21 Jump Street

DVD Review: 21 Jump Street Season Three – They’re Getting Long in the Tooth for High School

As the television show 21 Jump Street entered its third season, it became apparent fresh blood was going to be needed. The show, based on the premise of a team of police officers who looked young enough to infiltrate local high schools among the student population, was beginning to have issues among the characters and needed some fresh stories. Johnny Depp was also reportedly expressing a desire to get off the show as he was tired of being a “teeny-bopper”. In addition, some of the actors were beginning to look older than high school students.

Enter Officer Dennis Booker (portrayed by Richard Greico). He is a renegade officer who doesn’t do things “by the book”. His motivation throughout the season isn’t very well-known and he’s often on the outside looking in when it comes to the friendship shared between the original officers. In this respect, he’s more of an adversary for Depp’s character than a replacement in the making.

The original four officers were Tom Hanson (portrayed by Johnny Depp), Doug Penhall (portrayed by Peter DeLuise), Judy Hoffs (portrayed by Holly Robinson), and Harry Ioki (portrayed by Dustin Nguyen). Their Captain was Adam Fuller (portrayed by Steven Williams). Also involved in their adventures (or misadventures) is janitor Sal “Blowfish” Banducci (portrayed by Sal Jenco).

Stephen J. Cannell, the show’s creator and executive producer, seemed to want to stick mostly with the original cast and needed stories that brought the aging cast out of high school. This season the show moved out of high schools on more than a few occasions. Episodes dealing with pregnancy clinics, drug dealing, hazing in college fraternities, shock radio, gang violence, child molestation, and runaways were among the topics brought up throughout the season.

That’s not to say the cast didn’t do a good job, it just seemed as if the show was growing further away from the original premise. It was nice to learn more about the various officers’ personal lives and watch them change and grow. There were many episodes dealing with relationships as Penhall seemed to be ever in flux about his live-in girlfriend and their different visions for their life together. Hanson developed a romantic relationship with an assistant district attorney. Hoffs took a chance on love that ended up almost destroying her. As the season closed, Ioki also seemed to find love.

The new character of Booker was a catalyst for a lot of stories. Hanson believes he is a racist at the beginning of the show, and it’s easy to see why with his no-holds-barred way of speaking. It’s one of the reasons why he is later on so believable as the shock-jock in the episode Next Victim. The stories really play off of each other from the beginning of the season through the end. Greico was given his own show for a while which never really caught on, and soon he was back on Jump Street.

I wish some of these stories had been expanded to two or three episodes. Too many of the situations really need more time than can be devoted to them in just a one-hour show. There are also times when the situations feel forced. A complaint I’ve had throughout the series is how the officers always seem to ingratiate themselves so easily with their targets when they are new to these schools. It’s something that more time would alleviate and get away from the forced feeling many of the stories have.

My other huge complaint is the removal of the original music from the time period. This show was great for hearing music that I’d never heard before or rarely heard in the 80s and it also really gave a feeling for the setting they were in. Now the soundtrack has been replaced by typical “muzak” and it really takes away from my memories of the show.

It doesn’t tackle the subjects in a light-hearted or one-sided way. Who’s Choice Is It, Anyway? about the pregnancy clinic bombings take it from the side of the pregnant girls, the baby’s father, the protestors, the girl’s family, as well as the clinic staff and what they see on a regular basis.

Another stand-out episode was Swallowed Alive where the officers go undercover in a juvenile detention facility. If nothing else, this is a great example of the star Johnny Depp would one day become as he carries the entire episode on his shoulders in dramatic fashion.

The show does not lack in humor, such as the episode where Penhall and Ioki are staking out a “Lover’s Lane” with Ioki in drag and they are arguing like two lovers. The humor usually worked and came in the “B” storylines of the episodes. At the same time, it didn’t take away from the dramatic story being told.

There were some terrific guest stars this season who would later go on to become household names, such as Bridget Fonda, Peri Gilpin, Christopher Titus, Mario Van Peebles, and Larenz Tate.

This was a season that needed some new life to it in the series and it got it. Yet as the season closed out, I wondered how much longer the stars could believably keep playing the roles they were in. There was also the question of how long they would be willing to stay in those roles. It was looking more and more like Johnny Depp wanted to go on to bigger and better things (which we all now know he did).

Still, this is a nice series to watch. I can’t say it would spark the same dialogue with my teenager that the earlier seasons did, but it’s still not afraid to take on subjects of concern to young adults and their parents and show that there are no easy answers in life.


Fun With Animals – New officer Dennis Booker teams up with Hanson in a school where they are looking for the perpetrators of a series of racial attacks at the school. Hanson doesn’t like Booker and believes he might be in with the kids who are involved in the attacks.

Meanwhile, Doug Penhall stays with the intelligence division where he transferred at the end of last season. Hanson visits him to talk over his misgivings about his new partner.

Hanson (to Booker): Hey what are you, Morton Downey?

Slippin Into Darkness – Hanson and Booker get caught up in a “Guardian Angels”-like vigilante group while trying to nail a drug dealer. When the dealer makes a threat against the local leader of the “Rangers”, Hoffs and Ioki go undercover with the group.

The Currency We Trade In – Penhall is transferred from intelligence division to high crimes where he is put on the case of a local well-known sportswriter accused of child molestation by his ex-wife. The course of the case causes Doug to re-examine his career path as well as his life. The end result is that he comes back to the Jump Street division.

Hanson begins dating a deputy district attorney.

Peri Gilpin (of Frasier) guest stars in this episode as Penhall’s partner.

Coach of the Year – When a star high school football player is crippled in an accident on the field, Booker and Penhall go undercover to see if it’s a case of negligence on the part of the coach.

Who’s Choice Is It, Anyway? – Hoffs goes undercover as a pregnant woman trying to decide about her pregnancy as the team investigates a rash of vandalism at the clinics. It brings up a secret in Hoffs’ background she hasn’t talked about before.

Meanwhile, in an attempt to boost Blowfish’s ego, Booker sets him up on a date with a stripper.

Hell Week – The officers go undercover on a college campus to investigate the gang-rape of a student in a fraternity house. The fraternity boys claim it was consensual.

The Dragon and The Angel – Ioki infiltrates a Vietnamese gang who are shaking down local store owners. This leads to a crisis of conscience as he becomes friends with the people at a time when he is loneliest and feels somewhat comfortable among people of his own culture. He is also given the opportunity to make contact with his grandmother, still in Vietnam. (Nice the way they set him up with him hitting the button on his answering machine and hearing “No new messages” until the end when he hears that there’s a letter from his grandmother.)

When Ioki must commit a crime to join the gang, Fuller, Hanson, and Penhall set up a liquor store for the holdup, hoping to prevent injury to any innocent bystanders. When shots are fired, Hanson gets hit in the butt with a shot. Tests later show the bullet came from Penhall’s gun.

The Blue Flu – When the police union rejects the final offer from the city, the officers stage a “sick out”. Fuller must partner up with a rookie pushed through the Academy, while the rest of the officers consider other options if their situations become long-term or permanent.

Swallowed Alive – Hanson, Penhall, Booker, and Ioki enter a youth lock-up facility to try and figure out how heroin is getting inside as well as uncover the truth behind a murder that occurred in there.

It has the effect, however, of making the officers – Hanson in particular – question whether it’s right to send these kids they bust into such a terrible place.

What About Love – Penhall’s girlfriend throws him out of the house they share. After making the rounds of all his friends, he winds up bunking in with Ioki.

Hoffs learns that her new lover, an auditor with the city, is married. He harasses her until she confides the situation with Fuller.

Wooly Bullies – A bully targets Penhall as he’s trying to infiltrate a group of hackers at a high school. Each of the officers tells the story of their encounters with bullies throughout high school.

The Dreaded Return of Russell Buckins – When Hanson’s friend Russell Buckins writes an expose in a top magazine about the Jump Street program, Hansen gets suspended. In order to clear his name, he goes after Buckins and finds him attending a swanky party of a California politician.

A.W.O.L. – When a young recruit goes AWOL, an old friend of Fuller’s enlists his help in bringing the soldier back before he’s considered to be AWOL. Hanson and Penhall track down the kid at his old high school.

Nemesis – Booker copes with the guilt when an innocent student is killed for being a “narc”. Most of the story is shown in a flashback where we also meet Dennis’ mother. This leads to Booker transferring out of the program (and onto his own show for a while).

Fathers & Sons – When Hanson and Penhall are about to break the son of the new mayor, who has been a thorn in the program’s side throughout the season, they find themselves pressured to back off the case and thwarted at every turn. Mayor Davis eventually steps in and goes after Fuller’s career.

Meanwhile, Ioki falls in love and finds Penhall cramping his style. He asks him to move out. He ends up back at his old loft and truly learns that you can’t go home again.

High High – A prestigious performing arts school is the target of a drug investigation. The officers are sent into various areas of the school. Michael Des Barres guest stars as one of the teachers in the school.

Blinded By The Thousand Points of Light – The Jump Street gang goes undercover as homeless runaways to find out what happened to a missing teenager. Bridget Fonda guest stars as one of the runaways.

Loc’d Out Part 1 – This was actually the season-ending two-part episode for the third season. Hanson and Ioki are undercover with street gangs when Ioki is seriously wounded. Hanson’s misgivings about the case disappear as he attempts to learn who’s responsible for Harry being shot.

Loc’d Out Part 2 – When Hanson is fingered for the murder of a police officer, he hides out. Eventually, he is caught and tried for the murder, although it seems as if there is a lack of evidence that can directly attribute the murder to Hanson.

Next Victim – In an episode that predicted the rise of the neo-con movement, a college shock-jock has his car fire-bombed. Booker takes over his show and is courted by the on-campus white supremacist group and ends up sounding like many of the popular neo-con pundits of today.

2 replies »

  1. I have the same problem when I watch my inherited copy of “Grease,” a movie I bought on Blu-ray for Mom to keep her entertained when she was sick. The script and setup ask us to suspend disbelief and pretend the “kids” at Rydell High are kids. John Travolta was, at 23, one of the youngest cast members, but Stockard Channing was 33, Jamie Donnelly was 30, and Olivia Newton John was 29. Seriously? I love tough-girl Rizzo, but she does not look like she’s 17-18. (“West Side Story” from 1961 has the same issue, but it somehow pulls the they-look-like teens trick a bit better. Spielberg’s version, which I really want to see, has a younger cast that looks more authentic.)

    • It started out okay. But by this season it’s getting harder and harder to buy the “cops in high school”. There were other things I could nit-pick about, such as being able to ingratiate themselves with the bad guys so quickly, but it was how television was done back then.

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