Everything old is new again :Forget Joey, Spike’s daughter Emma takes centre stage on this new show
By David Silverberg
Lindsay Wilsons answering machine message played one of her favourite songs from childhood. Wilson and her roommates decided to record the opening theme song from the hit 1980s show Degrassi High.
Fans of this Canadian cult classic speak excitedly about climactic scenes and they drop character names as if they were reminiscing about high school friends.
I had a huge crush on Wheels, says Wilson, a Ryerson theatre graduate. And my sister loved Snake.
Fans have mixed emotions about the next level of Canadian teen drama as the new 15-episode series Degrassi: The Next Generation airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on CTV. Set 12 years after Joey, Caitlin, Wheels and Spike graduated from high school, the show centres on Spikes daughter, Emma, and her friends in grade 7. The refurbished Vincent Massey Junior High, in Etobicoke, once again hosts the crises the kids are sure to face.
Wilson loved the premiere episode, aired on Oct. 14, that dealt with Emmas encounter with a cyber stalker and the parallel sub-plot of a Degrassi High reunion.
It was exciting to see all the people I pracitcally grew up with, she says. The new show followed the same formula of real people facing real situations.
Nostalgia is a motivating factor to check out the new series, that will feature Snake, played by Stefan Brogren, and Spike, played by Amanda Stepto, in recurring roles. While only Joey, Lucy and Wheels only appeared on the reunion special, Iris Yudai feels it was worth it.
I wanted to see what they were up to all those years later, says Yudai, 29, a continuing education student taking writing courses at Ryerson. But it wont hold my interest because these new kids are good actors while the old Degrassi had cheesy acting that I loved.
Yudai says the high school issues didnt appeal to her as much as the unattractive realistic characters did.
It wasnt good acting so I thought that I might have had a chance to be on the show, she says, laughing. She mentions how different it was than the glossy Beverley Hills 90210.
Wilson reminisces with friends about Melanies pot-smoking sleepover, Wheels underhanded thievery and BLTs love triangle. She says thats part of the fun of Degrassi High after all these yearsnot only watching the reruns, but talking about the scenes that sparked laughter, grief and the odd tear.
Its outlook on pre-teen life related to me, says Wilson, whose Monday nights watching the show became a bonding experience with her sister. Everyones been bullied so Degrassi episodes on bullying said something to me.
The show drew over a million viewers in Canada and was sold to more than 100 countries, including Australia, England, and France. Degrassi High won an International Emmy in 1989 for tackling such controversial topics as teen pregnancy and AIDS.
Joey and the gang hung up their knapsacks after the movie special Schools Out in 1992. Some cast members continued with acting while others resorted to more menial work to pay the bills. Neil Hope, who played Wheels, worked in Toronto as a warehouse manager for a furniture store.
Stacie Mistysyn, who played Caitlin, starred in 1992s sitcom Weird Science and moved to Los Angeles in 1996. She was accepted to Ryersons radio and television arts program three times but never enrolled.
Some fans took dedication to a new level. Mark Polger used to host Degrassi marathons while he and his friends munched on popcorn. They were so fanatic that they studied American versions of
episodes to see which scenes were cut out of Canadian content.
Degrassi told stories in an upfront way, says Polger, 27, who runs http://www.degrassi.ca.
Is he looking forward to the next generation of relationship woes and classroom controversy?
It will be more polished, more middle-class values as opposed to working class, Polger says. The stories will be up-to-date with trendy clothes, high-speed Internet and online education.
Wilson is not itching to watch the new Degrassi like she did those Monday nights a decade ago. Rather, she has one wish for the producers of her most-loved TV drama.
I would love a DVD filled with classic episodes, she says. Id watch it for hours.