It’s hot tonight, and I’m ready tonight.
Remember 21 Jump Street, that show about cops going undercover as high school students to fight crimes and social issues torn from the day’s headlines? Sure you do. Well, in the show’s third season, it introduced rebellious cop Booker (Richard Grieco, If Looks Could Kill) to stir things up a little. The character proved popular enough for a spin-off, dropping the high school setting and replacing it with corporate America.
Dennis Booker used to be a cop, but now he has no badge and is stuck working as a bouncer in a crappy dive bar. His former Jump Street boss arranges an interview for him with the Teshima Corporation, which has an opening for an investigator to work on various in-company cases.The stuffy suit-and-tie wearers at Teshima don’t know what to make of Booker, what with his black leather jacket, earring, and motorcycle. This includes Booker’s always-serious boss Chick Sterling, (Carmen Argenziano, Angels and Demons), and ice queen supervisor Alicia (Marcia Strassman, Welcome Back Kotter). Booker’s only friend at Teshima is his down-to-Earth assistant Elaine (Katie Rich, Red Dragon). He’s later joined on many of his cases by outrageous troublemaker Suzanne (Lori Petty, Tank Girl).
This episode list has a mysterious bloody thumbprint on it:
Our hero is down on his luck, with his only hope being the uptight jerks at Teshima. He doesn’t think it’s the right place for him, but he changes his mind when Elaine asks for his help in keeping an innocent man out of jail.
• “The Pump”
Booker gets a little too involved while investigating some gang-related crimes, and a cop friend of his is injured. Is Booker so addicted to the adrenaline rush of crimefighting that he’s lost his judgment?
• “Raising Arrizola”
An old enemy of Booker’s is out of jail. He says he’s gone straight, and is now a legit businessman. When his men have an ugly run-in with a homeless kid who happens to be Booker’s pal, Booker gets more and more suspicious.
• “High Rise”
When a group of heavily armed bad guys take over Teshima tower and hold everyone hostage, John McClane, uh, I mean Booker finds himself alone in the building. He’s the only one who can stop them.
• “All You Got to Do is Do It”
Alicia’s crazy ex-husband shows up, abducting their daughter. She wants to keep the incident quiet, so she enlists Booker to help. As the two of them work the case, they get to know each other.
• “Bete Noir”
A modern-day black widow has married twice, only to have both wealthy husbands die in “accidents,” with her cashing in on the insurance each time. Her new husband is an important Teshima client, so Booker goes undercover as a needy Good Samaritan to see if she’s up to no good.
• “Flat Out”
A key witness in a high-profile trial involving Teshima makes a run for it, and Booker has only 72 hours to find her and bring her back. That’s how Booker meets Suzanne, who becomes a regular fixture in his life after this.
OK…on my DVDs, there’s no sound on this episode. I did a little searching online, and haven’t encountered anyone else with this problem, but buyer beware nonetheless.
• “The Red Dot”
A pregnant woman hires Booker to find the deadbeat who got her pregnant. It seems like a simple job, until bullets start flying and people get killed. The more Booker investigates, the more dangerous it gets.
• “Who Framed Roger Thornton?”
Three trendy yuppie types offer Booker a reward if he can find out who killed their business partner. Suzanne gets involved as well, hoping to split the reward with Booker. Will she really help him, or just get in his way?
Everyone at Teshima gets a termination of employment notice, except for Booker, who gets a promotion. Now Booker has to track down the computer whiz responsible for messing with everyone’s lives.
• “The Life and Death of Chick Sterling”
Everyone at Teshima is distraught after mega-boss Chick is murdered. Booker investigates, even though he’s ordered not to, and learns a lot of surprises about Chick’s past.
• “Love Life”
A prostitute is accused of murdering an important Teshima client, and the evidence against her is overwhelming. Booker, however, believes her when she says she didn’t do it, so he posts her bail and sets out to prove her innocence.
• “Black Diamond”
Booker hits the slopes, with Suzanne in tow, going undercover as a ski instructor, while searching for a world-class cat burglar. Just wait until you see Booker’s all black ski outfit.
Booker’s high school sweetheart invites him to their class reunion—where 1950s music is inexplicably playing—and he’s frustrated to learn that she’s in a romance with an old rival of his. When the guy turns up missing, Booker’s ex has nowhere to turn but back into Booker’s arms.
• “Wedding Bell Blues”
A friend of Booker’s is getting married. Problem is, he’s a con artist who’s gotten involved in some shady dealings, and now some thugs are chasing him. Naturally, he comes to Booker for help.
• “Molly and Eddie”
A repo man who takes his daughter with him on jobs (Aww, family togetherness) hires Booker to find a stolen car. Dad then disappears, leaving the kid with Booker and Suzanne.
A psycho that Booker put away back in his cop days escapes and is now after Booker, playing creepy mental games with him. Fearing that the creep could jump out from any corner, Booker’s paranoia could cost him his job—or his life.
• “Mobile Home”
Three squabbling siblings believe their dead father’s fortune is hidden in his old house. Problem is, the house is now owned by a friend of Booker’s. So the three of them manage to—are you sitting down?—steal the entire house.
• “Booker’s Dad”
Booker’s father, whom he hasn’t seen in 14 years, has resurfaced, and police believe Booker and his mother are in danger. As Booker investigates, numerous family secrets are revealed.
This isn’t the greatest TV show ever made, but one thing’s for sure—it has style. Most episodes, especially the early ones, have a montage sequence set to music with all sorts of hip camera work and editing. Additionally, scenes are bathed in blue lights with heavy shadows. This being the late 1980s, there are a lot of neon and strobe lights on display as well. The whole thing just looks cool.
This sense of style continues with the main character. Booker’s opening credits might as well read, “Starring Richard Grieco and co-starring Richard Grieco’s hair.” He’s got the image, with the jacket, earring, torn jeans, and yeah, the hair. Oh, that hair. Those bangs go from here to next Tuesday. But you can’t base an entire series on mere style. At least, not a good series. Grieco has the “bad boy” swagger down to a science, and he has no problem with shooting an icy glare at villains. During those scenes when Booker shows a little emotion, such as romantic longings or grief over fatally shooting someone, Grieco does a fine job.
Story-wise, the scripts are hit or miss. The basic concept here is the “fish-out-of-water” scenario, with the streetwise tough guy Booker having to associate with corporate white collar types. They’re all about following regulations and filling out paperwork, while he’s all about action and gunfights and knocking dirtbags unconscious with a single punch. This contradiction should make for all kinds of fun interactions between the characters, and the “corporate investigator” conceit should open up different kinds of cases outside of the usual cop show setting. It’s strange, then, how many episodes start off with Booker taking time off away from the company to work on some other case, usually involving some old acquaintance of his. They’re taking the character away from the unique setting, and these episodes are not as fun, and more by-the-numbers crime drama.
Once Suzanne enters the picture, things brighten up. I know Lori Petty’s style of acting isn’t for all tastes, but she’s a perfect fit for this show. Her verbal sparring with Grieco brings out the best in them both, and there’s a lot of energy when the two of them are on screen together. In the second half of the season, once she becomes a regular, Suzanne is given less to do. I’d like to think that if the show had made it to a second season, we would have gotten more great Booker/Suzanne interaction, but we’ll never know, will we? As for the rest of the cast, Strassman and Argenziano each get one episode in the spotlight. Otherwise, they’re there to set up each plot and then receive some wisecracks from Booker at the end of each episode. Katie Rich gets sidelined by Lori Petty halfway through the season, but she fills the supportive sidekick role nicely.
Check out some of the famous to semi-famous names who showed up in various guest spots: Don Cheadle (Traitor), Mariska Hargitay (CSI), Thomas Hayden Church (Sideways), Marcia Cross (Desperate Housewives), Maura Tierney (NewsRadio), Denise Bixler (Linda from Evil Dead II: Dead by Dawn!), and Don Davis (Stargate SG1) as two different characters. Behind the scenes, one of the show’s producers was TV legend Stephen J. Cannell, and writers and directors include Rob Bowman (Reign of Fire), David Nutter (The X-Files) and Glen Morgan and James Wong (Final Destination). Also, 21 Jump Street cast members Stephen Williams, Peter DeLuise, and Holly Robinson make multiple appearances. No Johnny Depp, though.
Now the bad news. You’ll notice that this four-disc set is labeled “Collector’s Edition” and not “The Complete Series.” Two episodes are missing. The first is the second half of the two-part crossover event with 21 Jump Street. To see that episode, you have to buy the Jump Street fourth season box set. Another episode, which I’m sure wasn’t cheesy at all, guest starred music legend B.B. King and had Booker searching for King’s stolen guitar. This episode isn’t on this set, allegedly because of expensive music rights. Speaking of which, another glaring omission is the removal of the show’s original theme song, “Hot in the City” by Billy Idol. It’s been replaced by a similar-sounding but much more awful rock tune, featuring the laughable lyrics, “It’s a hot summer night, and I’m ready tonight.” Allegedly, several other songs in various episodes have similarly been replaced by more generic music.
The picture quality bounces back and forth from broadcast quality at some times to glaringly soft and grainy at other times. The audio is pretty rough. It can be hard to hear what actors are saying, and the background music often overwhelms the dialogue. There are no bonus materials of any kind. Finally, as long as I’m complaining, when you open the package, you discover that the discs are not in the usual sturdy plastic trays, but instead they’re barely held in place in four flimsy paper envelopes. What the heck?
The DVDs are bare bones, awkwardly packaged, missing two episodes, and don’t have the original rockin’ theme song. What’s left, though, is a fun ’80s detective show.