How Degrassi is Still Relevant Today
By: Brooke Price
During these times of self-isolation, I’ve resorted to binge-watching “Degrassi: The Next Generation” in its entirety. I began by watching the later seasons of “Degrassi” that were on TeenNick years ago. After that, I watched “Degrassi: Next Class” on Netflix.
I figured now would be the perfect time to watch “Degrassi: The Next Generation” from the beginning.
For those who don’t know, “Degrassi” is a Canadian teen drama series about teenagers going to Degrassi Community School. The show is heavy on school themes such as bullying, friendships, dating, sex, and more.
However, the show isn’t afraid to avoid the more dark and serious topics such as suicide, self-harm, abortion, teenage pregnancy, body image, abusive relationships, rape and sexual assault. It also deals with such themes as mental illness, including bipolar disorder and depression.
Other themes include school violence, sexual and gender identity, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, death, and medical issues such as cancer and kidney failure.
The first season of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” aired in 2001. It followed seventh graders Emma, J.T., Toby, Manny, and Liberty and gradually as the seasons progressed, followed their journey into high school and college.
When these characters eventually graduated and departed from the show, new characters were introduced; Clare, Eli, Alli, Dallas, Jenna, Connor, Bianca, Drew, Adam, Becky, Zig, Tristan, and Maya, to name a few.
“Degrassi: The Next Generation” is a continuation of the Degrassi franchise which began with the 1979 series “The Kids of Degrassi Street,” which ran until 1986 and was subsequently followed by the 1987 series “Degrassi Junior High” and its 1989 follow up series, “Degrassi High.”
“Degrassi: The Next Generation” began in 2001 and ran for fourteen seasons until 2015. “Degrassi: Next Class” was then released on Netflix in 2016 and ran for four seasons through 2017. The series was officially cancelled when producer Stephan Brogren announced the cancellation March 7th 2019.
“Degrassi: The Next Generation” garnered a lot of attention for its episode surrounding a school shooting. This show makes viewers aware of serious situations which weren’t discussed about as much in American teen shows.
One episode focused on suicide and how everyone throughout the school was impacted by it. One character develops PTSD from discovering a body in the school’s garden and throughout the season progresses into a downward spiral.
The victim’s girlfriend is at first angry and in denial, but gradually goes through the grieving process. Other students that were with the student felt that they were at fault for pushing him too hard or for not doing anything when he showed symptoms of stress related to depression.
Another interesting thing about the show was that one of the show’s creators and executive producer, Linda Schuyler, was also a school teacher herself. Her ability to use her experience as a teacher made the show more relatable.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Schulyer mentioned how she aimed to keep the authenticity of the high school experience prominent in the show.
“The show set out to be authentic — and I use the word authentic very carefully; I don’t use the word realistic — an authentic portrayal of teenage years. And although we get a lot of character loyalty, our audience is fascinated by that high school experience. Strangely enough, it’s almost like the school itself is the centerpiece of the show. We have a few founding principles that we adhere to. We’re very strict [about] age appropriate casting. We’re very big on celebration of diversity — racial, sexual, economic — and creating an environment for young people that makes them feel like they’re not completely alone. Those principles have been with me right from the beginning, 30 odd years ago.”
The earlier seasons of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” still resonate with many today because they cover important issues or events that people may encounter.
All episodes of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” are available for free on YouTube and “Degrassi: Next Class” is on Netflix. The series will make you laugh and cry as the characters do “whatever it takes” to make it through high school.