"Degrassi: The Next Generation" Episode 1, Recap

Friday, October 12, 2001

“Degrassi: The Next Generation” Episode 1, Recap
By STEPHANIE McGRATH — AllPop

WARNING! SPOILERS! The “Degrassi: The Next Generation” pilot opening focuses on the back-pocket of a pair of jeans, just like the classic series used to — so how do you know it’s the “Next Generation”? By the cell-phone clipped to the pocket, of course.

Welcome to the new series, where gadgets and e-mail are as prevalent now as bad hair and acid wash used to be then.

Most of the old gang returns for the pilot — Joey, Spike, Snake, Wheels, Caitlin and Lucy are all there along with a cast of new, fresh, young faces. There’s Emma, J.T., Toby, Manny, Ashley and more to come in future episodes.

So here’s the update: Joey is a used-car salesman and a widower with a young daughter. Snake is a teacher at Degrassi Community School. Caitlin is super-successful, still environmentally minded and engaged to a hot-shot director. Spike (now known as Christine) is Emma’s mom. She has toned down her hair and looks a lot better than she did in the original. Lucy is a smarty-pants who’s still studying at university, and Wheels is still troubled.
The new cast in front of the gym set

The pilot flips back and forth between the reunion moments and the introduction of the new characters to satisfy classic “Degrassi” fans and tempt new fans with interesting plot lines involving the brand new characters.

Emma, Manny, J.T. and Toby are the main players of the new cast during the pilot. Emma, Spike’s daughter, is an environmental nut and an e-mail addict. She and her side-kick Manny are gearing up for their first year at Degrassi, while J.T. is a good-hearted trouble-maker and an old friend of the girls. Toby is the token computer geek who is also getting ready for his first year at Degrassi. He and J.T. are old camp friends, and Toby quickly develops a crush on Emma as soon as J.T. makes the introductions.

Meanwhile, a melancholy Joey tries to sell Lucy a car as she tries to convince him to attend the reunion. (Joey’s friends think he’s cutting himself off from his friends you see).

Caitlin drives up to the school in a limo and eventually runs into Joey. There’s awkward conversation (remember — Caitlin and Joey used to go out), and Caitlin tries to convince Joey to attend the reunion. The gang decides they’ll go for “drinks”.

As we return to Emma’s story-line, we learn that the young environmentalist has an online boyfriend who loves to hike and is organizing some sort of environmental petition. Emma thinks this e-mail beau can see into her soul because he has all the same interests as she does — if you smelled trouble, you’d be right.

Emma’s boyfriend wants to meet in person and luckily he’s on a school trip to Toronto, so they can meet at his hotel. Manny, J.T. and Toby think a rendezvous is a very bad idea.

So here are the two main arcs during this episode: Joey & Caitlin deal with the past (and present — dum dum da dum) and Emma learns to avoid online romance. (This story-line is actually super creepy, and bonus marks go to Miriam McDonald, who plays Emma, for her stellar acting abilities).

Caitlin, Joey, Spike, Snake, Lucy and Caitlin’s husband-to-be (played by Don McKellar) all meet up for drinks. Caitlin’s fiance is obnoxious and spends his time talking away on his cell phone and making pretentious director-y comments. When Joey’s home-made commercial for his used-car lot comes on, the director makes a snotty comment about the need to use “real” actors in commercials.

Joey eventually stomps off in a huff while his friends look embarrassed and Caitlin looks uncomfortable. Joey makes his way to the bar counter, where he is quickly joined by the sensitive Snake who lectures Joey about “cutting off” his friends and the need to move on with his life.

Later that night, Spike, Lucy and Caitlin return to Spike’s house to spend more time catching up. (Funny fact for old fans: They enter Spike’s house singing that old Zit Remedy hit “Everybody Wants Something”. Tres drole).

Emma, who has a small case of hero-worship for Caitlin and her environmental pursuits, corners Caitlin and talks to her (in code) about her online boyfriend and how her friends don’t think he’s right for her. Caitlin, not knowing the guy in question is a computerized mystery, tells Emma to go for it. (More trouble on the way. That “Degrassi” — a different issue for each day of the week).

So now it’s time for the big reunion and the whole gang is there (although much of the old cast doesn’t get to do much except mill around and look happy to see each other).

Joey does show up, which makes Caitlin very happy but, uh-oh, when Joey goes to get a drink he overhears something he definitely wasn’t supposed to.
The cast in front of the “Degrassi” school set

Caitlin’s fiance and an actress-wannabe and Degrassi alumni are getting cosy in a hall corner. It sounds as though Mr. McKellar’s character isn’t keen on getting married.

In the middle of all the reunion festivities, Mr. Raditch tells Lucy someone is there to see her. She goes outside and, behold: Wheels. He apologizes for injuring her when he had his drunk-driving accident, then he walks away. Lucy says she feels a bit sorry for him, and the entire scene is very, very strange and awkward. The need to deal with the whole Wheels-out-of-jail issue was there, but that was just plain weird.

Back at Spike’s house, Emma is rushing her mom out the door to the reunion and then telling Manny she just plans to hang out alone. Oh no! Young Emma has decided to meet her online boyfriend at his hotel.

Meanwhile…at the reunion…Caitlin is giving a speech while Joey and her fiance are whisper-fighting about the conversation Joey overheard. There’s basically some insults hurled, Joey gets punched, and Caitlin finds out her director friend doesn’t want to get married after all.

Once the chaos has died down, Caitlin and Joey have a “special moment” where Joey tells her she’ll eventually find the one and Caitlin tells him he’s lucky he did find his “the one”, and it’s all very sensitive and moving. But by this point, the much more interesting story line is Emma’s. So let’s get back to that.

Emma has made her way to the hotel where she’s met by an adult who tells her he’s the chaperone for the school trip. The “chaperone” brings Emma up to his hotel room to wait for her boyfriend. TROUBLE.

But hope is not lost. Emma’s pals, Manny, J.T. and Toby, realized that Emma decided to meet her online pen-pal. Toby figures out how to break into her e-mail and discovers that her “boyfriend” knew how to break in too and was learning how to entice her by reading her e-mails to other friends and learning her interests. They also find out what hotel he told Emma to meet him at.

The kids rush to the school and alert Spike, who calls the police as she and Snake jump into his car and head off to rescue Emma.

Emma has finally realized that the “chaperone” is actually the man who’s been posing as her boyfriend. She runs into the bathroom and locks the door. The Internet stalker eventually coaxes her out by convincing her he’s leaving the room but…he hasn’t! When Emma leaves the bathroom, he grabs her and drags her into the bedroom. Bad news! (Note: Several viewers jumped when Emma was grabbed. The moment was high on tension, low on cheese — well done.)

But yay! Spike and Snake arrive just in time and so do the police! Emma is rescued and the evil Internet boyfriend is taken away.

(Note: That whole scene earned top-notch marks. Very good job, everyone. You are welcome in my TV anytime).

The final two scenes show Joey and Caitlin bidding a fond farewell and Spike lecturing Emma and telling her she can tell her mom anything. There’s also a P.S.A.-type moment when the police officers show up to take Emma’s computer into evidence and tell Spike that when they get it back she should keep it downstairs where she can supervise things instead of up in Emma’s room.

And that’s it, that’s the “Degrassi: The Next Generation Pilot”. The writers followed the tried and true format of issue – emotional climax – issue resolved, with the appropriate “Degrassi” style.

Overall impression:

The young actors actually showed up their classic “Degrassi” counter-parts in the pilot episode. Their acting was solid, believable and age-appropriate, while some of the older crowd’s dialogue sounded a bit stilted and over-rehearsed. Slightly wooden acting aside, it was still good to see Joey, Caitlin and the gang together again.

Emma’s story-line demonstrates that the creative forces behind “The Next Generation” haven’t lost touch with teens yet, showing that one instalment of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” is worth 20 episodes of “Dawson’s Creek”.

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