Times Television Critic

“Hanson! Ioki! Penhall! Hoffs! They look like kids. But they’re a unique undercover force. They’re the cops of ’21 Jump Street.’ And they’re going back to school!”

Oh, brother.

Targeted at younger audiences, the new Fox network continues to trickle into April with the premiere Sunday of “21 Jump Street” (7 p.m. on Channels 11 and 6). Recommendation: Skip it.

A production of Stephen J. Cannell (“The A-Team,” “Stingray,” “Hardcastle & McCormick”), “21 Jump Street” has its formulaic roots in “The Mod Squad,” which depicted a special group of cops so incredibly young and hip that they could penetrate the world of young and hip crime.


Ditto these guys. This is another of those one-of-every variety squads. Hanson (Johnny Depp) is white, baby-faced, naive and learning to be street smart. Penhall (Peter DeLuise) is white and already street smart. Ioki is supposed to be Japanese (but is played by Dustin Nguyen, a Vietnamese actor). Hoffs (Holly Robinson) is female and black. Their leader, Capt. Jenko (Frederic Forrest), is an aging hippie who has long, stringy hair and a vocabulary full of such descriptive words as heavy and dude.

All of these people are obviously heavy dudes. They go undercover by day, usually at a high school. Then they return to the abandoned chapel that serves as their headquarters, put on their shoulder holsters (Why?) and report to Jenko, who’s ready with such rousing questions as: “Hey, what’s happenin’, man?” Then they hang out together and stay cool, far out and elite.

It’s dull, but predictable.

The two-hour premiere Sunday introduces the characters, but chiefly focuses on the strait-laced Hanson and his attempts to become hip enough to fit in with his colleagues. By the time he’s through, some very tough high school extortionists wish they’d never heard of him.

You may feel the same way. For one thing, the script is flawed and its attempts at humor clumsily executed. For another, Hanson is written as a real slug, and Depp is a blank. In fact, none of the characters is very credible, and only DeLuise’s wisecracking Penhall (you have to wise crack to be street smart) is remotely interesting.

In line with its strategy of appealing to younger audiences, “21 Jump Street” each week uses the music of a popular rock group as background Muzak. It’s a nice idea whose seeds are in the same music video age that spawned “Miami Vice,” but not nice enough to make much difference.

In the second episode, the cops of “21 Jump Street” go undercover to bust up a drug ring at a snotty boys school. It’s not any better, but it is an hour shorter. Already, improvement.