In the eyes of American English movie enthusiasts, the 21 Jump Street movie appeared to be a revival of the beloved '80s TV series featuring Johnny Depp. While it retained the fundamental concept of undercover cops posing as teenagers, it leaned heavily into comedy rather than drama. To the casual viewer, it might have seemed like just another Hollywood remake, albeit a notably well-executed one. However, what most people didn't grasp was that hidden within the film's plot lay an astonishing twist—it wasn't a mere reboot, but a sequel to the original TV series!
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The first clue to this revelation surfaced when the film's protagonists, Jenko and Schmidt (portrayed by Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill), were assigned to Jump Street and informed that the police were "reviving a canceled undercover police program from the '80s." On its own, this line might be dismissed as a setup for a meta-joke about unnecessary remakes and reboots, rather than a confirmation of being in the same universe. Even the appearances of the original cast members, like Holly Robinson Peete, didn't make this connection entirely clear. While they referred to her by her original character name, it felt like a quick nod. The same applied when Dustin Nguyen, who played Ioki in the series, appeared on the TV in the hotel. They were watching a movie starring Dustin Nguyen, a clever Easter egg!
However, everything fell into place during the film's climax: two of the villainous gang members threatening our heroes abruptly revealed themselves as none other than the original series' lead characters, Tom Hanson (Johnny Depp) and Doug Penhall (Peter DeLuise); they were now working for the DEA. And if anyone had doubts that they simply reused the names for reference, Tatum's Jenko informed the old guys that he was in Jump Street, to which Hanson responded, "You guys are Jump Street? That's funny because we were actually Jump Street."
In that moment, the pieces of the puzzle clicked into place. The appearances of Hoffs and Ioki weren't just Easter eggs; the movie was genuinely set 20 years after the original show. The film even included a significant deep cut when one of the gang members mentioned that Hanson "played saxophone at my sister's wedding." In the 21 Jump Street pilot, Hanson was known for playing the saxophone. It's evident that the creators of the movie did their homework!
More importantly, this extended cameo scene provided closure for Hanson and Penhall, something they never received in the TV show. While Penhall got a proper send-off, Hanson disappeared without explanation after the fourth season. Their friendship and partnership were central to the show, and the absence of a proper farewell left the series feeling incomplete. Finally, this closure was granted.
The two characters were shot multiple times by the gang, prompting Jenko and Schmidt to intervene. As they lay on the ground near death, Hanson turned to Penhall and delivered a poignant death monologue:
"Doug, I know sometimes I was a jerk to you when we were undercover. I just didn't feel good about myself. All that stuff I wore like the bracelets, the rings, the tight pants. It was just so that people would think I'm cool. The only approval that I ever needed was my best friend."
This moment, like many others in the film that referenced the original series, carried multiple layers of meaning. It poked fun at the outdated fashion of the original series while also motivating Schmidt's character development. Most importantly, it provided the closure that Hanson and Penhall had long deserved. In the show, they started off at odds with each other but gradually became inseparable. This was particularly poignant considering Hanson's troubled past, having lost his father before the events of the show. The fact that he only sought approval from Penhall spoke volumes about their friendship.
This continuity continued into "22 Jump Street," albeit in a small joke during the end credits. The credits listed a series of potential sequel titles, including "Jump Street Generations." This implied that Jenko and Schmidt would team up with original series characters Ioki and Booker, played by Richard Grieco. In a delightfully indirect way, this suggested that Dustin Nguyen's character seen on a TV screen in the first film might have been Ioki on some deep cover assignment, or he simply rejoined the force after pursuing acting. Whatever the case, it provided a more interesting conclusion for the character than simply being written out without explanation, as was done in the original show.
It's worth noting that Booker's brief appearance with Jenko in "22 Jump Street" was taken from a longer deleted scene, which included an extended joke about why Booker/Grieco should never have left Jump Street. While it was primarily a joke about Grieco's career, it did shed light on Booker's character and his spinoff series, especially his transition to working as a campus security guard after leaving the police and joining a private company.
For diehard "21 Jump Street" fans, some details might not align perfectly with the original series. For instance, Penhall left the force in season 5 to care for his adopted son, Clavo. However, it's conceivable that he returned to law enforcement when Clavo grew up or after co-owning a bowling alley didn't pan out. The most glaring continuity issue is that the deaths of Hanson and Penhall contradict a season 4 clip-show episode titled "Back from the Future," in which the two characters lived to old age. But rather than attempting to rationalize this discrepancy, it's better to simply ignore that episode in favor of a more satisfying narrative.
What truly matters is providing thematic closure for Hanson and Penhall and offering hardcore fans a glimpse into the lives of the main characters after their time at Jump Street. They couldn't remain undercover in high schools forever. Hanson and Penhall continued to use their undercover skills for more extended and perilous assignments. Hoffs appeared to take on a more supportive role in the police force, although the proposed female-led "21 Jump Street" spinoff film might explore her character further. Ioki returned to solve at least one more case, while Booker's directionless life mirrored the uncertainty of his spinoff series.
For most viewers of the movie, these intricate details would likely pass by unnoticed. Despite the original series' success in the '80s, "21 Jump Street" wasn't a cult TV show, and few details from it lingered in pop culture beyond the fact that Johnny Depp was in it before achieving stardom. Moreover, a movie reboot of a cop show isn't typically expected to maintain continuity. This isn't "Star Trek," although there may have been at least one "21 Jump Street" fan in the theater, taking notes and wondering if Johnny Depp would show up to prevent Nero from unleashing the red matter and unraveling the fabric of the "21 Jump Street" universe (hint: it was me).
So, why did the movie bother being a sequel? Well, you can attribute it to the influence of the media and Johnny Depp's star power. According to a Blu-ray extra, from the moment Jonah Hill signed on for the movie, he faced questions about whether Depp would appear in it. Depp was also fielding the same inquiries, and the idea reached directors Chris Miller and Phil Lord that he might be interested in a cameo. After experimenting with various ways to include him, it was decided to bring Depp back solely for the purpose of humorously killing off his character.