For those of you who’ve never heard of Degrassi (and I’m sure that’s most of you, let’s be realistic), in a nutshell, it’s a Canadian teen drama that’s been on since the eighties and has had several reboots.
I’ve been watching the current reboot—known as Degrassi: The Next Generation—for about ten years now, and while I’m not really a fan of the original, I find that I cannot get enough of TNG. I don’t know why. The storylines aren’t particularly new: drugs, pregnancy, abortion, self-harm, suicide, gangs, social pressure, child abuse, sexual identity, mental issues, HIV scares, gambling problems, bad boys and bad girls and good girls who go bad. It’s basically a Canadian Dawson’s Creek with a huge cast of characters and their arcs, but what I really enjoy about Degrassi other than the omg drama, is the way they never let a particular significant event disappear. In season three, we discover that Ellie cuts herself to cope with her mother’s alcoholism, but in each season thereafter that she’s in, there are a few episodes that appear where she’s still struggling to keep herself from cutting. When Liberty gives up her baby for adoption, two or three seasons down the road, it is still something that affects her. Degrassi is also the first show in the history of television to portray a transgendered character in a genuine manner. It’s as realistic as an over-the-top teen drama can be, and I cannot get enough of it. Thus, here are some facts about Degrassi that should make you want to watch it as much as I love watching it.
12: The number of seasons the current reboot has been running, though starting with season 10, they dropped The Next Generation and now it’s known simply as Degrassi.
309: The number of episodes currently involved with The Next Generation (I have seen each one at least twice.)
22: Minutes of runtime per episode, with many episodes being two- or three-parters.
69: Regular characters to appear on the show over all twelve seasons. I can tell you the entire arcs of every single one of these characters, no lie.
27: Minor characters to appear on the show over all twelve seasons, and yes, I know all their arcs as well.
10: Actors or other well-known professionals who have guest-starred in episodes, including but not limited to Kevin Smith (a self-professed Degrassi fan), Jason Mewes, and Alanis Morissette.
5: Movies in the Degrassi universe that have been put on TV, either as four-part episodes or one ninety minute smorgasbord of sheer amazing.
40: Percentage of the series’ viewers outside of the targeted 13-17 year-old audience. So, me.
3: Former Degrassi stars who are now famous for other things. Aubrey Graham, who played Jimmy for seven full seasons including appearances in season 8, is now a singer you may know of by the name Drake. I knew him when he was the basketball star who became a victim of a school shooting and ended up in a wheelchair, which I will forever be hipster about. Nina Dobrev, the “teen mom” on Degrassi for several seasons, is now starring as Elena Gilbert/Katherine Pierce on The Vampire Diaries, which is hilariously acronymed as VD. Also, Shenae Grimes, who has the dubious honor of portraying my least-favorite character for four seasons plus appearances in season 8, is now in the 90210 reboot as Annie Wilson.
I truly believe that the way this show handles its hot-button topics, with their target audience in mind, is not only appropriate but necessary, particularly for young females. In the year 2013, we are told that our bodies are not under our own control and that being attractive means being a certain kind of thin and that if we say yes to sex, we’re sluts, and if we say no, we’re prude–among other things. There are daily societal pressures that many young women and men face that Degrassi isn’t afraid to discuss. They’re not afraid to show a fourteen-year-old going into an abortion clinic, or portray a young person accepting and being comfortable with their gender identity (or that same young person being victimized for using the men’s restroom as a biological female). They go over the top, of course, but it’s a TV drama. Underneath all of that, however, are real issues, with real resolutions. They don’t shy away from school shootings or bullying or suicides, because those are issues and dangers that teens face. Degrassi‘s main tagline for years was It goes there, and I find that to be incredibly accurate. As a person who struggled with her sexual identity in high school (and beyond), it was nice for me to see two females having a real relationship on-screen, two females who were attracted to one another based solely on personality, wants, needs, and not gender. This helped me identify myself not as a lesbian, not as straight, but some amorphous gray center in between. Degrassi let me know that it was okay if I didn’t know, and if I did, that was okay too. Dawson’s Creek never did that for me, and neither did Roswell or any of the other shows I’ve ever seen (except perhaps Buffy, but we all know that Buffy is the best ever and is in a category of its own).
Degrassi is a show I’ve been watching since I was sixteen and discovered it on The N (now known as TeenNick), and while I know that some of the episodes are flat-out silly, and some of the acting leaves much to be desired, it’s a show that truly touched my heart and helped me overcome feelings of insecurity and inadequacy. If it’s on TV, I’ll drop what I’m doing to watch, no matter how many times I’ve seen it before. Anytime a teen show can take on real issues like acceptance of homosexuality, abortion, and gender identity in a respectful and adult way, I’m always going to be a fan.