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), who emigrated from Vietnam, Booker (Richard Grieco), a new character added in Season 3, who has a penchant for the wild life, and Hoffs (Holly Robinson, who also lends her voice talents to the theme song), who has strong feminist opinions. Rounding out the cast are Penhall (Peter DeLuise), the resident tough-guy with a heart of gold, and baby-faced Hanson (Depp), the sensitive one.
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, however Season 4 featured a strong line-up of episodes that eclipsed the previous season thanks to fresh plotlines and a slew of recognizable guest stars including Silk Stalkings' cutie pie Rob Estes, White Men Can't Jump's Rosie Perez, Twin Peaks' Sherilyn Fenn, Waiting to Exhale's Lela Rochon, Beverly Hills 90210's Shannen Doherty, and even basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
There is real chemistry between the actors and the acting is quite good, which only enhances the improved storylines found on the 26 episodes that comprise Season 4. Plotlines are as diverse as breaking an elaborate illegal gambling operation, infiltrating a neo-Nazi group, and Penhall's entry into a different police department full of dirty cops. True to the traditional Jump Street formula, there are also plenty of "message" episodes involving topics such as homosexuality, drug manufacturing and abuse, domestic violence, and the most controversial episode of the season, which addresses the rape of Hoffs, a strong character who is forced to reexamine her life as a result.
There are also ripped-from-the-headlines episodes that series like Law & Order imitated later on. The best example of this is an episode where the Jump Street gang investigates a principal who uses controversial methods to improve his school, a la New Jersey principal Joe Clark, whose story was given the Hollywood treatment in Lean on Me. The other aspect of Jump Street that remains intriguing is the conflict between the colleagues; one episode has a particularly fiery discourse between Hoffs and Penhall. When Hoffs is promoted and Penhall is not, he assumes it is because of affirmative action, as Hoffs is a black female, until he learns that Hoffs scored very high on an exam and earned the promotion on her own merit.
To my utter dismay, considering I was in the prime of my teenage years when this series aired, there is a dated look to these episodes; Ioki sports an alarmingly full mullet and a single feathered earring and Hanson's hair is caked with mousse -- it still looks cute after all these years, though, especially considering Depp's current questionable fashion choices. Hoffs' hair is teased so high that it must add at least four inches to her height.
The video quality is adequate, meaning that it isn't much better than what one would expect on television or VHS. At times the colors bleed, have a blurred effect, or are too intense. 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, which is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo, is quite good. In contrast to the average picture quality, it is a significant improvement and enhances the overall presentation.
Alas, there are no extras on this collection, not that one would necessarily expect this on a fourth season release of a television show. Fans should take note that Season 1 features interviews with most of the cast members sans Johnny Depp, as well as a keepsake booklet. It would have been nice on Season 4 to see interviews with some of the guest stars, considering their present-day recognizability and the fact that most were just starting out at the time these episodes aired.
As is the case with most Anchor Bay releases, it is impossible to access the disc menu right away. Watching producer Steven J. Cannell pound away at his typewriter is fun and nostalgic maybe once or twice, but it gets old very quickly.
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. Although I always recommend checking out the first season of a show in order to keep abreast of plot lines and established relationships between the characters, Season 4 is a great primer for those who are curious about the show but never viewed it the first time around. Fans are sure to be pleased as well, despite the lack of special features.