Favorite tv shows: 21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

I came to this series late. I don’t know if it was the fact that we could only get the network over the air (look it up kids) and it was a lousy reception, or I initially dismissed it as a stupid teeny bopper cop show (that may be an actual quote). However, once the show was in syndication, I gobbled it up. I remember taping episodes that would air in the mid afternoon, and when I got off work in the evening, I could not wait to watch the show! (I also remember bugging my wife–we were newly married then–to watch the show one night after work and she simply did not want to because that’s all we did after work. Apparently I was a bit obsessive about 21 Jump Street.) Mostly what I loved about the show was the characters. Johnny Depp’s Tom Hanson was my favorite, but Peter DeLuise’s Doug Penhall was the comic relief and Hanson’s best friend. It was also one of the first shows that I can recall where hot button topics of late 80s/early 90s relating to kids my age and a bit younger were addressed, like AIDS, date rape, and homophobia. One episode still sticks in my mind after all these years: in it, a student with AIDS offers Hanson his milk, but Hanson, feeling very uncomfortable being around this high school kid, refuses, making a lame excuse. Later, Hanson is told that he was in no danger of “catching” AIDS and that he should have accepted the boy’s offer.

Also, while I didn’t find this out until much later, Depp, who wanted out of his contract with the show, did everything he could to get himself fired. For example, he let his hair grow out and his character started to become a bit eccentric, but the thing about it was that it worked for me as character development! I thought that Hanson was simply becoming better at acting like a high school student to be able to do his job better, and I just liked the quirkiness that Depp was adding.

Because I liked this show so much, I refused to watch the Jonah Hill/Channing Tatum movie of the same name. But my wife was watching it one night, and despite my best intentions, I actually enjoyed the film. SPOILERS IF YOU HAVEN”T YET WATCHED THE MOVIE!!! The best part of the whole movie, however, is the scene near the end when Hanson and Penhall show up, played by Depp and DeLuise! I could not believe that Depp agreed to do that bit part. Of course, it meant that he was finally done with the character that helped launch his career because Hanson ends up dead.

I really have been wanting to rewatch this series to see if it holds up.

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