So, awhile back, Bird and I started watching Degrassi: The Next Generation via Amazon’s Instant View. (It’s free to Prime Members! Yay!) It seems we go through periods of binge-watching it followed by weeks of not thinking about it at all. But this past weekend, we totally watched almost all of S4 and started S5 together, and I found my attachment to the characters growing exponentially with nearly every episode.
First, one thing I love about Degrassi is that it truly is an ensemble show. So many scenes involve many different characters, even if the storyline is focused at that point on just one or two. I like the sense of community it gives in that way, and how it is character-driven in terms of how each character reacts to their own problems and to their friend’s problems. In fact, that’s probably why I’m growing to love it so much. So far, no one has really pulled a complete 180 in terms of their expected behavior given what we know about them and what they actually do on the screen. Except maybe Dylan.
Another thing I love about Degrassi is that it’s an “issues” show, which gives me a lot of excellent lead-ins for important topics to talk about with my daughter. So, I appreciate how they, for the most part, deal realistically with issues like unexpected pregnancies, abortion, rape, underage alcohol, body image, anorexia, making smart choices about technology, etc, etc, etc. (I especially appreciated the abortion episode! Thank you, Canada, for being sane and safe! If you’d stop being so cold in the winter, I might consider moving to you!)
Most importantly, aside from the events of the very first episode, which were, in my opinion, handled badly in terms of lacking any aftermath whatsoever, the issues and their resulting arcs play out over multiple seasons, so that a rape that took place in S2 is still remembered and factored into a girl’s life/relationship in S4, and an abortion that took place in S3 is referenced in the first episode of S5.
And then there’s character building! Let’s look at Craig for example. He’s introduced in S2 very early on, but it isn’t until nearly the end of S4 that he’s diagnosed as bipolar, though his behavior over the prior two seasons was so erratic and often horrible that I swung (rather like the characters) between liking him and hating him. The actor who played Craig deserves all kinds of props because he plays mania so well that it’s terrifying and beyond uncomfortable to watch. This comes from someone who has witnessed mania up close and personal during college when my roommate was bipolar. He nails it.
Of course, there’s also Marco who has, admittedly, had some very bad hair years. (VERY bad hair years!) But he is otherwise my favorite character on the show. (Except for maybe Ellie? and the grumpy dark-haired bad-girl who becomes vice-president and whose name I can’t recall…so, uh, she probably isn’t actually my favorite?) He’s empathetic, driven, loyal, a good friend, and my heart was won over by his conversation with the above-mentioned Dylan, his then-boyfriend, who proposed an open relationship while he was at college. Marco seemed to genuinely believe that Dylan still loved him and that Dylan still felt the same way about him, but he said, “I know it doesn’t change how you feel, but it would change how I feel…about myself.” And that kind of integrity is what I love about Marco.
So, I love Degrassi, as everyone said I would. And I’ll keep on watching as I get a chance. If you’ve not seen it, I recommend it for viewing with kids. Obviously, it depends on your child what age you should begin-what their interests are and how willing you are to talk about various things including sex (especially sex). My daughter is very interested in the show and I take it as an opportunity to talk about the issues at length, to get my values planted into her early, and to point out solutions to various problems so that she can hopefully avoid some of the pitfalls of puberty and adolescence. I’m a big believer in “the younger they learn, the better it sticks.”
Also, Degrassi has great cultural and ethnic diversity, as well as LGBT characters. Go Degrassi! Go Canada! Get on that warming up thing so I can move to you!