Dan Schneider hasn’t forgotten what it’s like to be a kid, and his TV progeny Drake and Josh perfectly embody the goofy, unabashed fun that too few remember and even fewer get to revel in today. Based on the eponymous hit show on Nickelodeon, “Really Big Shrimp” relies mainly on physical comedy and the undeniable appeal of its stars in this fluffy summer vacation treat.
Framed like a supersized episode, the show’s second primetime pic revolves around the tumultuous but ultimately jovial relations between two very different stepbrothers. Drake (Drake Bell) is an impetuous musician popular with the girls. Josh (Josh Peck) is on the nerdy side. In the cutthroat teen social world, their paths would never cross. As stepbrothers, however, they have found enough common ground to form a solid partnership as well as a united front against their scheming younger sister, Megan (Miranda Cosgrove).
When Drake’s latest song, “Makes Me Happy,” garners the attention of a hotshot L.A. record exec, their seemingly uneventful summer hits the fast track. With the level-headed Josh as Drake’s manager, things seem to be falling into place. All too quickly, however, the boys discover the trappings of sudden fame and are easily diverted by flirtatious recording studio assistants, massage chairs and, of course, the really big shrimp on the craft table.
Writers Schneider and George Doty IV know how to milk a lot of laughs out the seemingly simple plot — which also includes Josh unintentionally signing away creative control of Drake’s music — and yet remain strangers to subtlety. Several subplots bombard the pic, including a movie theater wedding and an ex-girlfriend who weasels her way into Josh’s dream job as assistant manager of said theater.
Humor runs the gamut from clever to base, and the pic feels kind of like a contempo version of “The Monkees,” only without the gimmicky camerawork. In fact, Bell looks and sounds like a cross between Peter Tork and Davy Jones, but with the talent to write both the theme and featured song and serve as a co-director of the pic.
Although Bell gets the guitar and the girls, the newly slim Peck is equally appealing, albeit in a self-deprecating kind of way.
The success of the show and the popularity of its characters are pleasant surprises in the usually tawdry TV teen landscape — a happy anomaly in that it continues to appeal to teens and tweens despite being squeaky clean. This is a world where independent movie theaters can still exist, with nice little lobbies for local bands to play in front of drug-free teens drinking legal beverages.
Still, it’s also a world where parents are idle or buffoonish at best, and mean-spirited pranks rule. To that end, Cosgrove’s sister Megan is an immensely irritating character. Her adversarial relationship with Drake and Josh recalls that of Newman and Seinfeld. Naturally, Cosgrove’s getting her own show next month on Nick — thankfully as a different character.