Rewatching 21 Jump Street! Ooohh, boy, it’s that one. Season two, episode thirteen: “A Big Disease With A Little Name.”
Here’s what happens: Harley Poolish is a teenager with AIDS. His name’s all over the headlines, he’s getting beaten up at school, and he rides his motorcycle with a death wish. Hanson’s sent in to watch the kid’s back.
Here’s Hanson: Harley knows Hanson is a cop, so Hanson gets to play stern authority figure while the laid-back Harley shatters stereotypes about the disease.
Penhall’s prerogatives: He’s got the subplot this week, in which he falls for a marine biologist (!) who says she doesn’t want a gut with a secret life. Then, on their first date, one of Penhall’s ex-girlfriends shows up. Uh-oh!
Undercover blues: Harley is a hemophiliac, who got AIDS from a bad blood transfusion. A fight or car crash could kill him, so Hanson has his hands full. As he and Harley get to know each other, Harley’s devil-may-care attitude drops, and Hanson sees how troubled and torn up he really is.
Goin’ to the chapel: Fuller actually cracks a few jokes while horsing around the Hanson and Penhall at the start of the episode, dropping the “angry chief” shtick and showing how much he’s become part of the Jump Street “family.”
Torn from today’s headlines: Although not mentioned by name, the episode is clearly inspired by Ryan White, the so-called “AIDS kid.” White was an adolescent who got AIDS from a bad blood transfusion, and went on to become a spokesman of sorts for the disease. He appeared all over television, education folks about the disease and breaking down a lot of stereotypes. Like the kid in this episode, White and his family had to fight for many years to keep him in school.
Jumpin’ or not? Sheesh. Instead of handing this topic in a sensitive manner, the show’s creators instead decided to tackle in an extreme, “in-your-face” way, and, as such, the whole episode falls apart. The “you can’t get AIDS from a handshake” speech is fine, but then it gets even crazier, with characters ruminating about God, and even taking pot shots at Ronald Reagan for allegedly not doing anything about AIDS. The episode is trying so, so hard to be heartbreaking, but it ends up just uncomfortable. Not jumpin’.
Next week: Ante up.
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