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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

21 Jump Street: The Complete First Season (review)

Oh my goodness, it’s one of my fantasies: Johnny Depp in a policeman’s uniform. He doesn’t last in the blues much beyond the opening minutes of the pilot of this powerfully influential 80s TV series — with that baby-face, he’s a joke on the streets but a hit in the undercover squad headquartered at the titular address. At Jump Street, young cops masquerade as high school students in order to root out car-theft crews, gang crime, teen-porn rings, underage mobsters, and more, which is never as sensational or titillating as it sounds. There’s some awkward fumbling during the first half of this 13-episode 1987 debut season, as if powerhouse creator Stephen J. Cannell (Silk Stalkings) and his teams in front of and behind the camera didn’t quite know what to do with their concept, but after a hasty, rather ignominious replacement of the hippie-dippy Jump Street captain played by Frederic Forrest with Steven Williams’s stern father figure, everything finally gels. The writing sharpens, the cast gets comfortable with one another — Depp (Finding Neverland) and the equally charismatic Peter DeLuise in particular develop a rapport that will fuel much of the series’ humor — and the show takes a giant leap, well on its way to becoming the fondly remembered Generation X touchstone it is today, exploring with a clear eye the complicated teen culture of the day and injecting it with an uneasy dose of adolescent insecurity: it could well be the definitive teenage nightmare to discover that your new friend in school is actually spying on you, looking to narc you out. The sound and image are a bit fuzzy in places, and the extras are limited to a few interviews and audio commentary (by DeLuise) on only one episode, but the broadcast material alone is more than worth a look.


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MPAA: not rated

viewed at home on a small screen

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