21 Jump Street
By Joyce Slaton,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Slick, somewhat dated police procedural for teens.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this TV show.
There's a clear message that crime is bad and the most appealing folks on the show are the good guys. Social issues are front and center in the show, from gang issues to AIDS awareness. Crime may occasionally appear glamorous to teens, i.e. criminals are sometimes good-looking and appealing.
Positive Role Models
The show's heroes are cops and thus on the side of law and order. They're also young and cool looking.
Violence & Scariness
Violence, drugs, prostitution, even murder are confronted head-on from the stance of "crime doesn't pay"; criminals may brandish guns but there is no bloodshed. Violence is always followed by consequences, and the characters in danger are almost always teenagers and adults.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Some references are made to dating, love, and romance, as well as to characters (male and female) being attractive. There is no nudity or onscreen sex, but there may be mature discussions, such as one episode that features a teen who accuses an adult of impregnating her, and another where a young girl becomes a prostitute.
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Characters occasionally insult each other ("dork," "spazz"), and the general tone between the officers is one of mockery. Villains on the show occasionally use words like "freaking" or "crap."
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Many episodes revolve around drugs and drinking, from the perspective of these things being negative. Criminals are often shown drinking and smoking or at bars.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that 21 Jump Street is basically Law & Order for teens, and much more serious than the 2012 theatrical release of the same name. Battle lines are drawn clearly: The show's police officers are on the side of good, the criminals on the side of bad. There is very little moral ambiguity; it is easily evident who viewers are supposed to root for. This is a police procedural show, so there is a "crime of the week" on each episode; parents may be concerned about some of the crimes spotlighted, such as one episode where a young baseball player is menaced by villains out to murder him, as well as one where one of the show's officers is named in a paternity suit leveled by a high-schooler. Many kids will find the dated fashions, music, and expressions hilarious; parents may find themselves explaining outdated slang.
Where to Watch
Based on 2 parent reviews
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Great messages for kids with an exciting "cool" air
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What's the Story?
A group of baby-faced city cops are recruited for a special assignment: Working undercover out of the chapel located at 21 JUMP STREET and infiltrating groups of young criminals. "Kinda like Fast Times at bust-your-buddy high," quips the soon-to-be-a-giant-star Johnny Depp, who is recruited into the titular squad in the show's pilot. Yeah, Johnny. Kinda like that. Kinda like that, crossed with any of the police procedural shows currently on television; only back in the '80s when this show premiered on the then-fledgling Fox Network, it was unique. Each week the squad tackles a crime in a different milieu (high school, a bar that serves underaged drinkers); by the end of the episode, the crime is solved.
Is It Any Good?
It's a little dated (oh, those '80s hairstyles and fashions!), and will probably look pretty silly to teens who have already gobbled up teen-detective fare like Veronica Mars. After all, it was created to be ultra-hip in a different era; that's always a recipe for later goofiness.
But it's also kinder and gentler than many modern shows, created in a time before school shootings and well-publicized teen gang activity and crime. The violence is muted (although deaths do occur, mostly offscreen), there is no blood, and teens are presented as mostly respectful to adults and law-abiding. Some of the themes are mature (child abuse, rape, suicide) putting this off-limits to little siblings, but this would be a good, relatively safe choice for teens who are interested in police shows, mysteries, or just getting a look at the young, stunning Johnny Depp.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about the crimes that occur on the show. How likely is it that the crimes depicted on the show to affect you in real life? What are some ways your family stays safe?
What would you do if you witnessed a crime? Whose responsibility is it to stop crime? Are bystanders who watch criminal activity and do nothing responsible for what happens?
The police officers on the show pretend to be younger than they are in order to go undercover. Is it okay to pretend to be someone else for a good cause?
- Premiere date: April 12, 1987
- Cast: Holly Robinson Peete, Johnny Depp, Peter DeLuise, Richard Grieco
- Network: Fox
- Genre: Action
- Topics: Adventures
- TV rating: NR
- Last updated: April 13, 2023
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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