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‘Drake & Josh’: the new Odd Couple

Nickelodeon series about two stepbrothers with nothing in common.
/ Source: The Associated Press

They are television’s latest Odd Couple, a teenage version of Oscar and Felix thrown together not by divorce, but by the marriage of their TV parents.

But the oddest thing, say the stars of Nickelodeon’s new hit series “Drake & Josh,” is that what you see on TV isn’t that much different from real life.

Josh Peck and Drake Bell, who play reluctant stepbrothers thrown together in a blended suburban family, don’t share a room in real life. But they do live just five minutes apart in the suburbs of Southern California.

And like their TV alter egos, who are also named Drake and Josh, they didn’t exactly hit it off when they met four years ago on the set of a Nickelodeon game show called “Double Dare.”

“Our original meeting was a fiasco,” Josh says by phone from the show’s set, as Drake can be heard snickering in the background. “It wasn’t exactly love at first sight.”

He chalks it up now to both of them being too much like their “Drake & Josh” characters. (The show airs on Nick 7 p.m. ET Saturday and 7:30 p.m. Sunday.)

The yin and yangJosh, the heavyset, bookish one, whose rotund physique and rubbery face have inspired comparisons to John Candy and even Jackie Gleason, insists that just like his TV character, he really is uptight and uncool. He says Drake, whose good looks have “teen idol” written all over them, is “the very cool Orange County kind of surfer-skateboarder dude. Good with the ladies.”

That isn’t such a bad combination for a friendship, on television or in real life.

“We’re kind of like the yin and yang. We’re totally different. But it works,” says Drake.

“Kind of like mayonnaise on grilled cheese,” adds Josh.

“But that DOESN’T work,” declares Drake, laughing.

Culinary disagreements aside, it was that kind of ability to riff off one another that “Drake & Josh” producer Dan Schneider said inspired him to create a show for the two 17-year-olds.

He’d originally cast them as supporting players in “The Amanda Show,” the hit Nickelodeon vehicle for teen star Amanda Bynes. It was there that he noticed the talent they had for creating comic conflict, either in front of the camera or while cutting up by themselves.

“Josh reminds me of myself when I was a kid. He’s a funny kid who is sometimes a little awkward,” says Schneider, himself a former teen star on the 1980s ABC sitcom “Head of the Class.”

“Drake on the other hand ... he’s the kid every young kid wants to be,” says Schneider. “He’s really good looking, he plays guitar, he’s funny, he sings, he can act. He just has it all.”

On the show, his character takes advantage of his glibness and good looks to try to shortcut his way out of any troublesome situation, while Josh’s more cerebral character recognizes that attitude as a blueprint for disaster. Unfortunately, though, he’s never able to avoid being sucked into those disasters, whether they involve enraged boyfriends, bungled babysitting assignments or wrecked vehicles.

Not so different in real lifeIn real life, Josh says he steers clear of trouble, preferring to play the piano, chess or videogames.

A native of New York, he got into comedy when a bout with asthma kept him inside watching television constantly and he began to imitate the voices of the characters he’d see there. He was still in grade school when he began acting professionally.

“I love people like Jackie Gleason, Sid Ceasar, all the old classic comedians,” he says. “Gleason was so funny on ‘The Honeymooners,’ but he could be great dramatically too.”

An only child, Josh still lives at home with his mother, whom he calls “the funniest person I know.”

“We’ll chill out over grape juice and watch ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,”’ he says, adding, “Hey, it’s a great night.”

Drake, a few months older, already has his own apartment, but he insists that otherwise he isn’t that much different than his co-star.

“I like to chill out at home. If I’m not working, I’m doing music,” he says.

He wrote and performed the show’s theme song, and although he’s been acting professionally since he was about 5, the Newport Beach native says he’s also toying with a music career.

A huge Beatles fan, Drake notes that he can play any of the group’s songs on the guitar, to which Josh responds, “I can play all the Beatles songs on my stereo.”

Actually, says Drake, his friend is too modest. Josh can not only play the Beatles on the piano, but classical and jazz compositions as well. Yet Drake concedes that guitar players seem to get all the girls while pianists play at retirement homes.

Drake, however, indicates he’s willing to help change that situation as their stardom on “Josh and Drake” grows: “I’m hoping to release a record and do a film with my buddy here, Josh Peck.”