This review is really for all the box set seasons of the show and not limited to season 4, though I do have a few thoughts on that particular season. I'm assuming if you are buying season 4, then you already own the previous 3 seasons. After marathon watching seasons 1-4 and finally the Blackout episode of season 5 (via the internet, just so I could see Johnny Depp's last performance as Tom Hanson) I have to say that the show should have ended after season 3. The first three seasons were great as was Johnny Depp. He made the show, for the most part. You can tell that he was extremely talented so early in his career, gifted in both in drama and subtle comedy.
Reading other reviews here, I agree with some and disagree with others. I admit that I watched the show purely because I'm a Johnny Depp fan so naturally I was very disappointed with the fact that season 4 barely had him in it and when he was in an episode, his performance was, for the most part, weak and almost painful to watch. He seemed so depressed-both in character and out. I did develop an appreciation for Peter Deluise who was also great to watch but couldn't carry the episodes alone. The other actors contributed a lot as well.
I think what was great about the show was the chemistry Depp and Deluise showed onscreen. They were really funny together and even when situations between or involving them were a little more dramatic than comedic, they still pulled it off well. However, as I said before, Johnny Depp is hardly in season 4 and even when he does appear in an episode, his performances were either too brief or too lacking in effort. Even season 3 makes it apparent that Depp was ready to get out but at least we had the Dennis Booker (Richard Grieco) character to fill his shoes a little.
I think this started out as a great show and it is a shame that many scenes were cut when it was put on dvd. I don't know why that happened. I can understand not being able to use the original music since it is expensive to get the licensing rights but there should be no excuse for cutting scenes. If anything, they should've added deleted scenes to the dvd as well as other bonus features like a blooper/ gag reel etc. They did at least show some of that during the closing credits of "Back From the Future." I like that they also got the Peter Deluise commentary on a couple of episodes (not on season 4) but I could not access the interviews with the other actors on my dvd player (again this is in reference to a different season.)
Another problem is that some of the episodes are out of order. This is evident at the end of season 3 when Harry is shot, then the next episode he's fine, then the beginning of season 4 he's back in the hospital. I know other reviewers have already commented on this but I thought I would bring it up again because that really shows a lack of respect for such a great show that they didn't take the time to make these box sets good and complete. Also, when they just inserted the Booker episode in there without any warning I thought there was some error on the disc! They didn't even show the opening sequence to let the viewers know we were watching a Booker episode instead of a 21 Jump St. episode. They even used the 21 Jump St. opening credit instead. And finally the really tacky trick they pulled was to leave out the last episode Blackout and put it on the season 5 box set in an effort to get people to buy it since it was Depp's last appearance on the show.
If you are interested in this show purely for Johnny Depp, then I'd recommend just downloading the season 4 episodes in which he appears- there aren't that many- plus the Blackout episode from season 5 which was not a very good episode by the way. As far as rating season 4, I have to say that overall, by then the show had lost its luster. Most of the episodes were silly and poorly written. It's almost like Johnny Depp's apathy was contagious- the writers and/or producers didn't care either about the integrity of the show.
There were a few notable exceptions with season 4- "Old Haunts in the New Age" was kind of enjoyable- it was like their attempt at some humorous sci-fi stuff. Even Johnny seemed not too depressed to enjoy himself with this one. Plus it was enjoyable to see him doing his DeNiro impersonation from "Taxi Driver." "Stand By Your Man" contained a scene exemplifying the great chemistry between partners Penhall and Hanson. They are having a discussion at the bar and the dialogue and comedic timing and how Depp downplayed it was great, especially since it was one long scene with them sitting next to each other. It was a brilliant shot all done in one take with no breaks. Penhall is trying to explain to a totally bored Hanson about how in high school he was parked at a make-out site with a chick but he doesn't quite know how to tactfully word it so Hanson tries to speed up the story by filling in the words for him with metaphors such as touching her "corsage" and then her "other corsage" and Penhall wanted her to see what Hanson refers to as "the Big Dipper." I'd like to imagine that in real life they had to do several takes of that scene since they surely must've had a hard time keeping a straight face without laughing.
"Mike's P.O.V." is another good episode because it is, as far as I know, the only one we see from the "bad" guy's point of view, hence the title. I'm a fan of Donovan Leitch who appears in this episode and he's the only one from any episode to actually be suspicious enough of Hanson to follow him to the police chapel and thus find out he's a cop or at least associated with the cops. Vince Vaughn also appears in this episode looking a lot younger and thinner but not funny. It irritated me that they cut some scenes out of this episode as well. Plus it is another example of Johnny Depp's I-don't-give-a-crap-anymore performances. Luckily Donovan Leitch's performance makes up for it.
The "Back From the Future" episode is also a classic since it is 50 years later and the gang is old with aging make-up and reminiscing about their days together. Johnny Depp seems to have fun with this one, even mocking his own real-life persona when he yells at the cop who is asking about his personal life and how it's his own business. The last scene where the old coots Hanson and Penhall are bickering like an old married couple is also funny. They reminded me of the two old guys from the Muppet Show who sat in the balcony and bickered.
"2245" is another good episode only because of Josh Richman whose awesome performance makes up for Johnny Depp's crappy one. "How I Saved the Senator" is one of Depp's few season 4 good performances. As each character tells his or her version of what happened in a case by using various favorite movie genres he seemed to have fun playing the silent Charlie Chaplin character and was definitely good at it. It seemed to foreshadow a lot of the talented acting we would be seeing from him in the future.
So, as I said before, this is more than just a review of season 4 but also of the whole show. It was a good show and if you are a Johnny Depp fan, it definitely showcases a talented young actor and not just a heartthrob. If you are buying these box sets purely for him, then I'd recommend buying the first 3 seasons and downloading only the ones he appears in from season 4 plus the first episode of season 5. But if you are like me, you might just want to go ahead and have them all.
It's also cool to see some of the people who guest starred- Donovan Leitch, Vince Vaughn, Josh Richman and many others throughout all the seasons. Keep in mind that season 4 is weak and many of the stories are boring and/or silly with lots of holes in the plots. (I think they ran out of schools in that city to infiltrate.) Depp's poor performances aren't the only flaws from season 4 which is definitely weak. As I said, most of the story lines were lame. It was really a drag that Depp was absent for many of the episodes and even when he was there, he may as well not have been. His character (and Penhall's for that matter) were both losing their appeal and the actors didn't seem to have their hearts in it either- in real life and in character on the show.
A good box set should have lots of cool bonus features too and these have none. I guess that's why they aren't very expensive. Even the cover artwork is hazy- the pictures are out of focus. All 4 of the boxsets look cheap. Even the plastic prongs inside the cases to hold the dvds were broken off on some of them so the discs won't stay secure. I always find this annoying with dvds because loose dvds get scratched more easily. However, I believe these box sets are now out of print so they could be collectors' items some day!