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Death Slot: ‘Booker’

Last time we looked a mostly lost and obscure spin-off from a hugely popular series… lets do that again.

21 Jumpstreet (note the title as written, there is no space so stop calling it “21 Jump Street”, the logo clearly shows this is one goddamn word) was the first series that the brand new FOX network greenlit back in 1986 when they were about launch (it was the first made but the 3rd aired and so many sites call it the first show ever aired on FOX when it fact it aired a week AFTER the pilots of Married… With Children and The Tracy Ullman Show but why should we let facts get in the way of the internet right?).

Anyway 21 Jumpstreet was a monster ratings success for the then new FOX network and even had a breakout star in Johnny Depp who would be a teen idol for many years (the other cast members as well, but not the degree of Depp).

The premise of 21 Jumpstreet was an uncover unit of the police (where the show is located is never made clear) where the officers look like teenagers (well, Hollywood versions of teenagers) and they would go undercover in schools and youth gangs where other officers could not infiltrate. With a seemingly endless number of schools and the fact that no one ever seems to recognize these cops the show tackled many social issues in it’s time from drugs to child porn to rape to arms dealing to gangs to AIDS and even homeless prostitution.

As the actors aged to the point that even Hollywood definitions of what passes for a teenager started to wane the show moved from schools to colleges, gangs and other areas of undercover work. It was around this time at the end of Season 2 that Johnny Depp was creating a real ruckus on the set and making it clear he no longer wanted to be part of this series (he had always resented the teen idol ideal and felt it robbed him of being taken seriously as an actor).

Depp was still under contract though and part of him refused to not do his best on camera but the producers felt they needed a contingency plan in case they lost Depp. That plan was Richard Grieco as the newest member of the Jumpstreet crew Officer Dennis Booker.

Booker was almost a clone of Depp’s Tom Hanson at first to the point of being a clear shot across Depp’s bow that he is indeed replaceable but after a couple of episodes Grieco was allowed to make Booker his own and really separate the connotation that he was just the next Johnny Depp.

The Booker character was reckless and had a quiet simmering anger underneath him and this gave the writers ample opportunity to put Booker into situations where Depp’s Tom Hanson would not fit to the point that the episode “Nemesis” was written for Depp to star in but he found the premise so offensive the writers were able to slip Booker into the role effortlessly (in fact Depp refused to even be in the episode at all).

Upon viewing it seems to work better with Booker, honestly, as it’s a story of needing to go to a dark place to get results and the Hanson character was always kind of portrayed as pretty straight laced.

Other episodes such as “Next Victim” had Booker going undercover at a college radio station as a race baiting shock jock and you could never see the Hanson character fitting into that role. Booker was the rebel character in the show and despite any behind the scenes issues he quickly became a fan favorite. Despite being a favorite character though, Booker never made it to the opening credits as he was always credited as simply “Guest Star” in every Season 3 episode. In some of these the main Jumpstreet characters from the intro didn’t even appear but he was just still a “Guest Star”.

Stories differ here depending on who you ask but the reason Booker left 21 Jumpstreet is either he was so popular on the show that FOX wanted to try to capture this in his solo adventures or the other story goes that Depp put his foot down and said that it was either Richard Grieco or him on the show and FOX tried to have it both ways.

Like I said, depending on who you ask.

Anyway the Season 3 finale had Depp’s Hanson framed for the murder of a police officer, but Booker happens to know for a fact it was a corrupt cop working for a land developer who killed the other officer. The season ended with Hanson outed as a cop and in prison for life.

Season 4 began with Booker doing some really shady things to prove Hanson was innocent and getting the real killer (the evil land developer got away though). Those shady things got Booker kicked off the force and into his own series while Hanson would return to the main series.

Booker the series has Booker as a civilian trying to take on bouncer work to pay the bills. After he accidentally gets involved in a high profile murder case he gets hired by the Teshima Corporation as their new head of security and investigation. Of course he comes to work with his punk rock hair and leather jacket and does not fit in at all with the stuffy corporate atmosphere but he gets results time and again so they allow him to do things his way.

These early episodes also show Booker being unable to accept that he is no longer a cop and the mental issues that come with that.

After a few more episodes (and numerous appearances by 21 Jumpstreet characters) there is a full blown crossover episode that ties up the loose ends of that evil land developer who got away previously. Part One was on Booker and Part Two was on 21 Jumpstreet (at the time

Booker aired on Sunday nights and Jumpstreet aired on Mondays so this worked out perfectly).

After this story the Booker series mostly severs all ties with the parent show. No more appearances by the Jumpstreet cast and even the Teshima Corporation is pushed to the background most of the time. From here on the show seems to have been “retooled” into more of a wacky Private Detective show with only Teshima stuff used to kick the plot into gear. Most of the supporting cast are never seen again and a new supporting cast are brought in, notably Lori Petty as Booker’s new assistant.

The tone is also considerably lightened with most the second half of the season either being more adventure stories or outright comedy episodes. This change in tone did not help the series and it was cancelled after it’s single season. Booker was not folded back in to 21 Jumpstreet though as FOX had just cancelled that series as well, although it would live another season of First Run Syndicated episodes minus the bulk of the name cast members.

The character of Dennis Booker appeared in a deleted cameo in the godawful 22 Jump Street movie and then that would be about it.

For decades they had been trying to make a Booker movie with announcements every couple of years that Grieco was set to make a Booker movie and then nothing ever came of it. Why a Booker movie before a 21 Jumpstreet movie I don’t get, but whatever.

The Booker series is fun to watch and even the second half of the season episodes work on their own mostly but my god do NOT attempt to watch these on DVD or any streaming service.

First off all of the music for both 21 Jumpstreet and Booker is missing from the DVD’s including Booker‘s theme song “Hot In The City” by Billy Idol plus every episode is the syndicated version missing 2 minutes of footage per episode also the Booker DVD set is beyond worthless on it’s own. First you have the missing music but you are also missing 2 goddamn episodes. The episode “Someone Stole Lucille” where Booker was tasked with getting back B.B King’s stolen guitar is not included as they could not clear the rights to King’s trademarks (I am not kidding) and the first part of the 21 Jumpstreet crossover is missing… kind of. It’s not on the Booker set but it is included on the 4th Season 21 Jumpstreet set… with a 21 Jumpstreet intro pasted onto it. Ugh.

You can find bootlegs of the original FOX airings out there and I would say watch those. Other than the occasional mention of events from Jumpstreet you don’t need to watch that show to understand the Booker series. Besides in this you get early roles for (now) famous actors like Thomas Haden Church, Mariska Hargitay, Don Cheadle and even Tawny Kitaen.

So check out the originals if you can find them.

 

 

 

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