Fine tuning: Degrassi the phenomenon

Fine tuning: Degrassi the phenomenon

Alex Strachan

Stefan Brogren hosts a look back at the Degrassi High phenomenon on The Degrassi Story. (CTV.ca)

The Degrassi Story
CTV

The kids of Toronto’s Degrassi Street first appeared in a short film called Ida Makes a Movie, in 1979.

The grainy, handheld film was a modest look inside the lives of elementary school children, but from the beginning it was clear that this one was going to be different. There was an open-faced honesty about it, an unabashed realism and a refreshing lack of self-consciousness. These were real kids. They may have been young, but they were not stereotypically cute, sweet or sentimental.

Degrassi’s humble origins play a key role in tonight’s equally modest, absorbing documentary, The Degrassi Story.

The program is a plug for Monday’s fifth-season premiere of Degrassi: The Next Generation, but Next Generation plays a small role only, toward the end, when the filmmakers kibitz with Kevin Smith, a renowned Degrassi fan who directed several episodes last season, at his Los Angeles home.

The Degrassi Story is more concerned with the original Degrassi series, The Kids of Degrassi Street, which ran between Sept. 12, 1979 and 1986. And it’s fascinating. Stefan Brogren, who played Archie “Snake” Simpson in the 1987 and ’89 spin-offs Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High respectively, is the program’s host and tour guide. He tracks down several of the original actors and writers to Los Angeles, where they’re trying to land that elusive big break. Brogren is trying to find answers a question that is almost always unanswerable — why do people love a TV show, anyway?

Degrassi was conceived by Linda Schuyler, a former grade 8 schoolteacher, and Kit Hood, a video editor and himself a former child actor. Schuyler and Hood share their reminiscences about Degrassi’s formative years, and it’s all very quiet and touching.

The Degrassi Story is not remarkable filmmaking, but it’s compelling just the same. Here’s the test: If you have never heard of the Degrassi story, or you don’t much care one way or the other, The Degrassi Story is still an eye-opening look inside a Canadian television success story. That’s reason alone to watch

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