Kids Today: “Drake & Josh: Best of Seasons 1 – 2”

I admit it: I’m a Drake Bell fan. It doesn’t have anything to do with his Nickelodeon sitcom, though; it’s all because of his music career. Have you heard his stuff? The guy’s so much of a Jellyfish fan that he covers “Joining a Fan Club” in concert…and does it pretty damned well, too. That’s why I requested this set to review back in August…and, yet, when it arrived, I was unable to bring myself to put it in the DVD player. When it came right down to it, I found myself asking a question that, to be fair, I probably should’ve asked before making the DVD request: is appreciating a guy’s musical output really enough of a reason to endure watching a sitcom aimed at an audience that’s about 20 years younger than I am? The answer: not really. After seeing Bell’s co-star, Josh Peck, appear in the Michael Rapaport flick, “Special,” however, I decided that the time had come to get off my old arse and get it over with.

As it happened, watching “Drake & Josh: Best of Seasons 1 – 2” wasn’t nearly as excruciating an experience as I’d feared it would be, which was certainly a nice surprise, but the most surprising thing about the experience was the fact that Peck’s photo on the cover of the DVD bears absolutely no resemblance to the actor as he appeared in the first few seasons of the series. He spent the third and fourth seasons of the show divesting himself of a fair amount of weight, as it turns out, but I guess the folks responsible for packaging this best-of set decided that offering an accurate presentation of Peck’s weight during Seasons 1 and 2 wouldn’t do as well to inspire the show’s predominant audience – teen-aged girls – to buy the set. (To be fair, they did manage to find room for a cast photo from the era on the back cover.)

You can’t really call “Drake & Josh” a tweener sitcom, though it’s a reasonable presumption that plenty of members of the under-13 set are watching the show. No, it’s definitely aimed at those kids who are just entering their teen years, as evidenced by plots involving babysitting, fixing up an old dune buggy, going to concerts, dating the daughter of a teacher, and getting a job. Now, granted, both Bell and Peck turn in pleasant enough comedic turns, with the former being the cute heartthrob and the latter serving as the chubby goofball, but I’m left wondering the same thing I wondered when I was a teenager and networks were trying to develop sitcoms ostensibly aimed at that demographic: how stupid do the networks think teenagers are?

Obviously, this is a rhetorical question, but I’m sure you understand why I’m asking it. These teen shows always seem to be filled with wacky shenanigans, broad slapstick comedy, and shrieked punchlines. (The equation would seem to be thus: loud volume = funnier delivery.) I know teenagers haven’t reached full maturity yet, but, seriously, do we have to dumb things down quite this much? Surely all we’re doing is increasing the amount of time it takes for them to grow up…and while I’m not trying to rush them but so much, it would seem to me that smarter and more subtle comedy for kids would be a good thing.

Yeah, I know, I’m wasting my breath. I’m just saying, is all.

So where was I? Oh, right, “Drake & Josh.” Not highbrow hilarity, obviously, but nor is it consistently cringeworthy. Miranda Cosgrove (now in her own Nick show, “iCarly”) plays the devious little sister, Megan, disconcertingly well, but the guys’ parents – Audrey (Nancy Sullivan) and Walter (Jonathan Goldstein) – are the kind of pencil-thin characters who came into existence out of necessity (they got married, making Drake and Josh stepbrothers) and only stick around because they’ll be needed for the various plots here and there. Mostly, the show is about Drake and Josh and their lives at the house, at school, and wherever else fate takes them.

There are a few familiar faces popping up here and there in guest roles – Kimmy Robertson (“Twin Peaks”), Julia Duffy (“Newhart,” “Designing Women”), Julie Gonzalo (“Veronica Mars”), Minka Kelly (“Friday Night Lights”), and Larry Thomas (the Soup Nazi from “Seinfeld”), for example – but this is definitely a sitcom that’s designed to draw in the kids rather than their parents…not that they’ve done anything whatsoever to bring those kids into this set. This is as bare-boned as it gets, arriving without a lick of bonus material. It also has nothing resembling continuity, ignoring chronological order in favor of an utterly random scattering of episodes from the two seasons throughout the three discs. Why were these episodes picked? No clue. Were they fan favorites or did they just involve the least amount of music licensing? I can’t believe it’s either one, frankly, since Lenny Kravitz’s “Dig In” makes a prominent appearance at one point, which can’t have been but so cheap.

If you’ve been wondering what all the fuss is about, “Drake & Josh: Best of Seasons 1 – 2” is as good a place as any to find out (though it probably still won’t help you understand your kids’ fascination with the show), but if you’re already a fan, don’t be afraid to complain to Nickelodeon about how they’ve given you the shaft with this crappy release.

  

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