Anchor Bay // 1988 // 930 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // September 28th, 2005
You're gonna learn something when we meet you after school!
21 Jump Street, one of the first original series ever to air on the FOX network back in the late 1980s (a legacy that has left us contemporary gems like Stacked and Life on a Stick), is probably best known these days as the series that introduced us to Johnny Depp (Ed Wood, Dead Man). And yet, to some of us, it's actually the greatest undercover-cops-in-high-school-operating-in-a-converted-chapel series the small screen has ever known. After finding its footing in Season One and cementing its characters in Season Two, 21 Jump Street: The Complete Third Season is the year when the show really hit its stride -- it's the best in the series' five-year run. This is the year of Doug Penhall's (Peter DeLuise, Listen to Me) dark period. The year that Harry Ioki (Dustin Nguyen, V.I.P.) reconnects with his family, long left behind in Vietnam. The year that each of the baby-faced cops finds -- and often subsequently loses -- true love. It's the year that Johnny Depp, as Officer Tom Hanson, really began to pull away from the series -- there's a clear disconnect between him and the rest of the show. That the season aired only months before Depp's starring roles in John Waters's Cry-Baby and Tim Burton's Edward Scissorhands (the films that would officially launch him as a movie star) is more than likely not a coincidence.
Season Three also introduces Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco, If Looks Could Kill, Mobsters), the new leather-clad bad-boy cop injected into the series to antagonize characters and actors that had perhaps grown too comfortable. His inclusion, which lasted only one season (the character was popular enough to receive his own spin-off series, appropriately named Booker), is the best kick in the pants to Jump Street since the appearance of Steven Williams (as Captain Adam Fuller) back in Season One.
Covering all 22 episodes of The Complete Third Season would serve no purpose, as the individual shows are far too repetitive in both theme and quality. Besides, how large an audience would care to read such exhaustive coverage of a show few of us even remember? With that in mind, I've decided to simply pick and choose a handful of episodes -- ranging from the best to the worst of the season -- that most clearly showcase the rights and wrongs of Jump Street.
* "Coach of the Year"
One of Season Three's better offerings, "Coach" finds Penhall and Booker going undercover on a high school football team to learn whether the coach is guilty of criminal negligence in a recent accident. Sure, almost the exact same story line was done in Season One ("Low and Away," in which Penhall joins a high school baseball team and gets caught up in the glory that it brings him), but "Coach" remains a surprisingly effective outing. It helps to have Grieco -- still new to the show and not entirely trustworthy -- on board to play devil's advocate, making a powerful foil to Penhall's jockish idealism. The episode also manages a pitch-perfect ending -- usually Jump Street's overly sentimental weak spot -- striking just the right note of irony.
* "The Blue Flu"
Here's a great example of a formula that Jump Street had perfected by Season Three: "The show means well, but." When contract negotiations reach a standstill, cops citywide go on strike -- including the officers of the Jump Street chapel.
This episode is rare at this point in the show's run, as it doesn't simply follow one specific character; it explores storylines for everyone in the show (which would become more commonplace as the series progressed). The results are mixed; while it's nice to see the entire ensemble given the spotlight for a change (typically episodes highlight a "character of the week"), the actual installment is fairly pedestrian. There are a few weak attempts at Norma Rae–esque commentary on unionizing and the evils of management, but it's awfully simple and naïve (it doesn't help that the bulk of it is delivered by Richard Grieco and the guy who played Captain Mouser in a couple of Police Academy movies). Penhall, Ioki, and Hoffs all search for other jobs, while Captain Fuller is forced to suit up and go out patrolling. He's saddled with a new partner (played by Richard Romanus, or Mike "The Dream Police, da da da DA!" Damone of Fast Times at Ridgemont High), who's so incompetent he makes Barney Fife look like Martin Riggs. And just how to get rid of Hanson? Ahh, yes -- he's in a SECRET MEETING, where no one can see or talk to him (except, of course, for his girlfriend, Deputy D.A. Jackie Garrett).
Let's take a quick roll call:
* Poorly executed broad comedy? Check.
* "Very Special" message preaching? Check.
* Missing Johnny Depp? Check.
Gosh, for all the steps forward that Jump Street's made by Season Three, it's still not enough. It means well, but...
* "What About Love?"
While Jump Street is being audited by a city agent, Hoffs finds herself getting romantically involved with the auditor. When secrets rise to the surface regarding the man's past and a wounded Hoffs (that's emotionally, not physically -- got to be clear on a cop show) tries to break the affair off, her jilted ex holds her career -- and those of all of the Jump Street cops -- in his vindictive hands.
Look, maybe it's because it was the 1980s. Maybe it's because 21 Jump
Street was a youth-marketed and decidedly fluffy little series. Or maybe
it's just that the show's writers were lazy; at any rate, "What About
Love?" is another frustratingly uneven outing. On one hand, it delves
pretty deeply into Hoffs's personal life and comes up with some effective
moments -- there's artistry at work here that's rare for the series. On the
other hand, it boils some fairly complex issues of love, sex, and the law into
the most basic and simplistic morality play possible. The "secretly taped
confession" is how one would resolve a Saved by the Bell plot, not a
police drama that intends to be taken seriously.
* "Wooly Bullies"
A Jump Street classic, "Bullies" has nothing to do with police work and everything to do with knowing and liking these characters. When Penhall is picked on while posing as a nerd on assignment (possibly the least convincing nerd the screen has ever seen, save for Ogre's conversion at the climax of Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise), it prompts several of the Jump Street cops -- plus janitor/comic relief Sal "Blowfish" Banducci (Sal Jenco, Living Out Loud), a character I've never warmed to -- to retell stories of being bullied in the past.
The episode is nothing more than a lark, but it's fun and funny and takes
the time to explore some of the characters' backgrounds. Booker's flashback was
and is the moment that I finally warmed up to him as a character -- he's
more than just Depp's replacement, but a fully realized character with his own
code of living. There's also a certain sweetness to seeing Peter DeLuise's
brother (Michael, who would later join the show as a regular) and father (Dom)
participate in one sequence. That alone helps to balance out the total lack of
narrative direction or closure found in Captain Fuller's flashback (though it is
fun to see a very young Lawrenz Tate).
* "The Dreaded Return of Russell Buckins"
Ugh. Everything about this episode -- right down to its amateurish title -- smacks of much of what is wrong with 21 Jump Street. For starters, it's got absolutely nothing to do with police work. That's okay and all, as I enjoy the occasional episode profiling the characters' personal lives (it's one of the things this often simple-minded show does right), but it hasn't even got that much figured out.
The episode isolates Hanson (as it becomes more and more painfully obvious that by Season Three the regular cast wanted nothing to do with Depp and vice versa, the majority of his scenes are done outside of the core group), who goes off in search of Buckins (returning from an equally lame episode in Season Two) after a damaging article about Jump Street is published in a magazine. Hanson finds Buckins playing socialite, cozying up to a teen heiress (Jane Sibbett of Friends) and attempting to break up her impending nuptials for reasons of love or money or both.
So, what have we got? Not only does nearly the entire cast take a back seat
here, but Hanson -- who the episode is supposed to center on -- is booted to the
sidelines, too. In his place is a profoundly uninteresting character played with
a spectacular lack of charisma by Angelo Tiffe (Meet the Fockers).
There's no story here. No character development. There's hardly even a tone --
and what little there exists is of the too-broadly-comic variety that Jump
Street could never seem to resist, forever undercutting what little dramatic
impact the series is able to achieve. At least the usual subpar episodes give us
the characters and actors that keep us returning to the show. But not
"Return." It's just an absolute waste of time.
Another of Season Three's pointless diversions, "A.W.O.L." features Patrick Labyorteaux (Summer School, Heathers) as a young army recruit who's fed up with his treatment and goes -- you guessed it -- absent. Without leave! It's up to Hanson and Penhall to bring him back, which proves to be nowhere near as easy it sounds.
There are some rare qualities to "A.W.O.L." that distinguish it from a number of other episodes. For one, it prominently features Johnny Depp -- interacting with a regular cast member, no less (Peter DeLuise, his usual partner-in-stopping-crime). Even more unusual is the fact that it contains hardly any issue-preaching (and with the military as its subject matter, there must have been some temptation); in fact, it errs on the side of logic rather than drama. It marches ("wanders" might actually be a more appropriate word) toward the conclusion that it should reach -- the right ending -- rather than the one that might be the flashiest. It's almost like taking the high road. Almost.
Because none of this means that the episode is very good. Sadly, it isn't.
It mostly consists of a dopey plot in which Hanson and Penhall run around in the
snowy woods and eat sticks (though it did make me wonder if the writers of
The Sopranos had seen this show when writing the classic "Pine
Barrens" episode). Once again, there is a way to treat this story
idea skillfully and respectfully; heck, I'd even settle for only one or the
other. As is often the case with 21 Jump Street, it does neither.
Leave it to Grieco to come up with one of the season's strongest offerings -- an atypically skillful combination of character work and police drama. "Nemesis" finds everyone's favorite would-be-Depp (literally filling in for Johnny, who refused to participate in the storyline) going undercover to bust some high school druggies. When they suspect a narc in their midst, one of the gang is murdered -- leaving Booker not only with the weight of a wrongful death on his conscience, but also with the fear that he may be next.
This is one of those instances where the pieces of a potentially silly
series fall into place and the show finds its voice. Grieco turns in some solid
work -- it's his finest hour on the show. Still, though, the episode raises some
of the same nagging questions that are always just under the surface of 21
Jump Street. For one, is it really necessary to go deep, deep, deep
undercover just to catch a couple of teenage burnouts? Donnie Brasco this
isn't. And why does the show readily accept these adult officers making out --
in this case, even "falling in love" -- with high schoolers? I know,
these were different times, and catering to a high school audience meant some
hot cop/ target demographic romantic-involvement wish fulfillment. This being
2005, however, some of these scenes strike the wrong note.
* "Fathers and Sons"
The best and most frustrating episode of the season -- best because it combines realistic police drama with strong character work and real relationship drama; most frustrating because it perfectly captures just how good 21 Jump Street could always be if it would just try harder. The success of this episode really underscores the others' shortcomings.
Penhall and Hanson go undercover at a high school to take down a drug dealer; when one of the suspects turns out to be the son of Jump Street enemy Councilman Davis (newly elected to Mayor), the investigation winds up in jeopardy and Captain Fuller is suspended.
"Fathers and Sons" removes the black-and-white goggles the series
usually wears and actually examines that messy grey area where most real life
resides. Davis isn't a one-dimensional villain, just a guy trying to do what's
right for his family and willing to recognize his mistakes. It finally pays off
the relationship between Hanson and deputy D.A. Jackie Garrett (Yvette Nipar,
Phantoms), as well as between Ioki and Penhall, who've been living
together since Penhall was thrown out of his house. The show's final moments are
genuine and deeply felt -- for once, the emotion has been earned and not
manufactured -- and remain unresolved. In that way, "Fathers and Sons"
is ahead of its time.
* "High High"
Gosh, this one's lame. Think 21 Jump Street goes undercover at Fame (a reference even the show makes, for those of us too thick to catch it), where the pressures of creating "art" push all of the students to do drugs. Seriously. All of them.
I don't know where to start with "High High," except to say that its title might be the best thing about it. This is an unintentionally hilarious episode, directed by Mario Van Peebles (also making a laughable, inexplicably Jamaican cameo) before he would go on to make the far better New Jack City. He's clearly got something to prove here, and asserts a heavy-handed "style" over the entire episode -- the results of which are self-consciously cheap and tacky. There are numerous musical montages. There are band scenes (Hanson infiltrates the school's music department, taught by a long-haired Michael Bowen of Magnolia) in which the on-screen instrument playing has nothing to do with the cheap electronic rock n' roll music on the soundtrack; whether it was always that way or is a result of Anchor Bay's endless score changes, I can't say. I can say that it's terrible. I can say that.
But wait! There's more! Harry Ioki becomes a student filmmaker and produces a film loaded with footage he couldn't possibly have been present to shoot -- including some scenes from before he even arrived at the school! Booker becomes a performance artist and a poet! And demonstrates a mean jump shot! He falls in with a nebbish poet who's completely unconvincing as both a baller and a drug addict! He preaches about the miracles of the "natural high"! An entire gym gets arrested! The judge is on the spot for sentencing!
There is, however, one bright spot: Peter DeLuise, who joins the drama
department and turns a potentially humiliating Honeymooners re-enactment
into something quite dignified and touching. He really does keep getting better
with every show.
* "Blinded by the Thousand Points of Light"
When a homeless teen goes missing while hustling, the Jump Street cops pose as runaways to catch the man responsible.
What? They go undercover as homeless teenagers? This might be stretching the series' already paper-thin credibility a bit too far. But, like most Season Three episodes, it calls attention to another of Jump Street's ongoing flaws. Do these cops always need to go undercover? It seems to me that in the case of "Light," they could have gotten the same results by just going around and asking questions -- you know, the way actual cops do. Having them pose as homeless runaways smacks of a hook -- a plot stunt to build the ad campaign around. "This week on 21 Jump Street, the gang goes homeless! See Peter DeLuise eat from a trash can! You won't believe Holly Robinson's wig! Tune in Sunday night on FOX!"
And yet, there are aspects of the show that work. It's another in an arc
that not only features all of the characters (who seem to do their best work as
an ensemble -- it might help us ignore just how thinly written they are) but
builds on the series' continuity, too. It manages to provide another showcase
for Peter DeLuise, who gets better with every episode; thinking back to Season
One, it's amazing to see just how far he's come as a character and as an actor.
Most important, though, is that "Light" features Bridget Fonda
(Singles, Jackie Brown) in a guest-starring role as one of the
homeless teens. Her performance is fine; her character is frivolous, but I love
her and she can do no wrong.
Look, I like 21 Jump Street. I have a number of issues with it -- most of which I hope to have touched upon above -- but I like the show. I always have; for years, it was number one on my "when will this show come to DVD?" list. Now that it has (the first three seasons, anyway), I find myself drowning in disappointment. This is not how the show should be seen. For starters, these are not the original broadcast episodes; these are the "syndication" versions. Changes have been made -- minor cuts here and there, small dialogue alterations. Just about all of the music has been altered; rather than securing the rights to the original songs used in the episodes, Anchor Bay has thrown in some ridiculous would-be "muzak" in their place. And while this might seem to be the greatest crime committed in the creation of this set, it isn't. Amazingly, Anchor Bay has gone ahead and done something even stupider (and far easier to rectify, as it wouldn't have cost a whole bunch of money for music licensing): the episodes are all out of order. They're not in production order. They're not in broadcast order. No, the shows are in a totally invented, totally arbitrary third "DVD order" that pays little attention to the dramatic arc of the season. This means that Season Three's two-part finale, "Loc'd Out (Partners) Part One" and "Part Two," in which the fate of one major character is decided and another's hangs in the balance, isn't what closes out the disc. That would be a lame show-of-the-week-style episode called "Next Victim," where Booker goes undercover as a college radio shock jock. Why the change? No reason that I can detect, though I would love to know. For fans of the series, the DVDs aren't being faithful to the original source. For folks who are experiencing the series for the first time on DVD, the continuity is basically destroyed.
Though the quality of 21 Jump Street: The Complete Third Season is already compromised nearly beyond repair, I should point out that both the audio and video components of the disc are treated fairly. The show is getting on in years -- almost twenty years old by now -- and wasn't all that slickly produced in the first place, but the image is decent. Sure, it's alternately soft or faded or grainy in spots, but it's probably the best we can expect. And with the exception of those god-awful music changes, the 2.0 audio track does a good job of reproducing the show's sonic palette. It's still clear that Anchor Bay has grown bored of releasing Jump Street, however, as even the one or two commentary tracks we had come to expect from the previous two seasons (from costar Peter DeLuise, and very entertaining) are missing here. They haven't even included the usual trivia notes on the disc jackets. There is literally not a single extra on the six-disc set.
There's little chance that in today's television-savvy culture many new fans will be converted to 21 Jump Street -- it's too much a product of its own time. That would make sets like 21 Jump Street: The Complete Third Season marketable only to existing fans of the show (including yours truly), and Anchor Bay has seen fit to alienate even that miniscule niche out of sheer carelessness. Please, Anchor Bay, take better care of the Jump Street fans. You know we're out here, or you wouldn't bother releasing the show at all. There are still two seasons left to go, and you must right these wrongs. Depp deserves better.
Review content copyright © 2005 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Anchor Bay
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 930 Minutes
Release Year: 1988
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Fan Site