“We never thought we’d find a place where we belong. ” The opening words of the NAMBLA credo? No, the line sung by Holly Robinson Peete during the opening of the 21 Jump Street theme song. The one hour drama about four young cops and their radical Captain, set in an American metropolitan city, was ostensibly the launch pad for Johnny Depp’s acting career.
In 21 Jump Street, cops who looked too youthful to be taken seriously are sent to the undercover unit located in an abandoned chapel on Jump Street. There, Captain Richard Jenko (Frederic Forrest — who was replaced in later episodes by Steven Williams as Captain Fuller) preaches peace, love and Miranda warnings. With capers usually taking place in area schools, the Jump Streeters bust kids for all sorts of creative diversions like “smash and grab” robberies, stolen cars and, of course, drugs.
As the season progresses, the detectives become better friends, better at their jobs, more fearless and eventually, more likable. Judy Hoffs (Peete) is the cool and beautiful African American chick who takes Depp’s character, rookie Tom Hansen, under her bedazzled-denim-jacket-clad wing, to transform him from straight-laced polo boy to 80’s badass complete with earring and leather jacket. Peter DeLuise, son of late comedian Dom DeLuise, is Doug Penhall, a big, affable guy with a heart of gold. Rounding out this melting pot crew is Harry T. Ioki (Dustin Nguyen), a Vietnamese immigrant turned cop. In many scenes, his mullet steals the show.
Why was this show great? Well, from a strictly professional perspective, it wasn’t. It was, however, fun. Granted, I was absolutely obsessed with it when it first aired, but that was largely due to my tween angst crush on the future Captain Jack Sparrow. Why is this show watchable almost 20 years later? The actors. Even at the onset of his career, Johnny Depp had a charisma, a brooding depth seldom seen in newbie tv actors.
Hansen’s labored struggle to transform into an adolescent troublemaker and good cop is almost as endearing as Penhall’s oafish antics and Hoff’s insecurity sheltering bravado. While navigating the cruel halls of public and private high schools, and learning to trust each other along the way, Depp, DeLuise, Peete and Nguyen made a watchable team that brought fans like me back every week.
Widely regarded as one of the shows that helped make Fox a contender in the network arena, it’s somewhat surprising that it took almost 20 years for the DVD’s to be released. The four disc set that includes cast interviews and commentary is a welcome trip back to the late 80’s when fashion had no limits and Steve Winwood was searching for a “higher love.” This 13 episode maiden season even boasts such guest stars as Blair Underwood, Sherilyn Fenn, Josh Brolin and Jason Priestly.
Depp fans and 80’s survivors alike will enjoy this rewind and find themselves humming the theme song at work the next day. If you can’t get enough, all five seasons are available on DVD and on August 25, 2009, spin off show Booker, featuring an even more brooding Richard Greico, will also be available on DVD.