With all the sadness at the recent cancellation of Degrassi: Next Generation, soon followed by the announcement of Degrassi: Next Class to dry our tears, we thought there was no better time to address the reasons we hold the teen series so dear to our hearts.
No other show on television in the ’80s presented kids as realistically–in all their dorkiness, identity-shifting, acne-ridden, glorious teenagehood–as Degrassi. Representing Toronto’s ethnically and socio-economically diverse inner city, the Degrassi franchise wasn’t all white, shiny, blond kids with perfect teeth. There was goth 4’11’’ Spike, who got it on with long, lean, overbite-ridden Shane (and their spawn is Emma, whom Degrassi: The Next Generation was based on); “hot” twins Erica and Heather, who, while completely healthy and righteous in their voluptuousness, were a good 10 pounds more realistic than most teen girl actors of the time; Wheels, with his stringy, long, head-banger hair and Dungeon-and-Dragon-loving thick glasses; and my favourite: my spirit-child Voula Grivogiannis, the only dark, hairy Greek girl with mad-strict parents on TV. (I snuck out to the school dance, too, Voula! I got caught, too!).
Voula moved at the end of Season 1, only to be replaced by Alexa Papadopoulos as the stock Greek girl character (what other show has a stock Greek girl character??!). Alexa, who snuck makeup to school because her parents wouldn’t let her wear it, tried to make herself bulimic because she felt her Mediterranean curves were too much, and secretly dated the most boring boy of all time, Simon, for years on the down-low, and then ended up marrying him right after high school and having three babies (which is the ideal number for every Greek girl according to her parents). Alexa was every hyphenated Canadian ’80s girl ever.
Through the ’90s and to this day, Degrassi showed us kids who looked like us and were dealing with stuff we were dealing with, making us all feel a little less lonely. – Irene
Heavy, important storylines no one else was doing
Lots of shows have pregnant teen storylines where there’s maybe a two-second debate on “choices” and then the teen goes on to have the baby, keep it, and raise it with warm fuzzies all around. Degrassi did this. On Junior High, Spike gets pregnant at 14. She chooses to keep Emma (a new generation of Degrassi fans is glad she did). But then they did it again a couple of years later. Erica gets pregnant while away at camp and decides to have an abortion and then actually does!
Degrassi did it all: teen drinking, drugs, sex, sexuality, divorce, death, pervy teachers, slut-shaming, mental health, coming out. But the show also featured the mundane parts of growing up, including the crushes, the experimentation with different identities and the school life stuff, not to mention the insecurities and the super-highs of an age when you’re underestimated by the adults and overestimating yourself. Realistic TV has become a regular thing now, but Degrassi was the first and the bravest, continuing to push the envelope through the years. – Irene
The Spinner and Jimmy bromance in Degrassi: Next Generation was the story that got me hooked on the show. The dynamic of their friendship, and everything they went through together, is one of the most well-written and powerful teen friendships I’ve ever seen. It taught me to believe that high school friendships could last a lifetime. If Jimmy and Spinner could overcome causing each other’s paralysis, illness, guilt, and years apart, then surely I could make my relationship with my best friend work. That’s just how important this show was to me in my high school years, and the first few years following high school.
On the flipside, we also got a look at backstabbing BFFs (see: Jenna, Alli and the K.C. drama) and messy friendships (we’re looking at you Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High’s Amy and Allison), because life also comes with its fair share of unhealthy relationships too. – Chassity
It defied genre logic
Degrassi was comedic, it was dramatic, and it was a bit of a soap opera. In one episode of Next Gen, you could have Spinner’s silly antics, and the next have someone dealing with finding out a dark secret about their parents. The very first episode of Next Gen addressed online predators, and the last episode I watched featured Emma and Spinner getting married in a wacky misadventure of strange circumstances. You never knew what to expect next, and that’s what we love most about Degrassi.
In reality, everyone’s teen years are both ridiculously fun and overly emotional. High school is trivial, yet heavy at the same time. This show is the only one I ever experienced that truly understood this, and had characters that reflected it. – Chassity
It’s a homegrown success
It’s hard not to have a soft spot for Canadian series that grows to international adoration. Starting at our local CBC, Degrassi has gone to the U.S., South America, Australia and beyond, gaining critical acclaim and recognition along the way (winning at the Canadian Film and Television Awards, Canadian Screen Awards, Gemini Awards, Peabody Awards, Teen Choice Awards to name a few—plus getting a Creative Arts Emmy Award nom too!).
But more relevant than awards and international reach is how dear the series has become to fans (which is a truer measure of success, in my eyes) and how saddened we all were when we heard that Next Gen was cancelled (followed by joy at the announcement of Next Class). With Kids lasting only 26 episodes, Junior High totalling 42 episodes and High ending after 28 episodes, Next Gen truly solidified the series as a cult classic, coming in at a whopping 371 episodes (because we just couldn’t get enough). – Michelle