Do you Remember 21 Jump Street?

Carolina

Carolina

Argentinian Carolina has an extensive movie background in the cinematic universe. She is our resident TV analyst and a seasoned expert in global streaming platforms. She showcases her comprehensive knowledge through her love for Netflix 'Originals', Frozen, The Good Place, and The Dragon Prince.

Once you reach a certain age, nostalgia becomes a recurrent feeling. For this reason, currently, there is a whole movement in the entertainment industry exploiting this.

If you remember 21 Jump Street (the TV show, not the films), you are probably a nostalgic GenXer like myself.

Although the series began airing in 1987 in the US, in my country, it was in 1991. I was in my second year of high school, and Johnny Depp became one of my crushes. I had a crush on the whole cast.

21 Jump Street was our favourite TV show at home, with my parents enjoying it as much as I did. Also, the topics always centred on issues with teenagers, so they were the perfect trigger to have important conversations as a family.

Whether you’re old enough to remember 21 Jump Street or too young to even know about it, let’s look at this iconic series from the 80s and 90s.

Nostalgia or not, 21 Jump Street is among the best police procedural TV shows.

A little bit of history

The creation of 21 Jump Street is somehow tied to the launching of the Fox Network as the fourth private air TV station in the US.

In the ’60s and ’70s, Fox was already established as a strong TV producer with some hits on air, such as Perry Mason, Batman and M*A*S*H.

They produced these shows for ABC, NBC, and CBS, the three major broadcast television networks in the US.

So, in 1985, Fox planned to launch their channel to compete with the big three. The plan became real on October 9, 1986, with a limited launch under the name of Fox Broadcasting Company (FBC).

After some trial and errors, the official launch was on April 5, 1987, with a rebranding strategy by shortening the name to just Fox.

One of the first hits of this launch was 21 Jump Street, released on April 12, 1987. Among other series such as Married with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show, 21 Jump Street started leading the prime time, hard work for a new channel and new shows.

The series also was the vehicle for new talents, the most prominent being Johnny Depp, whose character of Tom Hanson made him an instant teen idol.

The series was also a pioneer in using Vancouver, Canada, as a filming location. The success of 21 Jump Street helped to establish this city as a regular location to shoot TV shows.

What’s 21 Jump Street about?

The premise of 21 Jump Street is original within the procedural genre. The series follows a group of police officers with the special characteristic they look younger than they are, commonly passing as teenagers.

This feature made them eligible for a special program called 21 Jump Street Chapel. The name of the program is because the operative base is an abandoned church at 21 Jump Street.

The program consists of sending young-looking police officers on undercover missions to investigate different types of crimes in high schools, colleges, juvenile detention centres, etc.

The cases involve drug trafficking, child abuse, hate crimes, addictions, homophobia, AIDS, and sexual promiscuity.

The gist of the series is not only in their undercover job but also in how these young police officers are affected by the cases they must solve.

As young people themselves, they start with optimism and hope to save teenagers from their doomed circumstances. However, reality always proves to be harder. With the passing of episodes and seasons, these optimistic officers begin to struggle with the B side of their profession.

Topics

Lately, the entertainment industry is divided between pleasing the demands of the part of the audience asking for “inclusive” and “diverse” content, and offering content that the industry wants.

The debate, and sometimes war, seems to have no end in the cancel culture era.

You may wonder what this has to do with 21 Jump Street? Well, every time all this debate about inclusion starts, it amuses me because the 80s is full of TV shows and films with “inclusive” topics and diverse casts, without even having a goal to be like this.

21 Jump Street is a great example of how in the 80s and 90s, TV shows approached different “inclusive” topics with the needed realism quote.

The series has a diverse cast, with three people of colour in the main roles and a strong female character. All of them with the right development and backgrounds.

The topics, as I already mentioned before, deal with common issues involving teenagers. Although almost 40 years have passed, these topics are still relevant. Sadly, drug trafficking, abuse, addictions, homophobia and hate crimes in some instances have intensified.

21 Jump Street was a pioneer in touching on sensitive topics such as AIDS and homophobia, something that currently could be average, but in the 80s was considered taboo.

Because of the young audience target, during the original broadcast, some episodes have a PSA at the end, featuring the cast members raising awareness about certain difficult topics.

Characters and Cast

The series focuses on a group of four officers working undercover in high schools and places with problematic teenagers.

The ensemble cast features Officer Thomas “Tom” Hanson Jr., played by Johnny Depp, always paired with Officer Douglas “Doug” Penhall, played by Peter DeLuise.

Sergeant Judith “Judy” Hoffs, played by Holly Robinson and Sergeant Harry Truman “H.T” Ioki/Vinh Van Tran, played by Dustin Nguyen.

During the first season, they work under the orders of Captain Richard Jenko, played by Frederic Forest. Jenko was a hippie living in a forever Woodstock who often clashed with Tom Hanson.

However, he was a good mentor and leader who was tragically killed in the middle of the first season, creating a great impact on the group. I still remember how shocking his death was when I saw it for the first time.

Jenko was replaced by Captain Adam Fuller, played by Steven Williams. Fuller has previous experience working in the New York City police, and his objective is to make the 21 Jump Street program something more serious and strict.

During seasons 3 and 4, Detective Dennis Booker, played by Richard Grieco, appears as a recurring character. Grieco, who came from the fashion model world, became an instant new favourite among the audience.

Booker is sent by internal affairs to investigate the 21 Jump Street program’s feasibility.

After the departure of Johnny Depp in season 5, new characters joined the cast in the main roles. Officer Joseph “Joey” Penhall, Doug’s brother, played by Peter DeLuise’s real-life brother, Michael, and Officer Anthony “Mac” McCann, played by Michael Bendetti, were the new additions to the show.

Episodes and Seasons

21 Jump Street originally aired between April 12th, 1987, and April 27st, 1991, consisting of 103 episodes split into five seasons.

The first season is the shortest one with only 13 episodes, and season 4 is the longest one with 26 episodes.

Spin-off

Due to the success of Dennis Booker’s character, Fox launched a 21 Jump Street spin-off called Booker. Airing between September 24, 1989, and May 6, 1990, the series ran for one season, with a total of 22 episodes.

In this series, Booker is hired by the American branch of a large Japanese firm to investigate suspicious claims related to insurance.

Some cast members from 21 Jump Street made guest appearances in Booker, like Peter DeLuise, Holly Robinson, and Steven Williams, among other names that later became popular figures.

These include the likes of Jason Priestley (Beverly Hills 90210), Thomas Haden Church (Ned & Stacey), Mariska Hargitay (Law & Order: SVU), Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives), and Don Cheadle (House of Lies).

Booker didn’t get the success Fox expected for the 21 Jump Street spin-off and cancelled the series after one season.

Feature Films

When Sony Pictures confirmed in 2008 a 21 Jump Street film adaptation, my first thought was “Another classic from the 80s ruined by a film remake.”

Thankfully, I had to eat my words because, first, the two film adaptations are not remakes but set in the series continuity. Second, they’re great, fun, and a good homage to the source.

Sony hired the directing duo of Phil Lord and Christopher Miller (The Lego Movie). 21 Jump Street was their live-action debut since they were from the animation field. The film was written by Jonah Hill and Michael Bacall and was released in 2012.

Hill also served as producer and starred in the film. The story follows Morton Schmidt, played by Johan Hill and Greg Jenko, played by Channing Tatum, two police officers reassigned to revive an old program from the 80s consisting of infiltrating high schools as students.

Their mission is to stop the spread of a synthetic drug called HFS (“Holy Fucking Shit”) at Sagan High School.

Holly Robinson is part of the cast reprising her role of Officer Judy Hoffs from the TV show.

While Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise made uncredited cameos with their respective characters. The film received positive reviews from critics and audiences alike and had a good performance at the box office, making a sequel possible.

22 Jump Street is the sequel released in 2014 with the same team of directors, producers and protagonists. This time, Schmidt and Jenko must go undercover to a college to find the supplier of a new drug. The film gained positive reviews and good performance at the box office as the first movie.

Besides following the main structure of the TV show, both films have a good balance of humour and action, with all the typical tropes of a buddy cop comedy.

Curious Facts

Every TV show has curious facts unknown to the common audience, except for hardcore fans.

The most prominent curious fact is although 21 Jump Street was the vehicle for Johnny Depp to stardom, he despised being part of the series because his goal was to be a film actor.

However, he stayed on the show for four seasons, leaving in season 5. The fun fact about this is that 21 Jump Street became a success thanks to Depp’s performance, although he did all he could to boycott the show.

After Johnny Depp’s departure, he was replaced by two new characters. Tom Hanson was so big he needed two to take his place. Officer Joseph “Joey” Penhall, played by Michael DeLuise, and Officer Anthony “Mac” McCann, played by Michael Bendetti.

Officer Joey Penhall is Doug Penhall’s brother, and Peter and Michael DeLuise are real-life brothers.

Michael Bendetti, who played Mac McCann, had a slight resemblance to Johnny Depp.

“JUMP!” was the opening song of the series, and it was sung by Holly Robinson, while the backup vocals were done by Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise.

The series has several famous guest henstars. Some were already famous by then, and others became famous later.

Some of the big names that made an appearance in 21 Jump Street are Dom DeLuise, Josh Brolin, Bridget Fonda, Jada Pinkett Smith, Brad Pitt, Vince Vaughn, Shannen Doherty, Rosie Perez, Christina Applegate, David DeLuise, Jason Priestley, among others.

Where is available 21 Jump Street for streaming?

If you want to watch 21 Jump Street, you can find it on the following streaming platforms:

Regarding the films, both are available on Prime Video (Latin America, Europe) and Netflix (Canada).

If the series or the films are not in your country, please check our VPN guides to access content wherever you are.

Summary

21 Jump Street is one of the lost gems from the 80s in the police procedural genre.

It is a series that reached some important milestones, like launching Johnny Deep to fame, being one of the greatest hits in Sunday primetime for the then-new Fox Network, and bringing the procedural genre to the young audience.

As anything from the 80s, 21 Jump Street brings nostalgia to a generation that grew up watching it.

If you’re from that generation, I hope you enjoy this trip to the past as much as I did.

Of course, if you’re younger, this is a great chance to discover a series that has become a classic.

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