Don't feel guilty about watching Degrassi – it's good:

Author(s): Joel Rubinoff
Section: Entertainment <br.
Publication title: The Record. Kitchener, Ont.: Oct 20, 2001. pg. F.04
Source Type: Newspaper

Hey, here’s an idea. Once contestants on the reality teen show Supermodels (tomorrow, 7 p.m. on 6, cable 3) fall prey to one of the typical supermodel diseases — like bulimia, anorexia or low self- esteem — they can tune into the fictional teen show, Degrassi: The Next Generation (tomorrow, 7 p.m. on 13, 9, cable 12, 9) and figure out how to deal with it.

If they’re still confused, they can stay tuned for its documentary companion, 21c (tomorrow, 7:30 p.m. on 13, 9, cable 12, 9), which will expand on issues raised by Degrassi, or log on the show’s Web site, http://www.degrassi.tv.

And this is only one virtue of the sequel to one of the most successful teen series of all time, which first aired in 1979, hit its stride a decade later, and developed a rabid following around the world since signing off in 1992.

The current take on the original — by those who grew up with it – – is that it was a guilty pleasure that attained cult status due to its bad acting and inherent campiness.

Yeah, right. My take on it is that that’s the excuse a lot of embarrassed twentysomethings give to justify their former allegiance without seeming uncool. Irony, after all, is hip.

But it’s a crock. The real secret of Degrassi’s remarkable success — a success, I believe, that has every chance of being repeated with this new series — is that it provided a rare, realistic window into the interior lives of teenagers.

Teen pregnancy, shoplifting, abortion, violent boyfriends, sex — for 30 minutes each week, the show transported viewers back to junior high and high school, to eavesdrop on characters struggling with the same issues they and their friends struggled with in previous generations, even if the outward trappings were different.

For teenagers it offered reassurance, for adults much-needed insight.

And the sequel — set 10 years after the original — seems poised to carry on the tradition.

If you can get your head around the fact that Joey, Caitlin, Snake and Spike are all adults — just like you and me, for crying out loud — and that Spike’s 12-year-old daughter, Emma, is now in Grade 7, there is much to like about this brave attempt to tackle teen issues at the dawn of a new millennium.

Mind you, I’m biased. Not only am I an avid fan of the original series — which I found enlightened, quirky and eminently entertaining — but my cousin, Shane Kippel, is one of the stars of the sequel (He plays the schoolyard bully, Spinner, described in the press notes as a “poster boy for Ritalin”).

And if I do say so myself, he and K-W actress Chrissy Schmidt — who plays the impressionable, insecure Terri — are two of the best things on the show, as you’ll see in next week’s instalment.

Tonight’s episode, though clunky in spots, is also admirable, dealing with a brother-sister rivalry that turns nasty when both run for school president.

Check it out — you might be surprised.

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