At first 21 Jump Street is bad, it's really bad. But as a first season it begins to develop into real characters with real stories towards the end, eventually becoming that edgy show that upstart network Fox dreamed of, instead of an extended after-school special. Besides Johnny Depp is so young and so cute. There's some real shining lines, especially in the first episode. And there is real power in the late 80s nostalgia for those who feel we're far enough away from that decade crossover to enjoy it yet again.
Tommy Hanson (Depp) is a new cop, just graduated from the academy top of his class, with a baby face and a chip on his shoulder. When a bust goes awry he's reassigned to a special group of undercover cops young enough to pass as high school students. The unorthodox gaggle of fresh-faced fuzz are stationed in an old converted chapel on Jump Street. Doug Penhall (Peter Deluise) is the tough but funny guy who thinks he's a ladies man. Harry Truman Ioki (Dustin Nguyen) is the 1st generation immigrant with stunning florescent fashion sense, who introduces himself with the line concerning his name "…guess what year my parents moved to the states. I'm named after the guy who dropped an atom bomb at my house." The final officer is Judy Hoffs (Holly Robinson), the only woman, and therefore continually drooled on and fought over by the rest of the posse. She wouldn't look out of place in a music video either. The first season goes through two Captains, the laid back hippie Jenko (Frederic Forrest) and the hard-ass Fuller (Stephen Williams), with the Miami Vice style shades.
21 Jump Street's first episode starts off both grating and offensive as two Michael-Jackson-only-tough look-alikes crash into the home of an exceedingly boring upper-middle-class white family, threatening the son and making off with the car. The son is one of the whiniest and most annoying characters I've encountered and mirrors Depp's own attitude in this first assignment. This loser kid plays the clarinet and is involved in the school play at the same time he's shooting smack and running up a tab with the local black bullies. Further fumbling episodes include a slutty eastern-european, hot for teacher, rich kids that get away with it, and a pyro at the prom, all against the backdrop acid wash jean butt shots. But when the hippie captain is killed by a drunk and Fuller steps in, the show gets harder, gives the cops guns, and actually begins to feel like a real cop show. Not only does the show become tougher, but more nuanced as well. This half of the season shows a real affinity between Hoffs and a mafia mark, a teenage hooker, struggling with her mother's addiction, and Depp sporting a really great punk 'do.
The DVD and Sound
The atrocious intro of spray paint on a brick wall, complete with canned spray paint sound, breaks apart, and is accompanied by the wailing of Holly Robinson. Watch it more than once at your peril, this song will be stuck in your head forever. The picture isn't much better. The colors are muddled, with slight improvement in the later episodes, and the clarity is anything but clear. The backgrounds can be especially pixilated, looking like a 256 color monitor on your mother's Windows 95 computer. But then, what do you expect from an old TV show? The low-fi aspect lends credibility to its 80s charm… The sound, except for the horrific intro, is equally lackluster, but not particularly bothersome.
Unfortunately, everyone's favorite heartthrob does not make any appearances in the extras. Nevertheless, I'm fairly impressed with the array of interviews and commentary, at least in comparison to some other DVD releases of older TV shows. Lengthy interviews come from Holly Robinson, Dustin Nguyen, Steven Williams, and creator Stephen J. Cannell. Yes, that's the guy with the typewriter at the beginning of the show. While they do drag on a bit, there are some interesting tidbits to be discovered and are worth watching if you're a real Jump Street fan. The best extra, however, is verbose Deluise's commentary on Gotta Finish the Riff. While often completely random and irrelevant to the episode, and even the show, his observations can be highly entertaining. We learn that he regrets his eyeliner use, and that during some tapings the cast burns their underwear and continues for the rest of the day commando.
When hearing of his new assignment the young Officer Hanson calls the Jump Street project "…kinda like fast times at bust your buddy high…" and 21 Jump Street's first season does come off like this in many ways. But as the officers grow and mature into their roles a real show begins to emerge. If you buy this season for the fashion and the 80s dreamboats, I expect season 2 to be a fine piece of television history in and of itself.