Welcome to the sixth edition of Meanwhile in Canada, where I take a look at things that are uniquely Canadian and share them with Fandom south of the border. Today’s edition we’re looking back at the Canadian teen drama, Degrassi.
Most of you young whipper-snappers will more likely remember Degrassi: The Next Generation or are watching the new Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix, but the show has been around since the mid-80s. Between 1988 and 1993 it was at the height of its popularity and a staple of Canadian television.
I got my first taste of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High circa 1996 when I was in high school. The magic of Degrassi is that while the majority of the subject matter covered is timeless, the surroundings are not.
The show was already dated when I was a teenager, a condition that’s only getting worse with time.
I decided to binge watch all three seasons of Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High and see what I could learn from them today. Here’s what I discovered:
Bad Things Happen Every. Single. Day
The purpose of the Degrassi series was to create a teen drama that tackled real issues that affect teenagers. However, with a show of that nature, there was the need to up the ante every season to keep viewers interested. This was unfortunate for the Degrassi Kids since that messed up their lives on a daily basis.
This run of the series started with the episode “Kiss Me, Steph.” It’s about a girl using the promises of kisses to win the school election. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the “School’s Out” finale ended a school graduation with a dead child.
Going to school at Degrassi meant entering a downward spiral into deep despair. In a single school year you could have first-hand experience with eating disorders, pregnancy, AIDS, and then your school could burn to the ground.
There is so much drama and tragedy going on at Degrassi; the daily schedule must be the most depressing ever.
I assume that these kids can’t even see a guidance counselor because the appointment waiting list is still tackling kids that graduated the year before.
Is Degrassi built on an ancient burial ground? That’s the only logical explanation that makes sense to me.
Never Trust Anyone Over 30
Teenagers not getting along with grown-ups is an eternal struggle because teenagers turn into that which they fear most: adults. This creates some horrifying implications in the world of Degrassi since nearly everyone over 30 is out to get you.
In “What a Night!,” Stephanie Kaye meets her favourite soap opera star, and he gives her his number. When she calls him, he agrees to pick her up in a sketchy part of town and then tries to mess around with her in the parking lot of a motel.
If you think school is going to be a safe space, forget it! Whenever one of the teachers at Degrassi calls in sick, they bring in a substitute named Mister Colby. Colby has a good con going on. Even though he’s quite possibly the creepiest guy on the planet, the girls of Degrassi think he’s cute. This lulls them into a sense of false security since he’s a little too touchy feely as well. He victimises even more people because Lucy didn’t report him the first time.
Think you can go home to your parents to tell them all of this? Well, forget it! Because your parents are terrible people as well. Rick’s father beats him. Kathleen’s mother is an alcoholic. Lucy’s parents are busy working all the time. Caitlin’s parents? Her dad is having an affair.
Then there’s Wheel’s parents… Well…
Wheels Is Cursed
Derek “Wheels” Wheeler had it all: He was dating Stephanie Kaye, who was apparently the “hottest girl” at Degrassi.
Then suddenly it wasn’t.
Wheels lost the girl because he bought condoms from the same pharmacy where her mother worked. He learned that his biological father gave him up at the age of 16. Then, because of his slipping grades, he couldn’t rehearse with his band.
That’s when $#!^ started getting real. His adopted parents get killed by a drunk driver, so he is forced to live with his adopted grandparents. Wheels then starts skipping school. He tries to run away from home to live with his biological dad — that’s when he almost got diddled by the vacuum cleaner salesman. Then, when he finally gets to his father, Wheels finds out he is starting a new family and has no room for him in it.
Forced to return to his grandparents, Wheels eventually gets kicked out for being an all-around jerk. He’s forced to couch surf at Joey’s until he is caught stealing money from Joey’s mom. Homeless and broke, Wheels must take a part-time job and find a cheap place to rent so that he isn’t homeless.
He does manage to graduate from high school, but if you think Wheels has a bright future ahead of him, you’d be wrong. After graduation, Wheels drives drunk and not only blinds and cripples Lucy, but also kills a little kid. Instead of going on to college or university, Wheels ends up in the clink.
His entire life self-destructed in five years. If you think that’s not depressing enough, life imitated art in that actor Neil Hope — who played Wheels on Degrassi — struggled to get by. He became an alcoholic, died in poverty in 2007, and his family didn’t discover his death until 2012.
Suddenly that ancient burial ground theory doesn’t sound so crazy now does it?
Nancy Stalks the Halls
Nancy Kramer is one of the most innocuous students at Degrassi. She’s polite, quiet, full of useful information. She worked for the Degrassi Digest newspaper where she would publish any story that crossed her desk, so long as it met the 200-word minimum. She later became the school president at Degrassi Junior High.
We never really get to know Nancy all that well, but she’s everywhere. As the lives of her classmates crumble all around her, she seems untouched by all the chaos and destruction that seems to plague the children of Degrassi. However, she is always lurking in the background, a silent witness to all that is happening.
In fact, you could argue that the more that her classmates suffer, she continues to go about an uninterrupted life. That seems kind of suspicious to me. Of all the kids at Degrassi, she is the only one who comes out unscathed on graduation day. Why is that?
One could argue that she lived her life on the straight and narrow and as a result never had any problems to deal with. Quite the enigma.
Then you remember, she appears to be at the scene of a lot of what is happening in the hallways. She must know the inner workings of everyone around her: Their greatest hopes and their biggest fears. She sits back and observes it all. Then, just as suddenly as she is around all the time, you stop seeing Nancy so often.
But she’s out there… Somewhere… Lurking…
Could Nancy be somehow responsible for everything happening at Degrassi? Could she be working behind the scenes, slowly taking down her enemies? Is she some sort of ethereal being that subsists off the suffering of others?
All I can say is that if you see Nancy passing you in the halls, give her wide berth. For a brush with Nancy could very well be a brush with death.
Check out more in our ongoing ‘Meanwhile in Canada’ series here.