So, apparently, do thousands of American teens who have embraced the made-in-Canada series that takes a brutally honest look at high-school life. The cross-border love affair continues Monday when CTV begins airing a new two-part episode entitled Lexicon of Love, in which American indie filmmaker Kevin Smith and his sidekick Jason Mewes (Clerks, Mallrats) return to Toronto.
This time it’s for the premiere of the latest film featuring their Jay and Silent Bob screen alter egos, the one they were supposed to be shooting on location at Degrassi High in last season’s three-part story arc.
In one scene, Mewes embarrasses Smith (they play variations of their real-life personalities) by revealing that Smith preferred Toronto over Los Angeles for the red-carpet premiere because he loves “that poutine crap.”
Smith, smitten with old CBC Degrassi episodes when they aired on PBS stations in his native New Jersey, has become an avid supporter of the new show as well.
“He had been afraid to watch it because he loved the original show,” said Linda Schuyler, producer of Degrassi: The Next Generation.
“The reason he called me was to say ‘Schuyler, I can’t believe it, you caught lightning in the bottle twice’.”
Smith – currently putting finishing touches on his upcoming film The Passion of the Clerks – wanted to write and direct the Degrassi episodes he appeared in last year, but under Canada’s fussy drama subsidy rules, the show would have lost major Cancon points with a foreigner in those credits.
Now, there’s a possibility he may direct a Degrassi movie, said Schuyler.
“There’s more interesting ways to structure a feature than there is television,” she said hopefully. “It’s all up for grabs right now.”
In the latest Degrassi instalment featuring Jay and Silent Bob, Smith finds himself dispensing relationship advice concerning an awkward lesbian kiss between regular characters Paige and Alex.
It’s another example of how Degrassi: The Next Generation has not shied away from controversial subjects, part of its huge appeal on N (formerly Noggin), the MTV specialty channel where the show has been heavily promoted and is a huge hit.
They’ve gotten away with storylines no U.S. broadcaster series would dare tackle, said Schuyler, although one on abortion did get cut.
While the kids draw crowds when they appear at Canadian shopping malls, Schuyler says one recent visit to New Jersey drew 4,000 screaming Degrassi devotees.
“They’re wearing, like, Canadian flags and they have their face painted with Degrassi written on them,” she said.
“They come out like real, rabid fans.”
She thinks the appeal lies in the fact that the show is far removed from, say, a California fantasy series like The O.C., that teens can identify with Degrassi.
“It’s ‘Oh my god, that’s my life’ or ‘I recognize that person, it’s me or my friend.’ It just strikes them in a more visceral way.”