Degrassi's Joey returning, but show is an original series, though he's older, wiser and without hair

Degrassi’s Joey returning, but show is all about teens: Actor agrees to recreate character from original series, though he’s older, wiser and without hair:[Final Edition]
Liane Faulder, Journal Television Writer. Edmonton Journal. Edmonton, Alta.: Sep 29, 2002. pg. B.5

Full Text (621 words)
Copyright Edmonton Journal 2002)

Degrassi: The Next Generation

What: Season two premiere

Time and channel: Tonight at 7 on CTV

– – –

Loyalty is laudable, but being true to a TV character would seem to push the limits of sanity.

Still, it was a commitment to the spirit of fictional figure Joey Jeremiah that led Toronto actor Pat Mastroianni to a meaty role in this season’s Degrassi: The Next Generation. Mastroianni was only 14 when he captured the role of Joey, the fedora-wearing class clown in CBC’s international hit TV series from the 1980s, Degrassi Junior High.

Degrassi talked about hot-button teen topics like sex and drugs before it was trendy to do so. Breaking that new ground helped Mastroianni win a Gemini for best actor in 1988.

So when CTV resurrected the franchise last season with a new, half-hour look at the lives of adolescents, Mastroianni, now 30, was invited to return as an adult player. The polite and chatty actor agreed to a reunion special to begin the season, but wasn’t interested in anything more.

“I gratefully declined because I wasn’t sure what they had in mind for me,” recalls Mastroianni. “I wanted Joey to have some meaning. I owe my career to playing that character … and I’m proud of that. I didn’t want to cheapen Joey’s memory by going back just for the sake of work, or of having my face on Degrassi.”

But several months into last season, award-winning Degrassi producer Linda Schulyer called back with a proposal for the perfect way to bring Joey into the 21st century. A car salesman with his own business, Joey would be a widower with a small child who would connect with one of the series’ new characters, Grade 9 student Craig Manning (Jake Epstein).

The concept worked for Mastroianni and tonight’s second season premiere, directed by Bruce McDonald, sees the return of Joey, albeit older, wiser and without hair. This season, the junior high population must meld with senior high students (cutbacks abound, even on television) and things are chaotic. There will be 22 episodes, up from 15 last year, which gives the Degrassi kids more room to stretch. Mastroianni, while relishing his role, feels the spotlight should stay on the teens, and insists there is no shortage of stories to tell.

Despite the fact that today’s teens are tech-savvy and exposed to everything, they’re still kids.”They haven’t had the life experience yet to deal with the issues and make an educated decision,” Mastroianni says.

The cast of Degrassi: The Next Generation won an award for Best Ensemble in a TV series at the Young Artist Awards in California. Its companion documentary series, 21C, garnered a Gemini nomination for Best Youth Program earlier this week. 21C ran Sunday nights last season. Starting Oct. 4, the series moves to Friday nights along with W5 for five, hour-long installments spread throughout the year.

The opener looks at young people who work their way through school by taking jobs in the sex trade. Producer Malcolm Fox says he hopes the audience will move with the show, especially now that it has a Gemini nomination as bait.

“It’s a wonderful thing for the unit, it’s a big boost and everybody’s really excited,” he says, noting 21C will get grittier this season.

“Young Canadians have to deal with a lot of serious stuff. The stories we did last year on living with HIV, bullying, those really brought us an audience.”

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