It's Prime Time For `Degrassi High,' But Only For A Season

It’s Prime Time For `Degrassi High,’ But Only For A Season

By John Voorhees

The good news is that PBS’ “Degrassi High” is back; the bad news is this is the final season for this fine series. That’s understandable – when we first met the characters who went to “Degrassi High” they came from “Degrassi Junior High.” Now they’re getting ready to graduate.

The lives and loves of high school students have been intriguing TV producers since the medium began – but no series has struck the same kind of balance between the comic and the serious as well as “Degrassi High.” This Canadian-made series has shied away from turning its performers into stars – with the result they have always been believable as students, allowing the writers to concentrate on stories rather than actors.

“Degrassi High” has never lacked the courage to tackle tough subjects, and this first episode (at 6 p.m. Saturday on KCTS-TV and 8:30 a.m. Sunday on KTPS-TV) is no exception as it looks at AIDS and teen-agers. But while this subject is handled as intelligently as any TV program yet seen, this episode also gives the same careful attention to the break-up of a teen romance.

Fox’s “Yearbook” and “Beverly Hills 90210” also feature high school life – the former documentary, the latter fictional – but while both are worth watching, “Degrassi High” is superior. KCTS-TV is to be commended for putting the show in prime time this season, where it definitely belongs. It’s as entertaining and instructional for adults as for teen-agers – and as fine as any dramatic series from the networks.

Trilogy: “The Sunset Gang,” a series of three plays starting on PBS’ “American Playhouse” at 10 p.m. tomorrow on KCTS-TV, is set in a Florida retirement home and based on stories by Warren Adler, author of “War of the Roses,” dramatized by playwright Ronald Ribman and co-produced by Linda Lavin.

The first episode, “Yiddish,” is an absolute delight, not only because of Adler’s story – about two already married senior citizens who fall in love and want to leave their respective spouses – but also because of wonderful performances by Harold Gould, who wants to leave his wife of 45 years, played to shrewish perfection by Doris Roberts. Tresa Hughes is charming as the new object of Gould’s affections, but it is Gould and Roberts who make it work.

Dilemma: “Quest for Education,” a PBS special KCTS-TV airs at 10 a.m. Sunday, contrasts the school and home lives of two teen-age girls, one in Japan, one in California. This engrossing hour tries hard to be scrupulously fair: It praises American education’s emphasis on individualism as much as it praises Japanese education’s discipline and hard work. It’s up to the viewer to decide which is better preparing young people for tough times ahead.

Video notes: KCTS-TV begins airing a treat for armchair travelers – “The Giant Nile” – at 8 tonight, a fascinating look at the people and the landscapes along that river. . . . NBC moves the entertaining “Seinfeld” series to 9:30 p.m. Thursdays, starting tonight on KING-TV. . . . Shannon Tweed stars in “Fly By Night,” the third of CBS’ series of late-night crime shows, premiering at 11:35 tonight on KIRO-TV. . . . In the fourth episode of Bill Moyers’ thought-provoking “Arab World” series, at 11 tonight on KCTS-TV, the subject is various aspects of Arab life, in reality and how Americans perceive them. . . . Cable’s A&E channel once again moves its informative “Revue” show about the arts and popular culture, to Fridays at 7 and 11, starting tomorrow night. . . . KTPS-TV begins airing the excellent PBS series about maps, “The Shape of the World,” at 8 p.m. tomorrow. . . . “The 100 Lives of Black Jack Savage,” the new NBC series which premiered in pilot form Sunday night, takes over its regular slot, at 8 p.m. Fridays, tomorrow night on KING-TV – and it already has a new Black Jack: Stoney Jackson has been replaced by Steven Williams. . . . KCTS-TV brings back two popular series, starting this Saturday morning – “Voices and Visions,” the poetry series, at 9:30 a.m., and “Psychology: The Study of Human Behavior,” at 10:30 a.m. . . . Steve Allen is interviewed on “Upon Reflection” at 12:30 a.m. Sunday on KCTS-TV. . . . Tom Wicker’s new book about Richard Nixon is the topic for “Booknotes” on cable’s C-SPAN at 5 and 8 p.m. Sunday. . . . Carolyn Tappin hosts “1015A Chestnut Street – Good News,” which had its premiere last Saturday at 9:30 a.m. on KTZZ-TV. . . . HBO airs a new comedy special by Tom Arnold, Roseanne Barr’s husband, at 11:30 p.m. tomorrow; Showtime airs a new comedy special by Emo Philips at 11:15 p.m. Saturday. Both on cable – and neither worth bothering about.

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