A lot of people are quick to dismiss 21 Jump Street as a hackneyed hour-long crime drama that represented only the worst of 80’s TV. Even star Johnny Depp once said that he hated it, saying that he was treated like a “product.” Way to bite the hand that fed you, Johnny.
Aside from being one of the most over-rated actors of all time(yeah, I said it), Depp was lucky to be on such a cutting edge show(yeah, I called 21 Jump Street cutting edge, too). I mean come on, really, when have you ever seen Depp show more emotional range than stoic and brooding?
The show centered around five undercover cops and their captain, “Captain Fuller,” and ran from 1987 to 1991 on Fox. These cops weren’t your average undercover narcs, though, no no. They all looked really young so they primarily infiltrated criminal activity involving teens. The series was created by Stephen J. Cannell, who also wrote and created such hour-long crime dramas like The Rockford Files, Hawaii-5 O, Wiseguy, and The A-Team, so you’re bound to have a bit formulaic feel to it, but that’s what made 80’s TV so great. It was simple: you had your characters, a problem, and then a resolution. The storylines and plots didn’t get as convoluted as today’s Lost or The Shield(which is also a terrific show), and you didn’t have to take notes to follow. Each episode’s premise was simple: cop goes undercover, cop faces hardship, cop comes through at the end. It was 80’s TV simple. An easy little hour to escape.
But what made 21 Jump Street different was how it brought what was then “underground” type music and fashion to the forefront, and showed you what cool was before you knew it. When Johnny Depp and Peter DeLuise went undercover as the “McQuiad Brothers,” you got your first look at two primetime characters different from the norm: ripped shirts, leather jackets, combat boots, and headbanger attitude. When they weren’t undercover, they still rocked 80’s pseudo-underground fashion with blazers-over-tee’s, black vests, and grungy flannels. All this was accentuated with highly-unpopular, non-mainstream music of the time. Bands like R.E.M., Concrete Blonde, The Cure, and Public Enemy made their television music debuts as 21 Jump Street storyline supplements.
Though watered-down, the series did touch on many significant teen topics like sex, drugs, gangs, and of course– rock and roll. Jump Street was also responsible for setting actor Richard Grieco onto the world. He played Detective Dennis Booker, the newcomer to the group and the resident bad boy who eventually got his own spin-off, Booker. Even Booker‘s fashion and style mimicked Jump Street‘s, with its Billy Idol theme song and its mod-grunge-alternative wardrobe fittings.
Admittedly, in 21 Jump Street‘s latter years, when they began replacing original cast members with new, they began straying from its original style and becoming a watered-down version of its original watered-down version. But it is those first formative years that Jump Street will be remembered for. The style and music that they adopted weren’t the styles and music that mainstream America embraced at the time, but they are the styles and music that America has been influenced by today. Today’s popular contemporary rock artists look like the children of those who raged against the machine in the 80’s, and it was nowhere else but 21 Jump Street that mainstream America first got its glimpse of it.
Although Depp may be unhappy with his start in Hollywood playing baby-faced Officer Tom Hanson, the series no doubt had a hand in allowing for his success, along with co-stars Peter DeLuise(Officer Doug Penhall), Holly Robinson-Peete(Officer Judy Hoffs), Dustin Nguyen(Officer Harry Ioki), and Richard Grieco. The show also boasted a veritable who’s who of young[-ish] Hollywood guest stars: Jason Priestley, Sherilyn Fenn, Mario Van Peebles, and Christine Elise(to name a few).