Degrassi series successfully blends two generations

The Record (Waterloo Region)
Arts, Wednesday, September 17, 2003, p. C5
TELEVISION

Degrassi series successfully blends two generations

JOEL RUBINOFF
RECORD STAFF

When the award-winning teen series, Degrassi: The Next Generation (8 p.m.
on CTV), premiered two years ago in the wake of its phenomenally
successful 1979-92 predecessors — The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi
Junior High and Degrassi High — creator Linda Schuyler was understandably
concerned about drawing a clear line between the old series and the new.

“It makes me very scared,” the former London, Ont. teacher confided when I
visited the set to profile Kitchener’s Chrissy Schmidt, who plays the
underconfident Grade 10 student, Terri.

“Because for some diehard fans, it doesn’t matter how good a job you do.
If we could have come back in a time warp with (former cast members) Snake
and Joey all still in high school, that’s what would have made them the
happiest. But we can’t do that.”

This was a new generation, she insisted, facing new, millennial problems
like cyber-stalking and Internet porn, along with timeless issues like
child abuse, pregnancy, homosexuality, date rape and peer pressure. There
was no place for a bunch of over-the-hill child actors trying to horn in
on the action.

And that, it seemed, was that.

Except that on my visit, I noticed Pat Mastroianni — who played
cafeteria-streaking smart-alec Joey Jeremiah — hanging around the new
cast, offering tongue-in-cheek advice like “You guys are going to be the
voices of this generation . . . don’t screw it up!”

And, hey, wasn’t that Dan Woods, who played Principal Raditch, standing
over by the water cooler?

And did someone mention that Amanda Stepto, who played 14-year-old single
mother Spike, had recently stopped by for a visit?

To make a long story short, two years later they’re all back on the show,
along with Stacie Mistysyn, who played Caitlin Ryan, and Stefan Brogren,
who played Snake.

In fact, at this point, so many of the original cast are putting in
appearances — including, on tonight’s third season premiere, the twins,
Heather and Erica, and new wave hip-chick Liz — you can be forgiven for
thinking the time-space continuum has somehow fallen completely out of
whack.

And I bet you think I’m going to say this is a bad thing, right?

Actually — and I mean this sincerely — I think it’s a good thing, at
least for those of us who grew up with the original series and are
fascinated by the transformation of the quirky, awkward teenagers we
remember into conservative, totally unremarkable adults.

It’s a subtext the show’s creators may not have intended, but when you see
31-year-old Joey yelling at his stepson for skipping school, then trying
to horn in on the 15-year-old’s rock band, you get a sense of how fleeting
youth really is.

“When I was in high school, my band The Zits meant everything to me,” Joey
tells the mortified youngster after being ridiculed as too old and out of
touch.

“I mean, they were good times — some of the best. Everything felt
possible. And then one day I woke up and I’m in my 30s and I have a
daughter and a teenage stepson and I’m thinking to myself, ‘When did this
happen?”‘

It’s a bittersweet moment that adds depth and resonance to a series that
has already staked out its teen turf better than any show in history and,
by embracing its own past, now achieves success on an entirely different
level.

So when 14-year-old Emma (Miriam McDonald) gets upset at her mother,
Spike, for withholding the identity of Emma’s estranged birth father on
tonight’s moving, occasionally brilliant premiere, young viewers
unfamiliar with the original series will identify with her outrage and
view Spike as she does — with suspicion and contempt.

But older viewers — who remember the circumstances surrounding Emma’s
birth and the irresponsible teen father who caused so much grief — will
understand Spike’s hesitation and desire to protect her daughter.

The whole thing is quite ingenious, really, and as the series boldly
charts new territory with a sea of familiar faces, the past, present and
future meld, fearlessly, into one.

CHANNEL SURFING

Season finale: Cupid (9 p.m. on CTV).

Train 48 Outtake Special (10 p.m. on Global). The Toronto-based reality
soap set on a commuter train to Burlington offers enough bloopers,
backstabbing and nasty insults to tide viewers over until its new season
kicks off Sept. 23. Former local resident Andrew Martin is part of the
ensemble cast.

Category: Arts and Culture
Uniform subject(s): Radio and television networks
Story type(s): Column
Edition: Final
Length: Medium, 615 words

) 2003 The Record (Waterloo Region). All rights reserved.

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