Detective Jenny (Johnsonverse)
The series follows the adventures of teenagers in the employ of the UN to uncover criminal activities and arrest and/or kill the people responsible for them, such as drug smugglers, arms traffickers, human slavers, and terrorists.
The comics were critically acclaimed, and directly led to a multimedia franchise, most famously including a television series that ran on WBC's Saturday Night block from June 4, 1994 to December 29, 2001, and again since June 10, 2017, also including merchandise, films, games, soundtracks, a clothing line, and theme park attractions, as well as the equally successful spin-off series Lea & Fran (2008-present) and The Kids of Hills Beach (2012-present), as well as other spin-off comics focusing on other characters that have run at various periods beginning in 1995.
In December 1991, Tammy Jo Johnson sketched five characters while at a Howard Johnson's during a visit at Times Square, New York after seeing five teenagers hanging out. Johnson named the five characters from names she thought up herself (an urban legend postulates that Jenny Smith was named after the character, as she was born during the series' first run; it was confirmed in 2020 by Smith's parents). At that point, she immediately began making a monthly series of comic books based on the five characters. She named the series Detective Jenny after its lead, under the newly-revived Johnson Comics banner (the original Johnson Comics wouldn't come back under Johnson control until the Disney acquisition in 2013), marking the first issues for the label since Phil Stacker had sold the original incarnation and all of its characters and assets to Marvel during his mental breakdown in October of that year.
The comic series was an instant hit, and Johnson started work on a television series in early 1993. The pilot, finished in December 1993, was shown to Tammy Jo's husband, then-Johnson CEO Sheldon Johnson, Jr., who immediately greenlit it for the 1994 season and helped Tammy Jo develop the series. A new character named Ronnie was added for the series, voiced by Paige O'Hara from 1993 to 2002, and Jessica DiCicco thereafter. The pilot episode is an origin story of Team Jenny, telling the story of how Terry, Kristen, and Louise were recruited, and the circumstances of Project Hercules (as Jenny and Makayla's backstories are intertwined and much more complex, theirs was told in a 90-minute TV movie that aired in 2004, and was later adapted into an acclaimed Broadway play in 2012). Said pilot eventually aired in 1995 under the name "The Beginning of Team Jenny". In addition, Tammy Jo always intended for Jenny and Makayla to be romantically attracted to each other, an idea that was finally put to use in the twelfth movie as Johnson waited for attitudes toward same-sex couples to change. This decision was disclosed only to Hill, Sheldon, Craig, the writers, the storyboard artists, and the cast; this also explains some of the more questionable scenes in the series' first run, such as the two being completely comfortable bathing together, showing zero attraction to men, and on some occasions kissing each other on the cheek or forehead (they didn't kiss on the lips until the twelfth movie).
On November 11, 1999, Mary Kay Bergman, the original voice of Jenny, committed suicide. There was much speculation on various fan forums, including prominent fan forum Team DJ (which was founded in 1996 by user Carl Davidson, known in the forum as jenmackfan, making it the oldest Detective Jenny fan forum), about her replacement, and some even speculated that Jenny herself would be retired out of respect, with one rumor stating that Jenny would be killed offscreen, Makayla would have a grief-induced suicide, and Terry would be promoted to team leader (with Ronnie as her second-in-command), while two new members would be introduced to fill in the gaps, though the series' name would be unchanged. A press release for the then-upcoming seventh season issued on December 1, 1999, however, confirmed Bergman's replacement; before her death, Bergman left a suicide note requesting that her friend, Tara Strong (known at the time as Tara Charendoff), who had voiced various background characters throughout the show's run, take over as the voice of Jenny (the note also said "Take care of Mack for me", referring to Alanna Ubach and the name Jenny uses almost exclusively to address Makayla, just as the latter almost exclusively addresses Jenny as "Jen"). The seventh season began airing in 2000, with Strong, credited alongside Bergman in the episodes she did, voicing Jenny in several scenes recorded after Bergman's death, as she had committed suicide during the voice acting sessions, though the latter was still billed in the opening; she also filled in for Bergman for a number of lines in the 2000 video game Detective Jenny: Y2K. The eighth season, which first aired in 2001, had Strong's name replace Bergman's in the intro.
Tammy Jo was the showrunner from 1993 to 2001. When the series was revived in 2017, her son Tim took over. Craig Johnson was director of the series and movies until 2015, at which point Timothy Hill (director of EarthBound and fellow WBC series Monster World, among many other productions for Johnson Studios and Johnson Television) took over.
The series was reluctantly canceled in 2001 due to a combination of factors, including being overshadowed in ratings by Monster World and Tammy Jo having to dedicate more time to homeschooling her children Tim and Chloe. A ninth season was in active development for a 2002 release, which would have been supervised by Hill, but the September 11th attacks occurred in 2001, and Johnson shut down production out of fear that the series' ultra-violent nature would be in incredibly poor taste. Three episodes for the original ninth season, however, had already been completed ("Vegas Sabotage!", "The Threat Arises", and "Mafia Masterpiece"), and aired as primetime specials throughout 2002, before the series went into semi-hibernation, kept alive by the ongoing comics and merchandise, as well as video games on even-numbered years and theatrical films on odd-numbered years.
At San Diego Comic-Con in 2016, Tim Johnson closed out his panel as he always does: with a surprise announcement. Said announcement was a trailer announcing that the television series would be revived for a ninth season to commemorate the twenty-fifth anniversary of the franchise. The entire crowd burst into cheers, and the series' revival was the top-trending item across social media.
The revived season featured new outfits for Team Jenny, replacing the ones that had been in use since the September 1992 issue and the 2003 movie. Tim explained that this was done in commemoration of the franchise's 25th anniversary. The new outfits were personally designed by Tammy Jo. Much of the same voice cast reprise their roles in the new series, and the opening sequence was reanimated to fit the new designs.
The series follows a group of 13 to 16-year-old girls, all with extremely troubled backgrounds, working for a special task unit of the United Nations. They were selected because they were the subjects of Project Hercules (Jenny and Makayla were the first subjects in 1979, followed by Terry in 1984, Kristen and Louise in 1986, Ronnie in 1993, Christy, Emily, and Sandra in 2003, and Krystall, Molly, and Daisy in 2017). The project was a success, and all the subjects, while they can still be killed, are effectively immortal, in addition to being physically stronger and having faster reaction times than normal humans (this was done so the series could follow real-life events without having to age the cast, as well as satirize the concept of "comic book time"). Known as "Team Jenny," they are tasked with infiltrating, uncovering, and in many cases, destroying illegal operations.
The series has been described as "deceptive." On the outside, it seems like a generic girls' show, but the series is very dark and mature, serving to deconstruct the child hero concept. The heroines often find themselves in dangerous situations and carry firearms that they do not hesitate to use to kill. They have no qualms about killing, and will not take chances with their enemies. Also, innocent civilians, even children, are often caught in the crossfire. As a result, they were viewed as outcasts in school (even though they don't receive educations, they still tend to be stationed at various high schools around the United States in areas under assumed names) because of their line of work, and don't have any friends aside from each other. They have also been left with mental and emotional scars as the series progressed. Since no therapist will see them, these scars only worsened to the point that Terry once ripped out and ate the heart of a drug lord and chucked an active grenade in his mouth in a Season 8 episode, Makayla and Kristen stab a smuggler with a sword, take out his eyes with a corkscrew, and leave him to die in a Season 5 episode, and Louise burns a terrorist alive and feeds his body parts to her dogs in a Season 6 episode.
As its reputation grew, the series came to be known for mindless violence involving over-the-top kills and models being blown up every other second; despite this, the series is also chock-full of intelligent social commentary. The series also involves such themes as drugs, smuggling, slavery, human trafficking, and terrorism, among other vices. Villains are depicted as depraved individuals, or good people forced into a life of crime. It is for this reason that several one-off villains were redeemed but usually died in the process. The series also has a recurring antagonist in the form of a terrorist organization known as Black Scorpion. Led by a man known only as Onizuka (named for Ellison Onizuka, an astronaut who died in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster), they commit terrorist acts around the world, with the ultimate goal of Japan gaining independence from the United States. However, this goal later changed after the first film, to the more noble goal of a global utopia where war is an alien concept, while utilizing the same brutal tactics.
Other recurring antagonists include the Takanashi-gumi (a Yakuza gang from the Japanese isles), the Vincenetti Crime Family (an Italian-American mob family from Brooklyn), al-Salam (a radical Islamic terrorist organization from Iraq), the Celtic Liberation Front (a terrorist group seeking the independence of Scotland and Northern Ireland from the United Kingdom), the New Black Panthers (a revived version of the old Black Panthers), and the Camino Cartel (a Mexican drug cartel whose leader is also Makayla's father; the cartel played a key role in Team Jenny's founding, as well as Jenny and Makayla's relationship).
Opening and closing sequences
The intro is a send-up to classic spy movie opening sequences, showing the character's silhouette in their respective colors with their voice actor's name next to it in the same color, while the theme, an original composition by Cal Johnson, plays. The credits sequence uses clips from the previous season (except for season one, which used clips from the first six episodes, and the ninth season, which used clips from the various specials, movies, and video games released during that time period), set to another original Johnson composition.
Characters and factions
A holdover from when the series was originally going to be produced by Gerry Anderson is the presence of various high-tech vehicles that the team uses.
- Neptune's Trident - Built as the USS Barbel (SS-580), after it was decommissioned by the US Navy, Makayla bought the sub for cheap, as it otherwise would have languished due to the presence of painted-over asbestos insulation. The sub is equipped with the most up-to-date technology (and undergoes periodic overhauls as technology evolves). The Neptune's Trident is equipped with torpedo and Tomahawk missile launchers, advanced sonar, a greenhouse to provide breathable air without having to surface or snorkel, a cold fusion reactor for power, and a virtual periscope that can see above the water without physically raising the actual periscope. The team was able to make the most of the cramped space aboard the sub, as it is smaller than the nuclear subs being fielded by the major naval powers.
- Big Bertha - A heavy carrier aircraft, Big Bertha carries the team's equipment to where it's needed. It can carry a variety of pods that carry a variety of vehicles (including Neptune's Trident), as well as a field armory and a crew compartment for when the entire team is needed. Big Bertha is completely identical to Thunderbird 2 from Thunderbirds, only with all markings removed; this was done to maintain consistency with the Thunderbirds stock footage. In stock footage, all International Rescue markings are digitally removed.
- Megatank - Kristen's pride and joy, the Megatank is a quad-track, double-barrel tank with rocket launchers. Larger than any other tank fielded by any army, the Megatank provides Team Jenny with enough firepower to destroy anything that doesn't require a delicate bomb-planting operation. The tank's design served as the inspiration for the Mammoth Tank in Command & Conquer.
Animation for the series is divided between Toei Animation and TMS Entertainment. Both studios animate 13 episodes per season each, which amounts to an even 50-50 split on animation work. The difference between the two studios is easy to spot: the Toei episodes have deeper shading, sharper linework, and faster-paced action, while the TMS episodes have more fluid movement, rounder linework, and more dynamic action sequences. The opening sequence is animated by both studios.
During the first season, several episodes were animated by Korean studio AKOM, who handled six episodes (while Toei and TMS' work was split between ten episodes each). The animation in these episodes was incredibly poor (an issue that also saw it dropped from The Transformers and Batman: The Animated Series), with colors that were too bright, and way too many errors to count, chief among them using outdated character models for Team Jenny, which had been used in the March to August 1992 issues, instead of the designs introduced in September 1992. As a result of the sloppy work AKOM produced, not only were they dropped from the series starting with the second season, their existing episodes were also reworked, with many of the planned on-foot action sequences being replaced with vehicular sequences so new live-action model sequences could be shot. Existing animation from Toei and TMS episodes with new lip flaps replaced many of the AKOM-made scenes (these new shots tended to clash due to the noticeably darker colors, and the remaining AKOM-produced shots were digitally recolored for later releases); these episodes were completely reanimated in the 2004 "Tenth Anniversary" box set, which is now used for reruns, home video, and streaming. To this day, many of the original cels from the AKOM shots are lost, though a few have resurfaced in recent years following audits of AKOM's archive.
For the movies, Toei tends to take the odd-numbered movies, while TMS does the even-numbered movies. They also trade off on the video game FMV cutscenes, with TMS doing the odd-numbered games, and Toei the even-numbered games. Not all of the movies have been animated by them, though. The sixth movie was animated by legendary animator Richard Williams and his studio, which brought with it incredibly fluid animation and a sequence that otherwise would have been done with models being completely animated. The eighth movie was animated by Don Bluth, another legendary animator. The tenth movie, meanwhile, was animated by Walt Disney Animation Studios (but is not counted as part of the Disney Animated Canon since Johnson Studios distributed the film). While Disney used TMS' character models, they animated the film using traditional cels, and not even using the Xerox method, the CAPS system, or ToonBoom Harmony, also using the multiplane camera to create a sense of depth not typically seen in other Detective Jenny productions. It was confirmed that the thirteenth movie, set for a 2021 release, is being animated by Bakshi Productions. The pilot episode was animated by Toei.
It was the first series to use Johnson's famed hybrid approach, mixing animation with live-action elements such as miniatures and live pyrotechnics. Early in production, Johnson Television was in talks with Gerry Anderson to make a Supermarionation series out of the concept. Had this gone through, it would have been Anderson's first series to use Supermarionation since The Secret Service. However, negotiations fell through when Anderson wanted to use the Supermacromation technique used in Terrahawks, which was rejected because the characters would have looked too caricatured and disproportionate. Another early concept was making the series live-action, with Ben Stein cast before the switch to animation, and Fairuza Balk was considered for the role of Jenny before animation tests showed the comics' art style transitioned well to screen. The series was also the first WBC series to be created in widescreen, to coincide with Johnson-owned PrimeStar's switch to widescreen earlier that year.
The series' animation was done using cel animation in the first season, before going digital in the second season, one of the first animated series to do so. Cel animation continued being used for FMV cutscenes in the video games until 2004, and in the movies until 2007 (not counting the movies animated by Richard Williams, Don Bluth, and Walt Disney Animation Studios). For the live-action model scenes, 35mm film was used through the end of the original series' run, and in the video games and movies until 2008, being the last Johnson production to switch to digital cameras.
Before the animation is made, reference shots are made in live-action for the more complex action sequences. This is done to aid animators in getting the correct framing for the scene, and the staging and posing for each individual character. These references are shot on full-scale sets that approximate where the sequence takes place (for example, for the first episode, an approximation of the top of the fuselage of the Fireflash was built). The actors in the references are unnamed studio extras wearing whatever they came in with that day, mainly because finding actresses who have an appearance and/or physique close to the protagonists proved impossible. To date, only one of these sequences has been officially released, that being the one from the first episode "Ronnie's First Day", where Jenny, Makayla, Terry, and Louise board the Fireflash to wrest control of it from the Celtic Liberation Front and safely land it, from the time they magnetize their boots to avoid being blown off by the airstream, to the time Louise seizes control and Jenny and Makayla take the flight engineer positions.
Each episode takes a year to produce, and plots are affected by the deaths of certain voice actors or characters in other media, as well as events in the news.
Most of the voice actors record in the same room and are encouraged to improvise (this style was a bit frustrating for Mary Kay Bergman and Cree Summer in early recording sessions, but Kristen Schaal, then an unknown, stated she loved this style). Tammy Jo Johnson explained in a 2000 interview that this would lead to the realistic back-and-forth between characters; this led to many outtakes, some of which made it into a documentary on the series in 2017; before this, several were leaked on YouTube.
The only exceptions are when an actor lives in a different region or country, such as David Tennant, the voice of Jeff, who lives in the United Kingdom; his lines, along with those of several other actors, are recorded via phone patch in that region. Episodes produced during the COVID-19 pandemic had all the voice actors record separately via Zoom.
Each season consists of 26 episodes, typically being 45 minutes in length, with the season finale being a two-part episode.
The series was critically acclaimed. Critics and audiences consider it one of the finest Johnson series.
There was controversy from parental groups, who felt that the idea of children fighting large-scale attacks was unethical. One Million Moms, in particular, made a petition to ban the series, which only garnered just over 500 signatures. Televangelist Jerry Falwell called the series "the result of a
The line, made by McFarlane Toys in partnership with Johnson Toys, features highly detailed figures of each character and playsets of various locales. The figures are highly detailed, and use real fabric in some cases, including larger versions of the figures.
For the first two years of the line, the figures were sold unconventionally, in that none of the main characters could be bought on their own. Jenny and Makayla were sold as a two-pack that included Makayla's various gadgets, Kristen was sold with the Big Bertha transport, Terry and Ronnie were sold with the Neptune's Trident submarine and Louise was sold with the Megatank. Joe and Dennis were also sold as a two-pack, and the villains were sold with playsets. Figures representing generic mooks serving under the villains were sold under Johnson Toys' "Nickel Toy" line, in which each figure only cost a single nickel (no sales tax is applied to these figures) to allow one to quickly and cheaply amass an army (for example, 20 such figures can be obtained for a single dollar). By 1996, all of the main characters were released individually (though the Jenny and Makayla two-pack was still sold as a value pack).
All Detective Jenny video games featured FMV cutscenes animated by Toei for odd-numbered games and TMS for even-numbered games. Also, they are notable for releasing on older consoles (for example, the sixth and seventh games were released on the Sega Dreamcast as Japanese state-exclusive titles). Older games have since been released on newer consoles (as part of compilations), Steam, and mobile, typically as remastered versions for the latter, boasting even higher quality for the FMV cutscenes. All games have received critical acclaim for their graphics, cutscenes, gameplay, voice acting, and variety in stages.
The clothing line covers outfits for every member of Team Jenny. The costumes are full-piece and are used as Halloween costumes and cosplays.
Upon its television premiere, Detective Jenny became a worldwide phenomenon. By the third season, the world was gripped with "Jennymania," and one couldn't go anywhere without hearing about it. The merchandising was everywhere, home video releases got vastly higher sales than other series, the video games were all the rage, the movies commanded huge box office numbers, and conventions were full of cosplayers. Even after it was overshadowed by Monster World (1998-2004; 2015-present), the series remains popular to this day.
In addition to being considered one of the greatest series ever made, Jenny and Makayla are often considered one of the most iconic duos in pop culture, explaining why there were episodes with just the two of them during the third and fourth seasons before popular demand for more Louise episodes saw the rest of the team get more limelight starting in the fifth season (Louise ostensibly being the most popular character due to being the most violent and unhinged member of the group, as well as being very quotable, her most notable quote being "I'LL RIP OFF YOUR HEAD AND S*** DOWN YOUR THROAT!!!!", a quote that originated in Full Metal Jacket; Kristen Schaal's scenery-chewing performance also helped endear audiences to her). Louise is also the namesake for the character Louise Belcher on the Fox show Bob's Burgers (2011-present), also voiced by Schaal; she was named as an in-joke for Detective Jenny fans. Likewise, the 1992-2017 design for the character Makayla was the inspiration for that of the character Ansi Molina (also voiced by Alanna Ubach) on the Cartoon Network (formerly on Nickelodeon) show Welcome to the Wayne (2017-present); Ubach was even cast as the character, again, as an in-joke for Detective Jenny fans due to Ansi resembling a male version of Makayla, something that was referenced in Cartoon Network's Cartoon Feud crossover special with Welcome to the Wayne (due to that show being Cartoon Network's newest show at the time) and Scooby-Doo (due to the franchise's 50th anniversary) that aired on October 4, 2019. In addition, several members of the Team DJ forum have noticed that any show Strong voices on, Ubach guest-stars in at least one episode, and vice-versa. For example, the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic (2010-2020) episode "My Childhood Amiga" (which aired during its third season in 2013) focuses on Twilight Sparkle meeting her childhood penpal from Mexicolt, Rosaria Brillar, who is voiced by Ubach; Brillar returned in the seventh season episode "Back to Mexicolt".
The duo of Jenny and Makayla is often considered to be one of the greatest pop-culture duos, and have been compared to the likes of Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, Batman and Robin, Laverne and Shirley, Mulder and Scully, Vincent Vega and Jules Winnfield, Chandler and Joey, and Sherlock Holmes and John Watson.
The most well-known international dub of the show is the Japanese-language dub produced for broadcast in the Japanese states. This dub, which first aired on the same day as the English dub's debut, received praise for its voice cast, which was noted as "anime-style". It also hired voice actors from various agencies to dub over the characters.