You’re an ace cop but you find yourself flashing your driver’s license more than your shield. What do you do? In the case of Tom Hanson (played by Johnny Depp), you join the Jump Street Chapel, where your young looks will work to your advantage. This premise made for one of the Fox network’s first hits, 21 Jump Street.
In the pilot episode, Hanson joined Doug Penhall, Judy Hoffs and Harry Truman Ioki as cops who went undercover as high school students. Sounds a little The Mod Squad-ish maybe, but nothing about this show felt rehashed. The core of the series was its reality—playing neither for cuteness nor melodrama, the show was a genuine drama and the characters were compellingly real. Not only were each of the four officers distinctively interesting, but by posing as different teenagers at different schools every week, they dealt with a variety of situations such as drug use and teen suicide.
Hanson, whose father had been killed in the line of duty, joined the force at nineteen after breaking up with the love of his young life, Laura. Although he was a good cop, his boyish looks ended up botching a case, causing him to be sent to the 21 Jump Street station (actually a converted chapel) to work under Captain Adam Fuller. Like Hanson, Doug lost one of his parents at an early age. Doug’s mother had killed herself when he was six, leaving him to take care of his alcoholic father and his younger brother, Joey. Despite his dysfunctional family history, Doug retained a wry sense of humor that endeared him to the others.
Judy joined the group after graduating from prestigious Sarah Lawrence. Because she was the only female officer at Jump Street, Judy generally dealt with high school girls and situations that she had confronted only a few years before, during her own adolescence. Rounding out the foursome was H.T. Ioki, also known as Vinh Van Tran, who struggled with the fact that he still had family trapped in Vietnam.
In the third season, with the original five cast members still on board, the producers decided to add a new officer in the form of bad-boy Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco). At the end of this season, Hanson was framed in the murder of a dirty cop and was sent to jail. Booker, who had been involved with the case, brought forth evidence to free Hanson, and then resigned from the force. He never really fit in at Jump Street, so he was soon spun-off onto his own show, Booker, in which he became a private detective.
Jump Street started to incorporate the officers’ personal lives into the storylines during the fourth season. Penhall fell in love with and married Marta, who was soon deported to her native El Salvador. Aided by Hanson, Penhall went to El Salvador to search for Marta, only to discover that she had been killed. Marta’s sister, however, convinced Doug to take her five-year-old son Clavo back with him to the U.S. to be raised in safety. Penhall raised the child as if he was his own, helping him to overcome his grief over his lost wife. After this season, Jump Street moved to first-run syndication, and Depp and Dustin Nguyen (Ioki) left the show.
Soon the cast was joined by Joey Penhall, Doug’s younger brother, also a cop (the actors who portrayed the Penhall brothers were also brothers in real life). The two worked together for a while before Doug, in an effort to be a better father to Clavo, retired from Jump Street. Though Penhall remained on the show, his absence was felt in the chapel, so officers Anthony “Mac” McCann, Dean Garrett and Kati Rocky joined the crew. By this time, the officers were also working undercover in colleges. This was the last season of the show, which lost many viewers when the original cast went their separate ways.
Though 21 Jump Street regularly dealt with teen issues and often had one of the cast members addressing the audience at episode’s end, the show was never patronizing to its young viewers. Rather, it was a youthful but intelligent show that characterized Fox’s early attempts at targeting a new audience. And the fact that those youngster cops were awfully cute didn’t hurt either.
2012 saw the arrival of a less than stellar big screen outing with Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum followed in 2014 by sequel 22 Jump Street.
USA / Fox (1987-1990), Syndicated (1990-1991) – 20th Century Fox / x50 minute episodes / Broadcast 12 April 1987 – 17 September 1990 and First run Syndication 1990-1991
Theme Music: Holly Robinson.
Johnny Depp as Tom Hanson
Holly Robinson as Judy Hoffs
Dustin Nguyen as H.T. Ioki
Peter DeLuise as Doug Penhall
Frederic Forrest as Richard Jenko
Steven Williams as Adam Fuller
Alexandra Powers as Kati Rocky
Sal Jenco as Sal Banducci
Richard Grieco as Dennis Booker