Johnny Depp has a baby face, so no one takes him seriously as a beat cop. But he’s so talented (and cute) that the police department doesn’t want to let him go. Thus, he gets to be in a special program for baby-faced cops (basically becoming a detective even though he was a beat cop .25 seconds ago) that is run out of an old church (located a Jump Street) with an ex-hippie captain and some super hip fellow officers.
This show was awesome. The movies that use its namesake and back story are similarly awesome–managing to lampoon and celebrate the series at the same time. But for now, let’s focus on the 1987 series (even though I cannot wait for 23 Jump Street).
Tom Hansen (Johnny Depp) gets his first case as a Jump Street cop and it’s a real doozy. He has to become a soldier for the War on Drugs in a suburban high school where a tough gang of drug pusher that look like backup dancers for The Jacksons’ Victory tour rule the school with an iron fist. Or should I say, a leather fingerless-gloved fist.
Usually when I write these posts, I review the episodes instead of relying on my memory. This episode, however, is so embedded in my mind that I can probably recount the whole thing to you right now with no external reference points. You see, I first started watching 21 Jump Street at two and three o’clock in the morning on weeknights in my sophomore year of college while I was building and designing props in my dorm room. I guess I could have worked in the shop, but I was already spending most of tech week in the theater, so I ended up going home when I was too tired to stand up anymore. Then I would sit on the hard carpet of my single door room with my Sobo Glue, Bristol, paint, and God knows what else, relying only on sheer force of will and this 1980’s police drama to keep me awake. There’s an odd thing that happens to your mind when it is on the brink of hallucinatory exhaustion. For a moment before you collapse into a sleep-induced coma, everything become incredibly sharp and focused. And that’s why I can tell you this plotline in detail today.
These drug dealers are the drug dealers that everyone warned you about and worse. That dude in the red jacket is Waxer. He’s the ring leader of this whole enterprise and he’s got a scrawny rich white boy totally hooked on dope. That kid’s name is Kenny and Tom Hansen’s job is to become his new best friend, body-guard, and also arrest those drug dealers. Tom is pretty nerdy in real life, but as an undercover guy he has to be tough enough to deal with drug dealers and hip enough to appeal to teenagers, so he gets a makeover. That’s how you deal with tackling tough crime! (The school of course is totally powerless and at the mercy of the drug dealers, which in my personal experience isn’t far-fetched at all, unfortunately.) But don’t worry, things do quickly become far-fetched in the best possible way.
Kenny’s a brat and you’ll definitely hate him, but the fact of the matter is he’s a drug-addicted kid and that’s sad no matter how you slice it. Kenny really does his best to kick the habit because he loves his family, doesn’t want to waste his life, and (I believe) generally recognizes that his being a huge dick to everyone he knows. Unfortunately, Waxer’s got him on the hook for a ton of money in addition to wanting to sell him drugs forever so as to keep that debt going. Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Waxer, like any good businessman, wants his buyer to make good on that debt, but Kenny (though he comes from a rich family) is having trouble paying off that debt. (No one likes to give money to a drug addicted teenager.)
So here’s where things get weird. Most drug dealers (once again I’m speculating) would either a. beat Kenny within an inch of his life so as to really put the pressure on to give them the damn money b. kill Kenny because he is more trouble than he’s worth or c. stop selling Kenny drugs on a deficit because he is not good for it and not worth messing with because he is a rich white kid whose parents have more connections than even the most badass high school drug dealers. I get it, they are a scary gang, but the are not a cartel. Waxer is creepy and aggressive, but he’s definitely like seventeen years old with very limited higher connections–which makes it even more plausible that Waxer would have ditched this Kenny situation a lot earlier.
But this is television and even though Johnny Depp is charming and wonderful, the War on Drugs still needs to tell us to stay away from dope and eat our Wheaties. So Waxer and his gang break into the family home in the late afternoon, while everyone is sitting down to dinner. They proceed to hold everyone at gunpoint with shotguns–which seems to be an insane commonality in the 21st century but for 1980’s high school drug dealers, it seems to be a bit much.
Okay now things get a bit hazy for me. I know I said I didn’t need any reference points, but I’m just drawing a blank. Oh well, is how I remember it however (in)accurate that may be. Kenny steals from his dad,or steals from someone, or does something like majorly obviously bad as a direct result of this home break-in. This leads to a come to Jesus talk with Tom, and Kenny renews his resolve to stop using drugs. Meanwhile, Waxer has pretty much figured out that he has gotten all he can from Kenny and needs to get rid of him. Kenny meets Waxer one day in the locker room and relapses, but doesn’t realize that Waxer has sold him a speedball. (I’m pretty sure Waxer is trying to take the last of his money and straight up kill him at this point.) So Tom has to rescue Kenny at the last-minute as he is overdosing in the locker room. Then they have another very important and life-changing chat in the hospital room, and Tom tells Kenny he seriously has to stop doing drugs this time. Then he gets to go to rehab. All’s well that ends well! Right? That’s what the War on Drugs taught me.
(Sorry if you love 21 Jump Street and I messed up some significant details! Like I said, this is how I remember it, and obviously my mind is pretty sharp at 3 am!)
Very Special Lesson: Drug dealers will stalk you. No, I mean they will literally stalk you.