I’ve had a great time going through all the TV shows that Netflix streams instantly and picking different ones to try out. 21 Jumpstreet stuck out for me because it had a young Johnny Depp in it. After doing some reading I discovered that the first season which premiered in 1987 helped the then-new Fox network by being a pretty big success. The funny thing, though, is that I have absolutely no memory of this show existing from my younger years. Maybe my folks didn’t like Fox for some reason, maybe it’s because I was 4 and it wasn’t syndicated in Toledo. Who knows?
The premise is that Depp’s a young 20-something cop who gets put on a special squad of other young looking cops who get sent into high school situations undercover to try and solve crimes. They city they’re in is never mentioned but it must have an incredibly high population because it seems to be the land of a thousand high schools, with each episode taking place in a different one.
The series started out with just a handful of detectives, including Dom DeLuise’s son Peter and Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper’s Holly Robinson (who also sang the theme song!) under the tutelage of Captain Richard Jenko played by Frederic Forest. Halfway through the first season, though, they kill off Jenko and Steven Williams came in as Captain Adam Fuller. With Fuller’s entrance, the small unit became much bigger, but our core group remained the main stars.
The main thing I was surprised and impressed by for a show coming out in the late 80s is how many broad societal problems the show tackled. You’ve got everything from drugs to pornography getting talked about and investigated in these episodes. Sure, these things are commonplace elements in television now, but you’ve got to appreciate the balls it took to break away from conventional wisdom and try to address teenage high school issues. Now, I would imagine actual 80s teens would call bullshit on some of the fashions and slang, but watching these episodes almost 25 years later, they’re still sadly pertinent.
Depp might be the star as the buttoned up Tom Hanson, but my favorite character has to be DeLuise’s Doug Penhall. I also like Pete’s character, she’s both tough and relate-able. I can’t say there’s any specific episodes that stick out in my mind–I did watch the full season over a month or two–but I enjoyed every episode.
My favorite aspect of the show, though, and the one I can imagine made the show popular for kids who were actually in high school, is watching these people go through the nonsense of school but not actually be a part of it. They might act like they care what the rules of the school are and what the teachers say, but in reality, this is just a job and an illusion for them. Mr. Johnson’s being a jerk in chemistry? No big deal, none of it matters. Some jerk bully is giving you trouble? Psh, not only are you trained to kill but you OWN A GUN! I don’t know if I’m explaining it well, but it’s an element of the show I definitely dug.