Degrassi' hooks up with local scandals

By Amy Amatangelo
Friday, July 1, 2005 – Updated: 10:04 AM EST

It’s not easy being a teenager, and no TV series knows this better than “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

Over the years, the series, which returns tonight at 8, has tackled mental illness, date rape, drug abuse, child abuse and domestic violence. Every episode of this Canadian-based show is the quintessential “very special episode.” These kids make the gang on “90210” look like they led uneventful lives.

In tonight’s episode, titled “Secret,” sweet Emma (Miriam McDonald), who is all grown up, is tired of the way people have been treating her since last year’s school shooting. She acts out by hooking up with Jay. In this case, “hooking up” is code for oral sex.

Jay (Mike Lobel) is a jerk who balks when Emma initially rejects him. “There are a lot of girls down at that ravine, Emma. I picked you,” he tells her. Emma earns a bracelet for each encounter with Jay, and she realizes it instantly makes her hip. Although nothing even remotely graphic is shown, the episode frankly addresses the topic and doesn’t shy away from using current slang.

But on “Degrassi,” nothing is without an immediate consequence. There’s an instant outbreak of gonorrhea. While it is, of course, important for teens to learn about sexually transmitted diseases and the cost of unprotected sex, the episode skirts the root issue. Even if Emma didn’t contract gonorrhea, she shouldn’t be intimate with a boy she hardly knows who treats her poorly and makes her feel bad about herself. That message is more implied than the obvious “casual, unprotected sex leads to sexually transmitted diseases” lesson.

Some might wonder if the series is going too far by tackling this topic. After all, this is something that never would be discussed between Seth and Sandy on “The O.C.” But given recent headlines about prep schools in this area, this is a timely topic, and the episode should help parents begin conversations with their own children (a parent discussion guide can be found at http://www.discussions.the-n.com).

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