Tag Archives: Stephen J Cannell

U2 Jump Street: Before “Friends”

Penhall & HansonWith 22 Jump Street opening last weekend I thought it would only be appropriate to open up the digital archives and take a look at the source text, the original TV series, the pre-meta, pre-spoof, sincere-to-a-fault 21 Jump Street. And when thinking about what to write about I was surprised to learn that I never spoke about one of the most vivid memories of 21 Jump Street from my childhood, something that has stuck with me for decades, even if I wasn’t sure it was real until I just confirmed it. Something that, as a consequence, always bothered me about Friends. And that is the use of U2’s “With or Without You.”

It was easy to think that I had made it up. My memory said that the series on the fledgling Fox network once featured an episode in which Officer Doug Penhall (the incomparable Peter DeLuise) travels to El Salvador to locate his missing wife (in my recollections, however, it was not El Salvador – I’m pretty sure I didn’t even know that El Salvador existed at the time – I just had a vision of Penhall going to some Spanish-speaking place, or, perhaps, due to the outbreak of the first Gulf War during that time, the Middle East somewhere). And I recalled that the emotional climax was set to “Without or Without You,” a song that I hadn’t put in context yet, by a band I wouldn’t really be aware of until they had a pretty popular video from the Batman Forever soundtrack. But that couldn’t have actually happened right? This the show in which Johnny Depp goes undercover as a high school student to break up an amateur weed-dealing ring, in which Peter DeLuise was still somehow eligible for the varsity football team, in which Holly Robinson-Peete cornered the market on denim. So there couldn’t have been an episode in which Penhall and Hanson get embroiled in a Latin American revolution, right? With machine guns and rebel armies and jungles and explosions? Nah. In which Penhall grieves over his dead wife at her makeshift grave? No. No way. Now an episode in which Hanson is afraid to share chocolate milk with an HIV-positive student? Sure. Richard Greico’s Booker getting super high and then absolutely dominating on the schoolyard basketball court? I’ll buy that. But not an epic, emotional, tragic trek through a Latin American nation in turmoil set against the most moving and gut-wrenching song from the Irish Beatles (before the pomposity and pretentiousness of later fare like “Beautiful Day”). We think not.

But it was real! Sure, if you look up that episode now – “La Bizca” (translation: “the cross-eyed”) – and watch on Hulu, or view it on your complete series DVDs (which I know you have), the song has been replaced with some generic stock music. To be fair, it’s amazing that they were able to use it for the original broadcast in the first place, so it would be greedy to expect to fire up your Amazon Prime and still hear the strains of The Edge’s guitar. But, thanks to some intrepid, heroic YouTube users, the original version exists (taken from what we think was a German broadcast, naturally), and it can be seen in its original glory, the way that Bono never intended because he probably didn’t know that 21 Jump Street was a thing.

And when we say “its original glory” we also mean before “With or Without You” was usurped and recontextualized by Friends when Ross and Rachel couldn’t agree on the terms of a “break.” Years after “La Bizca” we remember watching Rachel stare out her fake window in her fake NYC apartment as fake snow fell down and we were immediately bothered by this song being appropriated as the soundtrack to their not-really-star-crossed romance. These two selfish, self-obsessed, entitled yuppies let a little fight and a copy shop girl get between them, and they have the audacity to proclaim this as their theme song, the anthem to their dysfunctional, overwrought, will-they-or-won’t-they romance? That, we recall then and recall now, was very upsetting. The emotional depths of “With or Without You” should be reserved for a Doug Penhall traveling halfway across the world only to learn that his wife has perished in the midst of a brutal civil war, not for a fashion buyer and a whiny guy with a monkey who break up after every petty squabble. It’s an insult to “With or Without You,” and its an insult to the late Marta Penhall. Would you use Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” to accompany Phoebe giving birth to her brother’s triplets? No, you wouldn’t. And this was arguably worse.

And when we say “its original glory” we also mean the manner in which “With or Without You” was used in the television series versus how it might be used in the movies; which is to say without any trace of irony, but instead just dripping with earnestness. The polar opposite of 21 Jump Street the movie (and its sequel), 21 Jump Street the show was hyper self-serious. Sure, you don’t have a series with Peter DeLuise at the forefront and not have your fair share of yuks, but the show did not allow for any degree of winking or self-parody, any even vague allusion to its absurdity. Racism in high schools and a Vietnamese extortion ring and a clown kidnapping his grandson and revolutions in El Salvador, this was never played for laughs, but for very special episodes at best, didactic social commentary at worst. But good or bad, the original 21 Jump Street was committed to the integrity of these stories, and that probably goes a long way towards explaining why Johnny Depp was so eager to flee the Jump Street chapel. It wasn’t the best show – not by a long shot – and it didn’t always do a great job of tackling the big issues – again, not by a long shot – but you can’t say they didn’t aim high. And if their aim wasn’t true – and it usually wasn’t – their intentions were.

Much like, you might argue, a little rock band out of Dublin.

 

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Filed under Count Bleh, Jump Streets Ahead, Must See TV, Nostalgia Corner, The Big Screen, Tyranasaurus Sex

The (mc)A(voy)-Team

We’re doing a bit of a Stephen J. Cannell tribute with this week’s A Newsroom A Day. We like to think he would be proud.

If Will McAvoy is Hannibal Smith, then does that make Charlie Skinner B.A. Baracus?

 

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In Memoriam: Stephen J. Cannell

Fuck. That’s about all we can say about this one.

Back in the late 80s, pre-Simpsons, there were exactly two shows on FoxMarried with Children and 21 Jump Street.  The latter was brought to us by the legendary Stephen J. Cannell.  We were too young at the time to fully appreciate his already cemented TV legacy – creator of The Rockford Files, The A-Team, Greatest American Hero, Baretta, among others – but we knew that we loved his undercover cop drama, and we also grew to recognize the Stephen J. Cannell Productions logo at the end  of his shows as a symbol of quality programming.  In the 80s it ran neck-a-neck with “Sit, Ubu, sit,” for foremost production company tag, but we always found Cannell’s footnote to be the gold standard, a warm, fuzzy blanket, a comforting old friend.  And when we heard that crescendo and saw the typewriter paper flying at the conclusion of later favorites like The Commish and Silk Stalkings, we knew we were in the capable hands of one of the all-time masters, a TV titan.

We’ll leave the in-depth retrospectives and the analysis of his influence on current television to the real critics, those who have a better appreciation for the breadth of his career.  So we’ll just say thanks for the great stories and compelling characters, and we’ll always yearn to see you at your typewriter, finishing a script with a flourish.

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Filed under In Memoriam, Jump Streets Ahead, Nostalgia Corner

Nostaliga Corner: ‘The Commish’ – A desk job? Not the way HE does it

There were a few shows I watched as an eight year-old that I probably shouldn’t have been allowed to view.  WWF(E) Monday Night Raw.  Probably not Married with Children.  Definitely not Silk Stalkings (although it proved popular among the whole family.  Except that we all watched in separate rooms).  Sometimes 20/20.  But one show that aired in the 10pm slot that I think was okay for me, even then, was The Commish.  Why I was watching ABC at 10pm on Saturday nights at that time I’m not sure (perhaps it had something to do with the fact that Growing Pains anchored the two-hour comedy block and failed “TGIF” spin-off “I love Saturday Night.”  Yes, that’s definitely it), but despite dealing in serious crimes The Commish was a show that (I think) had a soft touch and a real heart.

It’s hard to believe that before Michael Chiklis starred as a bad-ass shady cop on The Shield, looking like a cross between Bruce Willis and Andrew Zimmern, he played a doughy, lovable, balding police commissioner of a sleepy town in upstate NY, whose biggest problem was finding his pen

(as it turns out, the network was unsure about casting Chiklis, and apparently later asked him to stuff his shirt and not shave his head in order to look older/schlubbier.  TV magic!)

Keep reading: Lieutenant Cyd Madision AND Stephen J. Cannell!

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Filed under Growing Pains, Jump Streets Ahead, Nostalgia Corner