Mill Creek Entertainment // 1989 // 4732 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 18th, 2010
"All 103 episodes from this nostalgic hybrid of edgy high school antics and thrilling cop drama!"
It was the end of the Reagan Eighties, and the fledgling Fox network needed a hit. They put a lot of their broadcast eggs into the basket of a show about a group of young-looking cops infiltrating high schools to fight crime. The gambit paid off: 21 Jump Street ran for five seasons and launched the career of teen heartthrob Johnny Depp. Despite its initial popularity, the show was rarely seen in syndication, and it wasn't given home video release until 2005, when Anchor Bay brought out all five seasons in individual box sets. Now in 2010 (at least in part because of an anticipated feature film based on the material), Mill Creek is releasing all five seasons again separately, as well as this gargantuan eighteen-disc release of all 103 episodes (including the crossover episode that launched the short-lived spinoff Booker featuring Richard Greico). 21 Jump Street: The Complete Series is a great, budget-oriented way for fans to get the whole series, but it doesn't supersede the previous Anchor Bay releases.
This is a pretty mammoth release, so let's break it down by category:
* The good. At a retail price of $69.98 (and a street price 60 percent of that at the time of review), this is a great way for fans to get their hands on the complete run of the series. Every episode, from the first tentative steps of a fresh-faced Johnny Depp to the final, Depp-free stories is included for a low retail price that averages out to less than $14 a season. Considering the scarcity of the show before Anchor Bay's releases and the fact that those sets are out of print, this is a steal.
As for the show, it has a surprising amount going for it over twenty years after its debut. The show really hit its stride in the second and third seasons, balancing the crime of the week and message-oriented shows with deepening relationships between the characters. The premise itself is solid, providing numerous opportunities for keeping the material fresh. Although it probably won't make it into the top-10 all-time cop shows (for the mullets alone!), the crimes are interesting and the cast generally makes up for the shortcomings in the writing.
* The bad. Mill Creek licensed the series, but didn't get any of the extras Anchor Bay included. They didn't amount to much -- a few interviews on early episodes and an average of a commentary per season -- but they're missing from this release. The set's price is a bargain, but fans are probably going to want at least a peek at the extras offered on earlier releases.
Although the show features solid, workmanlike police plots, everything else about the show positively screams late-Eighties/early-Nineties. With the questionable fashion, bizarre lingo, and epic hair, it's hard to take the show seriously. Really, 21 Jump Street is a nostalgia trip through-and-through. The show's success also seems to fall along a bell curve. The first season gets off to a rocky start, with a replaced lieutenant and some questionable performances before the show hit its stride in the second season. By Season Four, the show's premise was starting to show signs of wear as the actors grew increasingly older looking, and once Depp left the show before Season Five, the quality took a pretty sharp dip.
* The so-so. On a technical level, Mill Creek didn't have a whole lot to work with. The initial Anchor Bay releases featured spotty video and audio, and this release continues that trend. With 103 episodes spread over eighteen discs, that's almost six episodes per disc, and the video suffers from the compression. There's not a lot of detail, and pixelation is a problem, as is noise, although the show looks slightly better as it goes along. The audio isn't much better. The dialogue is generally clear, although no subtitles are provided, but there is some distortion and dynamics between the overdubbed music and the dialogue can be distracting. This doesn't quite fall into the bad category because the show is watchable in a VHS kind of way, and it's also a twenty-plus-year-old show that was being produced by a fledgling network. Some allowances must be made.
Also beyond Mill Creek's control are the music rights, which were initially licensed for broadcast only. To re-buy the rights to the show's original music cues would have made this set prohibitively expensive, so most of the show's music has been substituted for cheaper cuts. It hurts my purist's heart to see the show mutilated this way, but it's better to have the show with music substitutions than not have anything at all.
The packaging is also a bit odd. Housed in a quadruple-wide keep-case, each of the eighteen discs gets its own paper sleeve stacked in a box inside the case. They seem safe and protected this way, but accessing individual discs out of order is a bit of a pain.
Only those with nostalgia in their hearts and an undying love of all things Johnny Depp should seek out 21 Jump Street: The Complete Series. I suspect few viewers who didn't grow up with the show will be able to look past the single-feather earrings and abundant mullets (not to mention all the neon clothing) to get at the show's light charms. For fans, though, this is a great way to acquire the entire series without breaking the bank on individual seasons, even if the extras from the Anchor Bay releases haven't been ported over. Don't expect stellar transfers or pounding audio, and this release will otherwise satisfy.
For everything it gave us, from later Fox shows to the career of Johnny Depp, 21 Jump Street is not guilty.
Review content copyright © 2010 Gordon Sullivan; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Mill Creek Entertainment
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 4732 Minutes
Release Year: 1989
MPAA Rating: Not Rated