Take a moment, cop a squat on a shag rug, pop a Sunkist open and remember that awesomely on-the-edge Canadian teen drama series Degrassi Junior High(aka Degrassi High). Remember feeling completely lucky that you caught that episode when Spike got pregnant while your parents weren't home. Maybe it's those progressive Canadians, but the show dealt with real issues like drugs, sex, death and the millions of other problems that assault all cliques of teens--teens like Pogues-loving she-punk Spike, the band members of the Zit Remedy (Joey and Snake) and go-getters like Caitlin Ryan.
See, the thing with Degrassi was that the show really wasn't afraid of anything. And that says a lot considering the series originally aired in 1986. Not that it was really a "kinder, gentler" time; we just hadn't heard a lot about things such as street drugs other than the occasional "Hey, don't do them" and, of course, "Hugs Not Drugs" (thanks, Nancy Reagan). Based on the freshness of realistic characters and situations (it was no Who's the Boss?thankfully), we held the Degrassi folk in high regard, which is why we were just a touch concerned when The N (the after-five alter ego of the Noggin cable channel for kids) began airing Degrassi: The Next Generation. Could the kids of Degrassi Community School even measure up to the standards set by their predecessors? Would their problems be relative and relatable to kids today? Is the hair as awesomely bad as it was on the original? The answers to those questions are: Outlook good, yes and yes.
Actually, some original Degrassi kids are currently endearing themselves to teens and 'tweens on The N as Joey Jeremiah and Caitlin Ryan are once again the perfect (kind of) couple and Spike and Snake finally tied the knot (Spike's hair is much more tame these days). Joey serves as guardian to (today's it-boy) Craig after Craig's mom/Joey's girlfriend died and Craig came forward about his abusive father. Emma (the tree-hugging, protest-loving good girl) is Spike's daughter (yes, the one she was pregnant with back in the day), and Snake is now known as Mr. Simpson, the teacher of Media Immersion at the school. And according to an unofficial Degrassi: The Next Generation Web site (dtng.degrassi.ca), each DNGcharacter "is a composite of two characters of the original series." (Examples are Emma = Caitlin Ryan + Christine "Spike" Nelson; Jimmy = BLT + Snake.) Our original doubts were somewhat squelched when we realized that the pivotal characters of yore were still a part of the new show in the new characters, not to mention the fact that the original actors believed in this show enough to come back as adults. Or maybe they just needed the gig. Even the episode titles give a nod to the original series, as they are titles of '80s hits ("Take on Me," "Against All Odds," "I Want Candy" and "Don't Dream It's Over").
DNGhas a slogan on The N: "Degrassi--It Goes There," and the statement is far from wrong. As impressed as we were with Degrassi Junior Highwe find ourselves falling in like even more with the newer kids. And maybe that's completely disturbing given our adult status, but, hey, we love The O.C.and that's socially acceptable, so why not Degrassi? Each season has tackled things as simple as crushes on an older classmate, Internet propositioning of minors, changing one's "look" and masochistic cutting.
Having just ended the fourth season, the last few months have placed characters in realistic conundrums: Marco's coming out to his mom, Spinner's battling his homophobia, Paige's rape trial and an abusive relationship that ends up getting someone killed. Degrassi: The Next Generation is drama strong enough for adults but made for teenagers. And just how Canadian is it that there is a marathon of the show running on Boxing Day, eh?