21 Jump Street - Season One Review

FOX Television was just starting out in the late 80's when it decided on taking 21 Jump Street as a launch title. The idea was penned by Stephen J. Cannell, made famous throughout the 70's and 80's with such hits as The Rockford Files, The A-Team, The Commish, Wiseguy, Renegade, Prophet and many many more.

The show was innovative for its time. Aimed at a demographic audience of 11-19 year olds its purpose was to provide an education to the viewer, warning them about the dangers of drugs and to provide help with cases such as rape and pregnancy, issues that were not as freely tackled and certainly not seen by a younger generation on any currently syndicated show that was as hard hitting. Largely thanks to a hip, young cast the show channelled itself well and its success would carry on for a further four seasons.


21 Jump Street introduced us to four young and relatively unknown actors. Johnny Depp was called into the series as a last minute replacement for Jeff Yeager, who had been originally cast as Officer Tom Hanson, but despite his reportedly good acting ability he wasn't well suited to the role. Depp brought a much needed change of attitude for this tardy role and due to his passion for trying new things he took his character to places that many thought he wouldn't be able to achieve. But that has always been Johnny Depp as we know him, his ability to take on challenging roles and succeed has made him one of the most loved actors in Hollywood today. Holly Robinson was drafted in as the intelligent officer, Judith Marie Hoffs - a strong willed young woman who faced prejudice and often found herself involved in cases that would affect her on a personal level. On a brief note Holly also sang the main theme tune, along with backing from Depp and DeLuise.

For comic value we saw Peter DeLuise, the large and loud prankster who could be friends with anyone and always be there for the long haul. Finally there's Harry Truman Ioki (Ioki for short), played by Dustin Nguyen. Ioki joined the Jump Street programme early on and is a dedicated officer who has high ambitions to make Sergeant and further his career. Ioki is very much a by the book man, which often causes frustration between his fellow officers, who would rather rush out headlong to catch their criminal. Ioki would share a close, brother/sister like relationship with Hoffs, and when called for would stick by his friends in the unit.

The chemistry between the main cast is excellent and the show wouldn't work half as well if this wasn't the case because some of season one's earlier episodes are particularly ropey, featuring some poor performances from the supporting players and some accompanying lines that are most awkward. Although 21 Jump Street was a great conception it was clear for the first five or six episodes that the series wasn't as daring as it should have been. And it didn't help matters that one of its major stars was unable to adapt to a TV lifestyle.

Actor, Frederic Forrest - a favourite of Johnny Depp and the reason he took on the role was used to movie making. When he jumped onboard (no pun intended) the new series to play Captain Jenko he didn't realise just how gruelling the shooting schedule in British Columbia would be and after just six episodes he was written out of the show in what has been described as a mutual understanding. It's not that Frederic Forrest doesn't do a good job in the series but his hippy-like character goes against the grain of the show and it isn't until later that things really begin to change.

Cue Steven Williams, known to many as Mr. X from Chris Carter's phenomenally popular The X-Files. Williams gives a much harder edged performance that the show needs, pushing his officers to the limit and retaining loyalty and respect from them, even if they might not always agree to his decisions. The series definitely picks up and as the small chapel that serves as their home and office is given a makeover the pace changes for the better and the storylines suddenly become more demanding.


The main problem early on however is that the storylines, while tackling some important issues are sloppily written. The pilot episode is quite a drag and not a good introduction to the series by any means. Later on the "who done it?" element becomes nothing more than clichéd and obvious as the series adopts a common rule that suggests the least likely person to commit the crime would be the culprit, and so for many episodes we can sit there and confidently guess who the criminal is within the first five or ten minutes. The show is rarely mysterious, instead it’s more focused on its NOW attitude, style and self importance at delivering a message.

When 21 Jump Street originally aired it would often have a message at the end of some of its more important shows. For example one particular episode that dealt with drug abuse offered a call number for viewers in a similar position to ring. Later it would offer abuse help lines, accompanied by a small scene from the stars, who would basically tell those watching to look after themselves and never be afraid to seek help. The show did succeed at getting its message across and in a time when such issues were hardly dealt with outside of higher certificate rated productions it became a familiar and appreciated part of the series. By today's standards I'm not sure how well this would work but given the influential nature of its stars 21 Jump Street served as a series that featured great role models and people who you would want to have as friends and listen to for advice.

The fashion - yea I was getting to that part. 21 Jump Street is very much a product of its time. Unfortunately it can never escape its garish look that featured some of the most outrageous clothing (that yes, was considered fashionable at the time) seen in a TV series. Magnum had his Hawaiian shirts, Crockett wore his bright pink shirts but 21 Jump Street took things to a whole new level. The 80's was about big hair, big clothes and being just about as rebellious as you could be. Whether it's a good or bad thing 21 Jump Street captures all of that. Hoffs has the giant hair, Ioki has his ridiculously outlandish silk looking shirts and David Byrne style suits, with Hanson and Penhall leading the way in leather and tight fitting jeans. Despite its cringe worthy appearance, one must look past the "coolness" of the 80's era and appreciate the show for what it became. Part of the reason that it becomes slightly difficult to watch at times is due to this, which only requires that the viewer adapt to the situation and while most of it goes by relatively well some of it remains unintentionally hilarious.

If 21 Jump Street has one main weakness though it is due to its lack of character development. Aside from Depp's character who features predominantly in the pilot's opening and whose background is explained early on there is little else to gain from our main cast. It wasn't until season two that characters like Penhall would open up and Ioki would get far more interesting storylines, including his true heritage, unlike many of season one's lacklustre efforts that barely touched upon the real inner workings of the important roles portrayed.


The DVD

Anchor Bay Entertainment present all 13 episodes from 21 Jump Street's first season in a 4-disc set, accompanied with a small booklet. The set comes in a book style case, much like the one used for the Alien Quadrilogy, with four, clear disc holders housed in a slip case.

Picture

The series has been given a poor treatment for its debut DVD release. Not forgetting that the show is 18 years old I believe that it should still look a lot better than it does here. Anchor Bay acquired their masters from Stephen J. Cannell Productions so by rights they should have been great, unfortunately that isn't the case. It is evident that these are not original material but later edited versions that feature enough tape lines to suggest they may be broadcast recordings. Every episode features a heavy amount of cross colourization which results in unnatural, yellowish flesh tones that aren't very flattering, as well as poor outlining. The image retains a decent amount of detail and night time scenes manage to look good without too much loss in clarity but there is far too much pixelation and murkiness to make this stand out. There is a certain amount of grain present which ads to the grittiness of the series and is probably the only acceptable thing about this. The aspect ratio of 1.33:1 is as originally filmed.

As a note to fans things get a little worse. The recordings used here have been subjected to editing, back when the series was aired. Although I used to watch the series many years ago I cannot recall if the mild swearing was left intact but this does appear to be a later edited version and the actual words being said are easily read and makes you wonder why they were censored in the first place as they are mild to the extreme. This makes for some distracting viewing at times and on a further note these episodes have also had a little of their violence trimmed. Unfortunately these masters were used for the R1 release also, so we're stuck with it, perhaps for eternity.

Sound

We have an option of 2.0 or a newly mixed 5.1 track. I'm really tiring of these gimmicky tracks as they're a waste of time and effort, effort which should be put into other areas. This isn't a very solid remix and for my moneys worth I stuck with the original 2.0 track which more than does the job. The featured songs feel more prominent than the actual dialogue but all round things are clear and generally pleasing.

Anchor Bay have received complaints in the past when it comes to not providing subtitles on their releases and they continue to disappoint here.


Extras

It's nice to see a little bit of effort put into the extras side though it comes as no surprise that Johnny Depp doesn't appear to give his thoughts. Anchor Bay make up for that with the addition of some good interviews which can be found on disc four.

Audio Commentary with Peter DeLuise (On Episode 7: "Gotta Finish the Riff")
Peter DeLuise revisits 21 Jump Street after 17 years (this was recorded in April '04) and manages to remember quite a lot. He talks about working with the cast and getting up to mischief on set as well as telling us just how difficult he used to be to work with. There are some very interesting things to learn also and this is a particularly good episode for him to be doing as he explains the transition of the show, from losing Frederic Forrest and gaining Stephen Williams.

Interview with Stephen J. Cannell (17.21)
The writer and producer of the show talks about the series conception at great length, with some interesting facts, telling us about how the show ended up being based on a real "bi-programme", whereby young looking officers are picked from the police force and sent undercover in schools. He further elaborates and says how they even based the chapel setting on real life. The actors all get a mention and we learn about the casting sessions amongst a few other things.

Interview with Holly Robinson (17.56)
Holly doesn't seem to have aged a day. Here she discusses in brief her acting background, including her stint on Howard the Duck which led to her going for an audition for the series. She mentions about relocating to Canada for shooting and fondly remembers hanging out with her cast mates, before going on to provide a lot of substantial information that Cannell neglected to mention.

Interview with Dustin Ngyuen (16.57)
Dustin Ngyuen enjoys remembering his time on 21 Jump Street as we see on his face. He talks about his character which includes his strange fashion sense and subsequent development and like Holly before him talks greatly about the cast and how close they all were. He also mentions how the series' ethnicity worked well and that it wasn't a stereotypical series with different cultures catered for in obvious ways.

Interview with Steven Williams (13.45)
Steven talks about getting the gig for the series after finishing up on The Equalizer and moving to Canada. He's not shy to praise his acting in a joking manner and his enthusiasm is brought across well. Talking about the series handling of specific issues he ends up finishing by feeling a great sense of joy in doing what he does.


Overall

21 Jump Street is a series that you need to stick with. It starts out far less compelling than it ends up being. Featuring a huge assortment of 80's tunes (all of which I’d wager have never been heard outside of the series), loads of now famous guest stars, fashion that some may find offensive and great performances, including plenty of humour from the main cast it is a series worth checking out just in case you missed it first time around.

I'm a little disappointed in the presentation as I believe better masters are out there but we have to make do with what we have and in all honesty this was one series that I never thought would ever see the light of day on DVD, so we should be appreciative of that at least.

Film
7 out of 10
Video
4 out of 10
Audio
6 out of 10
Extras
5 out of 10
Overall

6

out of 10

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