Painful memories of his own sibling rivalry aside, Judge Bill Gibron really enjoyed this wholesome Nick sitcom.
An adolescent Odd Couple?
Divorce or death can be hard on a family, especially the kids. But just as overwhelming, in a far more superficial manner, is remarriage, with its freshly minted relationships and the entire stepparent/stepchild dynamic. Drake and Josh, schoolmates who've never really thought about each other as they pass through the halls of their high school, are about to learn this lesson the hard—if sometimes hilarious—way. Drake's mom is marrying Josh's dad, and the studious if silly geek is moving into Mr. Cool's teen dream sanctuary. Of course, they'll both have to battle Drake's little sister, the mean-spirited Megan, for domination of the household. But if they can keep it together and not find a way of hating or hurting each other, there may be something warm, and often witty about the notion of Drake and Josh: Suddenly Brothers.
On this DVD release from Paramount and Nickelodeon, we are treated to four episodes of this friendly family series, all from the first season of the show. In a nutshell, we get the following installments:
• "Dune Buggy"
• "Two Idiots and A Baby"
• "First Crush"
Drake and Josh is currently one of Nickelodeon's highest rated sitcoms, and with fairly good reason. In the realm of television comedy, where everything is soaked in scatology, irony, or stand-up comic creepiness, creator Dan Schneider (responsible for a wealth of wonderful programming for the kid friendly cable channel, including All That, The Amanda Show, and Keenan and Kel) has gone back to the tried-and-true rule book of half-hour humor and found a way to draw from elements of the past to present what is often a very clever show. This doesn't mean that Drake and Josh is some manner of boob tube classic, destined to be named with other small screen favorites like The Simpsons, Seinfeld, or The Honeymooners. No, this is a series that doesn't reach for the humor heights of those legends. Indeed, Drake and Josh merely trades on a couple of well-honed formulas, firmly wedges in the recognizable archetypes and filters the entire farce through a wholesome approach to values and family relations.
In many ways, this really is the sitcom the way it used to be—reliant on over-the-top performances, slapstick shenanigans, and very broad buffoonery to keep its audience in stitches. Yes, it trades on very tired stereotypes—the effeminate, jolly fat boy ala Joe Besser Josh, the too cool for his own school super slick who is just this blind side of clueless Drake. But to his credit, Schneider tries to prevent complete pigeonholing by allowing the "geek vs. freak" dynamic to frequently dissolve into a genial aura of goodwill and friendly family affection. So while Josh is a frittering, flabby joke, he is also genuinely loved by his stepbrother, and Drake's self-important swagger is undercut by his frequent foul-ups and tendency toward eventual comeuppance.
Over the course of the four episodes here (staying with Paramount's pathetic desire to milk as much money out of fans as possible by breaking up single seasons into multi-volume-style packaging), we quickly learn the nuances and strategies the show employs to find its funnies. Actor Josh Peck is particularly adept at discovering the proper balance between retardation and regular guy, lacing his truffle shuffle stupidity with just the right amount of cheek tonguing. Drake Bell, on the other hand, really loves the chance to play the dynamic, dashing BMOC. For a long time on other series, like The Amanda Show, his bravado was emasculated by constant reminders of his "just a juvenile" status. But within this show, he is supposed to be the wiser, more worldly half of the fraternal unit, and he rises to the occasion with a nice combination of consideration and cockiness.
As for the rest of the cast, they are reliable but almost always left to languish in the background, brought out only to forward the narrative or provide potent exposition. Little Miranda Cosgrove is quite the mischievous imp as the scheming brat sister Megan, but she's the regular rarity here. Everyone else in the company seems content to step aside and let the leads control the show. After all, they're the reason for the series to exist.
Overall, Drake and Josh: Suddenly Brothers is perfect adolescent amusement. It doesn't speak down to its young demographic, but also knows how to wallow in the extremes the wee ones love when getting their goof on. That the show doesn't speak to an older audience is a measure of how well it's made. Schneider and his creative crew aren't programming to yuppies or suburban couples. They are out to make fun, friendly programming for tweens and teens, and Drake and Josh is a wonderfully witty example of their handiwork. It proves that there's still life in the old sitcom format, if only those responsible for producing said shows would realize that it's impossible to reinvent something that doesn't require an overhaul to begin with. While it never rises to resplendent levels of ridiculousness, this is still a simple, entertaining show.
All merchandising muck ups aside, Paramount does do a nice job with the video/audio aspects of this DVD. Each show is offered in a brand new and pristine 1.33:1 direct from digital cable transmission transfer that's clean and defect free. Colors are correct and details prevalent in the expertly contrasted image. On the sound side, the Dolby Digital stereo helps to highlight the jangle pop parameters within the show (Drake's muse seems stuck in Beatles/Beach Boys mode, thankfully) and dialogue is always crystalline and understandable. On the downside, the extras are a little sparse. There are about six minutes of bloopers/outtakes, and a selection of Paramount trailers that can also be accessed (said ads also play over the start-up of the DVD and cannot be stopped), but that's it. No other indication of how the show was conceived or made.
The dissolution of the nuclear family is one of the aspects of modern life that gets little serious consideration in comedy. Unless you're dealing with the brackish Bradys for whom everyday was/is a lily-white walk on the decidedly mild side, the sitcom shies away from matters of such significance. Drake and Josh doesn't take its subject matter sincerely either. But it does do something that other shows fail at time and time again. It remembers whom its gearing its humor toward, and delivers with ease and energy. This is a respectable, enjoyable series.
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