Degrassi goes new school


Drag-racing delinquents. A single-mom cheerleader. Pre-marital teenage erectile dysfunction. And one of the regulars is apparently marked for murder.

This is not your parents’ Degrassi. Or your uncle’s, or your aunt’s, or your older sibling’s. Or mine. If anything, it’s Tori Spelling’s (now that she’s married to a Canadian) a slicker, sexier, new-school Degrassi, a sort of 905-one-oh, if you will.

Let’s face it, times change and so do kids, and you wake up one morning to suddenly discover that those precocious tweens you tucked into bed the night before have blossomed overnight into curvy young hotties and surly, unshaven, nascent thugs.

And as life goes, so goes Degrassi this has always been its trademark and its defining strength. And why it has become so beloved by so many on both sides of the border.

It was easy to overlook the Next Generation part of the title when this “new” group was still approaching and/or emerging from puberty even with the kind of real-world problems that have set Degrassi apart from every other TV teen show since the original series first hit the air back in 1987.

Drug abuse, eating disorders, sexually transmitted disease, domestic violence, prime-time profanity … Degrassi’s kids have never been shy when it comes to courting controversy. So it stands to reason, as this generation comes of age, that the stakes of their young lives would accordingly rise.

Tonight’s sixth-season debut, “Here Comes Your Man,” a two-part episode airing on CTV from 8 to 9 p.m., sees some of our gang returning for their last year of high school as others move on to college and beyond.

Still in the spotlight is Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald), a five-year NextGen veteran, having apparently fully recovered from last season’s anorexia and her volatile relationship with bad-boy Sean Cameron (Daniel Clark), and now making kissy-face with Peter Stone (Jamie Johnston), the spoiled son of principal Hatzilakos (Melissa DiMarco) … at least, until Sean returns from Wasaga, resolved to finish high school and open up his own garage.

Some of the old/new Degrassi gang have actually graduated and are ready for college, including Paige Michalchuk (Lauren Collins), her gay hockey-player brother Dylan (John Bregar), his now live-in lover Marco (Adamo Ruggiero), and her former best friend and also, briefly, her lesbian lover Alex (Deanna Casaluce), who is in fact now back at Degrassi part-time for make-up classes to become a massage therapist.

Note to newcomers: do not even begin to attempt to follow all this if you are not a totally committed Degrassi fan. I mean, I love the show I was even on it once and I haven’t managed to keep up either.

The last time I checked, Emma Nelson was, like, 12 years old …

It was the fall of 2002 and my pal Bruce McDonald invited me to cameo on a pivotal second-season Degrassi: TNG episode he was directing to play the minister who marries original Degrassi class members (and now the only remaining ongoing characters) Archie “Snake” Simpson (Stefan Brogren) and Christine “Spike” Nelson (Amanda Stepto), mother of young Emma, whom I remember then as an absolutely angelic child (though I am reliably informed that, away from my prying ministerial eye, this was in fact the occasion of her first screen kiss with Sean).

So you can imagine my consternation and chagrin at seeing her now, in the full bloom of young womanhood, whooping it up in the shotgun seat of a souped-up ragtop. Let alone the after-the-fact revelation that what apparently drove the poor girl into her anorexic spiral last year was catching her stepdad in a forbidden lip-lock with the school’s shapely principal …

As the fake official at his fake wedding, I am of course apalled. Is nothing sacred?

Not on Degrassi. And may it ever be so, as this current class inevitably moves upward and onward to make room for yet another new generation.

And when they do, I see for them a far brighter future than, say, the graduates of that ludicrously unrealistic American equivalent, Saved by the Bell, which, incredibly, debuted around the same time.

Think about it: a celebrity game-show also-ran (Mario Lopez on Dancing with the Stars), a professional and an amateur porn star (Elizabeth “Showgirls” Berkley and Dustin “Dirty Sanchez” Diamond) and a serial show-killer (Mark-Paul Gosselaar, NYPD Blue, Over There, Commander-in-Chief).

Perhaps if their faux high-school experience had been just a tad more realistic, at the very least they would have already gotten a lot of this stuff out of their systems.


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