One of the biggest assets of DVD technology is the increasing trend of releasing much-beloved but rarely rerun television shows onto DVD. In 1986, Steven J. Cannell, creator of several guilty pleasures, such as The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, and a personal favorite, the sex-drenched, campy cop drama, Silk Stalkings, created 21 Jump Street, which ran for five seasons and made a household name out of Johnny Depp.
The premise is simple: youthful-looking cops go undercover in local high schools and colleges in order to uncover crime. This series also delves into the personal lives of the cops; Ioki (Dustin Nguyen) struggles with memories of living in Vietnam, Booker (Richard Grieco), a new character added in Season 3, has a penchant for the wild life, including strippers, and Hoffs (Holly Robinson, who also lends her voice talents to the theme song), unknowingly becomes involved with a married man.
These episodes follow the already firmly established formula and address controversial issues of the time. Like many of Cannell's shows, the episodes follow a familiar pattern: Most open up with the team's new identities already established, the scenes is set, Captain Fuller (Steven Williams) weighs in with advice back at the station, and the bad guys usually get what is coming to them in the end. By Season 3, Jump Street was already showing its age, as the plots appear to be stretched very thinly over the 45-minute run time of each episode.
What is most interesting is the personal relationships the officers form with the young people they try to help. For instance, when Hoffs goes undercover as a pregnant high-schooler, she creates a real friendship with a young girl who is reeling from the unexpected discovery that she is pregnant by her controlling boyfriend. When the boyfriend teams up with a group of anti-abortion activists, tragedy ensues, leaving unanswered questions about who is truly to blame for it. In another episode, when the Jump Street crew is investigating drug dealing at a local performing arts school, Hanson (Depp) becomes good friends with the school's main dealer, creating a personal dilemma when Hanson must take him down. The resolution is unrealistic at best, but it ties the friendship theme in nicely. Another interesting episode is "Hell Week," where a group of over-privileged fraternity brothers is accused of raping a coed; the plot is more absorbing than some of the other episodes, but it is predictable at best. Several years later, an almost identical plot would appear in an episode of Silk Stalkings.
There is real chemistry between the actors and the acting is quite good, although it is rumored that at this point Depp had tired of his teen pin-up image and was growing weary of the show. In an episode where Hanson and Penhall (Michael DeLuise) infiltrate a juvenile detention facility alongside Booker and Ioki, the four are very convincing, not only to the other characters whose confidence they must win over, but to the audience as well.
Say what you will about Richard Grieco, who went on to star in the short-lived spinoff Booker and is a frequent punch line when a comedian tells a joke about washed-up television actors, but he is a welcome addition to the cast. A rebellious badass, his and Hanson's initial mistrust of one another breathes life into a show that, as early as this season, was already showing its age.
The issue-oriented episodes are overly self-conscious and although the episodes go through the motions of presenting both sides of a controversy, the judgment falls squarely on the more liberal side of the equation. While this certainly won't offend everyone, and let's face it, these issues are tame compared to what parents must address in the new millennium, but more politically conservative parents may not be thrilled with the conclusions of some of the "message" episodes.
The video quality, much like that of the Anchor Bay release of another much-beloved Cannell series, Silk Stalkings, is adequate, meaning that it isn't much better than what one would expect on television or VHS. At times the colors, specifically reds and purples (this was the late 80s, people!), bleed or appear to be blurry. Overall, the DVD transfer is nothing remarkable; not poor quality, but not stellar either. I am one of the few people left on this planet who actually enjoys a full-frame presentation, so the fact that there is no widescreen option did not bother me in the slightest, especially since I remember the original show broadcast in full frame to begin with.
The sound quality, which is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, is quite good. One pet peeve I have is having to raise and lower the volume depending on whether dialogue is being spoken, action scenes are taking place, or songs are playing. In this respect, this DVD is quite good. At times, especially during the scenes that take place in the police station, a slight echo can be detected, but other than that, there is nothing that stands out in terms of a lack of sound quality.
Alas, there are no extras on this collection, not that one would necessarily expect this on a third season release of a television show. Fans should take note that Season One features interviews with most of the cast members sans Johnny Depp, as well as a booklet. This was similar with the release of Silk Stalkings, which even featured some interviews on the Season Two release, but at that point the general impression was that they were really stretching for extra material at that point. The same would probably have been true if there were interviews on Season Three of Jump Street, unless Depp had had a change of heart about his willingness to talk about his experience on the show. And I may be in the minority here, but as a little girl teasing her bangs as high as they could possibly go in the late 80s, to this day I prefer Depp as the pinup idol he was back then. Same goes for Tom Cruise. Now that both actors have gone and gotten all serious, it's not as much fun. To experience or to look at.
Overall, this is a great addition to the collection of any fan of creator Steven J. Cannell's work, the early work of Johnny Depp, or the ensemble cast of 21 Jump Street. Although this collection cannot help feeling dated thanks to the wardrobe and some of the cultural references, the plots remain, for the most part, absorbing, if not a little farfetched at times. Those who know nothing about the show but who have an interest in it would be better served by checking out the first season, where the premise is less established and the characters' personal histories are not as well entrenched.