogelmanis), Riley’s love interest and “moral compass” Lucas (Peyton Meyer), and Lucas’ friend from Texas, Zay (Amir Mitchell-Townes). When this show was announced, it took so long to start airing, I wasn’t sure it’d ever really see the light of day. However, shortly before the premiere, I had the pleasure of meeting Savage, Fishel, Blanchard, & Carpenter while on vacation in L.A. last year and decided to give the show a shot. I don’t know if fans of the old show will love this as much, but it does respect the original BMW by bringing back old characters like Shawn and Eric and doing callbacks to it every once and a while. And like I said, it shatters the assumption that Disney Channel doesn’t teach life lessons anymore because there is a life lesson to be learned in every episode of this show. It’s a show that you should definitely check out if you haven’t already.
#5. Liv & Maddie
Yes, a modern-day Disney Channel show makes my Top 5. Fans of the old Disney Channel are probably clicking off the article now, but hear me out here and I promise we’ll get back to the beloved treasures of your and my childhood in a minute. Liv & Maddie fills the Zack & Cody twin quota for modern Disney as the titular characters are twin sisters with polar opposite personalities; one is a sporty tomboy who’s the star basketball player at her school (Maddie) and the other is a girly actress/singer who enjoys having her “Diva moments”(Liv). Liv returns home to her family after a life in Hollywood on a hit TV show so that she can attend high school and live a more normal life. Along with her sister, there’s her two brothers – both nerdy in different ways – and her dysfunctional-yet-caring parents. This is the highest ranking modern Disney show for a few reasons; for one, Dove Cameron plays both twins and she is amazing at making the girls seem like two completely different people. Maddie is a relatable enough character and Liv cracks me up almost any time she’s on-screen. Secondly, the side characters all have their moments of hilarity; the crush Maddie’s friend Willow (Jessica Marie Garcia) has on Joey (Joey Braggs) is just hilarious. And third, much like Girl Meets World, this show shuts down the arguments that modern Disney Channel shows don’t teach anything. This show is largely about the importance of family and those you care about, but they can tackle other topics too. With one episode about self-confidence and dealing with sexism already aired (“Rate-A-Rooney”) and a second one reportedly on the way, I think they deserve credit for the work that they’ve done. Liv & Maddie is my favorite current Disney show, Dove Cameron is one of my favorite stars currently on the channel, and if you check it out yourself, hopefully you’ll agree.
#4. Hannah Montana
This show was obviously coming sooner or later. It’s the show that basically kick-started Disney’s obsession with music-themed shows. And who could blame them for trying to capitalize? Hannah Montana was a merchandising goldmine for them. Back then, you could slap Hannah’s face on anything and it’d sell (as Todd in the Shadows pointed out). And it managed to last four seasons on the air. Miley Cyrus and Taylor Momsen both auditioned to be on this show; Miley got the role while Taylor Momsen went on to act on a CW soap opera and eventually become one of the most desirable goddesses in all of rock music. But anyway, back to Hannah; Miley Cyrus is Miley Stewart, a normal girl who just happens to also be the biggest pop star on the planet just by slapping a blonde wig on. Only her father Robby Ray (Billy Ray Cyrus), brother Jackson (Jason Earles), and friends Lily (Emily Osment) and Oliver (Mitchel Musso), and some immediate family members (including ones played by Dolly Parton and Vicki Lawrence) are in on the secret and she tries to keep it under wraps the entire series. Looking back, the Miley character had a tendency to be kind of spoiled, but often times there was some kind of motive behind it. Deep down, she does care about her family and friends just as much as her secret, but it is difficult to keep up the façade. If there’s anything Miley Cyrus is good at aside from trying too hard to be edgy, it’s comedic acting because she’s very funny on this show. And while the acting on here is FAR from Emmy-worthy, they can still make me laugh. Jackson is easily the funniest character, for the record. A number of enjoyable episodes came from this show and even the movie is better than you’d probably expect it to be (despite a kinda WTF ending), and not just because of the cameos from (Queen) Taylor Swift, Tyra Banks, and Rascal Flatts. Also, both John Cena and The Rock appeared on the show; even as a longtime wrestling fan, I can say that their cameos on here were a lot more fun to watch than either of their main event WrestleMania encounters. You either love or hate Miley Cyrus and you either love or hate this show; personally, I enjoyed the show and will probably watch if Disney ever airs replays.
#3. Lizzie McGuire
If I am to ever make a list of my favorite former Disney stars down the road, Hilary Duff would rank very highly on there. Hilary Duff is the anti-Lindsay Lohan as far as post-Disney careers go. She has no scandals to speak of, she’s started a family, she still has an active career in both music and acting, and she looks amazing at the age of 28. And it all started with her performance as one of the most relatable and lovable teens (with one of the top #squadgoals) ever put on television. She is Lizzie McGuire, and awkward teen girl with an annoying little brother (Jake Thomas), loving parents, a kickass gal pal (LaLaine), a great guy pal (Adam Lamberg), and a vain, evil arch-rival (Ashlie Brillault). She also has her own animated counterpart who regularly interacts with the viewer; I kinda wish I had one in my life. The reason this show is so fondly remembered is because Lizzie and the people around us were so relatable to our lives and went through things that everyone in real life does. The show has also had memorable moments, often involving celebrity cameos like those from Aaron Carter and Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler. Also, the movie was just amazing; sucks LaLaine missed out on appearing in it because she missed a moment in time people still rave about today. Lizzie McGuire will go down in history as one of Disney Channel’s greatest shows; which two shows (well, three) beat it out? Keep reading.
#2. The Suite Life Franchise
I admit that I am kinda cheating with this one seeing as The Suite Life of Zack and Cody and Suite Life on Deck are technically not the same show. On Deck is a spin-off of Zack and Cody that emerged from the blue in 2008 and stayed anchored on the airwaves for three full seasons. There are a number of differences between the show, but not enough to be that distinguishable from each other. That’s exactly why I paired them together on this list; the setting may be different, but the characters and situations are largely the same. Like Liv and Maddie Rooney from earlier, Zack and Cody Martin have completely opposite personalities: Zack is sporty, rebellious, and carefree while Cody is nerdy, hygienic, and generally well behaved. In Zack & Cody, they make life hell for Mr. Moseby (Phill Lewis), the owner of the Tipton hotel in which they live with their mom (Kim Rhodes). The hotel is owned by the mysterious Mr. Tipton, whose daughter London (Brenda Song) is as dumb as a broken bedpost, which actually makes her probably the funniest character on the show. Zack & Cody also has level-headed, working class Maddie (Ashley Tisdale), wise-cracking Murial, goofy handyman Arwin (Brian Stepanek), and foreign bellhop Esteban, all of whom provide their own laughs. On Deck has their fair share of side characters as well; Cody’s farm-girl crush Bailey (Debby Ryan), Zack’s strange friend Woody, in-universe Grammy Winner Marcus (Doc Shaw), and forever-along teacher Emma Tutweiller. Both shows are funny in their own right and seeing as Disney regular plays reruns of both shows now, they realize how much replay value it has. On Deck also got its own TV movie and had a finale that’ll give you all the feelz. Chances are you like one or both of these shows and I can understand why; put that PRNDL in gear, start up those reruns, and let the nostalgia flow.
#1. That’s So Raven
Recently on daytime talk show The View, the world bear witness to a reunion of one of the most popular squads in kid’s television history. Raven-Symone, Anneliese van der Pol, Orlando Brown, and Kyle Massey came together on television for a moment where time stood still for most of us. And it’s not the only recent reunion of the That’s So Raven cast lately; no matter what controversial, not-so politically correct, extremely facepalm-worthy things Miss Symone says these days regarding race, politics, and the like, there’s no doubt a part of us still takes pleasure in remembering her Disney sitcom about a teen psychic. After all, there was a lot to love about it. Raven’s numerous catchphrases, Cory’s obsession with money, the rivalry with Alana (Adrienne Bailon) and her minions, the Boyz in Motion, that little brat Stanley, that proud underachieving bully The Juicer, Raven dancing to that bootleg version of “Crazy in Love”. There’s also the fact that this show wasn’t afraid to tackle issues as they’ve had episodes on racism, shoplifting, body image, and smoking. It was sad to see That’s So Raven come to an end, but we had to know it was coming eventually. And when it did, Disney granted Kyle Massey’s Cory a spin-off Cory in the House. Obviously it’s not on the countdown, as it only hit in the “OK” range for me. No amount of pout-faces from Madison Pettis will get me to change the result. But That’s So Raven takes the gold medal here; hopefully Raven’s on-going parade of ridiculous and controversial comments doesn’t completely taint this memorable show’s legacy over time.
The unofficial #11; I watched this quite a bit as a kid and I remember it led to me giving myself a spy nickname. It didn’t stick.
It’s like Kim Possible meets That’s So Raven with Zendaya killing it in the lead role. Just check out her fight scene with former Shake It Up co-star Bella Thorne.
I don’t think I watched this show very much as I barely remember much from it aside from “Louis and Ren have a sibling rivalry”.
At first, this seemed more like an ABC sitcom over something on the Disney Channel. While I wasn’t crazy over it, the show has a heart, which I admire.
I was extremely skeptical about this show at first; but for the most part it’s really not bad. I wish they’d bring back the “What Happened?” premise from Season 1 though.
This is the closest Disney Channel has had to an adventure show since Wizards as the kids on here have been all sorts of places (including into the wrestling ring). Sadly, I don’t recommend the spinoff, Bunk’d, it has disappointed thus far.
This only gets a shout out due to the charisma of China Anne McClain. I’ve heard that people find the characters on this show obnoxious; I kinda see it looking back on it. Especially the Paisley character; you thought they gave London Tipton a negative-numbers IQ? You ain’t seen nothing yet.
What do you think of this edition of Tuesday Top 10? Leave a comment or tweet me up @FearlessRiOT with your opinion or even to suggest a topic for the next edition.