Introduction to Degrassi: The Next Generation

by guest contributor Jasmine

When I first started watching “Degrassi Jr. High” back in 1987 at the age of 11, I never thought I’d still be watching it 20 years later. But I am, and I most likely always will. The allure of Degrassi the first and its subsequent series’, “Degrassi High” and its current incarnation “Degrassi: The Next Generation” has, for me, been this: real kids with real problems. Certainly, I enjoyed “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Gossip Girl” like most other people, but it’s hard even to escape into those fantasy worlds when the kids are played by actors well into their 30’s, or throw back martinis at hotel bars like so much diet coke.

And don’t even get me started on the largely silent Asian and Black girl duo of “Gossip Girl” who the clever ladies at Disgrasian have christened “The Haragossip Girls” (see explanation here). It kills me to see two lovely actresses being relegated to the background like tokens. I don’t know if it would be better or worse if they were never there at all. I should know better — I grew up on the fringes of that world. The world of Upper East Side independent schools (hardly anyone says “private school” and nobody says “prep school” except on TV) was, in my time wealthy and White, and being there was walking in a WASP-y wonderland.

But before I start working out my psychological issues, you should meet Manny. Manny is a senior at Degrassi Community School. She’s co-captain of the spirit squad, is an aspiring actress, and has been flirting with Damien, one of the many students from Lakehurst currently attending Degrassi after their own school burned down. Manny is Asian (Filipina, to be exact), and rocking some serious blonde hair. Damian is Black, totally sweet, and pretty hot. They make a cute couple. Their story is one of many stories that paint a portrait of a complex, diverse community that just happens to be made up of young people.

Degrassi’s profile in the States has been elevated recently. Now in its seventh season, the kids of Degrassi have been given a home not just on The N (the evening programming component of children’s network Noggin) but are also on MTV. Its young stars manage to turn in real performances even while they’re appearing on TRL or in a mall near you. It’s proof that you don’t have to be White or straight (three regular characters and one supporting are queer) or able-bodied (multiple characters have dealt with mental health issues, while main character Jimmy is paralyzed due to a gun shot wound) to have a legitimate story. I know this must sound like a big downer, and it probably would be, except that these are kids and they do funny kid stuff like have wet dreams, go on awful dates, get detention, steal their parents’ cars, study, eat terrible cafeteria food, and all the other things that kids do. This could be all be terribly American except that the show is based, and has always been produced, in Canada. It’s kids stuff that any adult could enjoy.

My only complaint is that The N will not always show every single episode, censoring itself for American eyes when it needen’t bother. Why keep two episodes dealing with a character’s abortion off the air but go ahead and show a three episode arc dealing with an outbreak of chlamydia? Thank goodness the show’s out on DVD. While you catch up on past seasons, check out season seven, airing Friday nights at 8ET/7CT on The N.