The faces are new, but the angst is the same

The faces are new, but the angst is the same
The latest Degrassi series takes me back to high school

Rebecca Eckler
National Post

Chris Bolin, National Post

Degrassi: The old geezers: From left, Pat Mastroianni, Stacie Mistysyn, Stefan Brogren and Amanda Stepto starred in the original series.

It just figures I’d run into the boy who ruined my life in high school at the Degrassi: The Next Generation press conference yesterday.

“What is going on?” I wanted to scream. “I’m ATTENDING this event. I’m NOT starring in an episode!”

Todd, who I haven’t seen in years, was covering the event for a radio station. In Grade 10, when he was super-cool, he told me I looked like a “@#%* reptile.” I went home crying and begging for a nose job.

Needless to say, the reptile incident still haunts me.

Degrassi: The Next Generation, which will air on CTV in October, introduces a whole new generation going through the trials and tribulations of adolescence. Just as I can’t get the reptile thing out of my head, I remember almost all of the plot lines of the first Degrassi shows: Spike getting pregnant; Caitlin dumping Joey for a black-clad poet; Snake flunking; Stephanie leaving the house in one outfit and changing into another sexier one in the school washroom. I still watch the reruns.

The show made its debut on CBC Television in 1979 with Kids of Degrassi Street. Degrassi Junior High began in 1986, and that’s when it started to attract a real following. That show evolved into Degrassi High in 1989, and went off the air in 1990.

In the late 1980s, Degrassi was one of the most popular shows on Canadian television, attracting one million viewers a week. It was also syndicated in more than 100 countries. There was a movie of the week in 1992 that drew 2.4 million viewers.

Reruns of Degrassi Junior High have never gone off the air. It’s a not-so-well-kept secret that some people in their late twenties get a kick out of watching the reruns while under the influence of illegal substances.

“I know. It’s so weird,” admitted Amanda Stepto, who played Spike in the original series. “People tell us stories about having the munchies while watching.”

Spike, Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn), Joey (Pat Mastroianni) and Snake (Stefan Brogren), four of the main characters on the original series, were on hand yesterday, along with the 11 new cast members. They will star in a reunion episode, the launching point for Degrassi: The Next Generation. Some of the original cast will have recurring roles in the new series.

None of new cast, who are between the ages of 11 and 15, watched the original series.

“I watched two tapes they sent me,” said 13-year-old Miriam McDonald, who plays Emma on the new series. “I never watched because I wasn’t born yet. I was a little too young.”

The character of Emma is Spike’s baby, born in the original series when Spike was pregnant in high school. Spike’s water broke, if I remember correctly, at the graduation dance.

The new cast members, however, are not like junior high kids of yesterday.

“Yes, of course I’ve kissed before. Haven’t you?” asked Ryan Cooley, who will play J.T.

“Yes, but I’m 27. I didn’t kiss a boy until I was 17. Have you ever been dumped?” I ask him.

“Yes. The longest girlfriend I had was six months.”

Six months? At age 13?

“I’ve been dumped, too,” says Jake Goldsbie, who will play Toby. “The longest relationship I’ve had was three weeks.”

Will the new show appeal to today’s generation?

“It was pretty juicy back then,” says Snake. “Part of the success was the sincerity and honesty of it all.”

“Yes,” Caitlin throws in, jokingly. “Everyone will be having sex on the new show.”

Though the landscape has changed, says producer Linda Schuyler, who co-created the original series and is responsible for the comeback, “matters of the heart and relationship issues are still the same and will be 10 years from now.”

So true. By the way, the writers of Degrassi: The Next Generation are more than welcome to use my reptile story. They’ll have to wait another 10 years, though, to see if I’ll ever forgive the guy who ruined my high school years.

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