Same old Degrassi but darker

Same old Degrassi but darker

Season 7 of latest incarnation of high school drama starts tomorrow with provocative topic rape

Jan 13, 2008 04:30 AM

Raju Mudhar

Entertainment Reporter

To amend the words of the immortal Zit Remedy, the ongoing adventures of Degrassi really have become “something that we’ll never give up.”

As the seventh season of Degrassi: The Next Generation gears up to debut tomorrow at 7:30 p.m. on CTV, it has almost been 30 years since the kids on filmstrips! first captured the imaginations of young people across the country and worldwide. It is the teen show that has never shied away from attempting to realistically explore issues that young people face; the new season is no different. And Zit Remedy fans be ready, there’s a new band roaming the halls of Degrassi High.

“We have a brand-new band that emerges through the second half of this season, a band like we have not seen before. It’s fantastic,” says executive producer and creator Linda Schuyler. “They are called Studz S-T-U-D-Z. But they pronounce it stoodz. It’s really fun.”

Schuyler is in the midst of editing this year’s final graduation episode, featuring an appearance by another, more established, musical guest.

“We have Natasha Bedingfield as the guest in the last episode, so I’m cutting a sequence to (her hit single) `Unwritten’ right now, which is a wonderful song to use in high school graduation scene,” she says.

It’s funny that she brings up the end of high school, because for all of the plaudits Degrassi has won through the years, the one thing that truly sets it apart from other teen-based TV shows is the way that it has managed to deal with aging which has been the destruction for many of its peers.

When the American teen show One Tree Hill returned last week, instead of attempting to deal with university it just skipped the four years altogether and had the characters pick up their lives after their post-secondary experiences. Like M*A*S*H, this iteration of Degrassi has lasted longer than anyone’s actual high school experience (unless one is very, very fond of victory laps).

“I cannot think of one successful university show. Can you?” asks Schuyler. “The thing with aging on Degrassi is that we simply roll with it. If you just look at what we’ve done in Seasons 6 and 7, we’ve stayed with some of the characters that we love like Paige (Lauren Collins), Marco (Adam Ruggiero) and Ellie (Stacey Farber), and put them in a university house, where we’ve explored more the dynamics of living communally as a group without parents for the first time more than the actual university experience … I think that works, but we’re not building a whole series around (university). And certainly, should we go forward into our eighth season, the intention is to follow our next group of students into a different university experience, but still the main thrust of the stories will always be on the high school.”

It’s that level of honesty and attempted authenticity that has always set Degrassi apart. The fact that show has always cast actors within a year or two of their characters’ ages has always helped. But she does come back to the setting as one of the keys to the show.

“It’s such a defining moment in your life, those four or five years you spend in high school (and) it’s the great equalizer rich, poor, black, white, we all have to go … the stakes are higher in high school. And the thing where Degrassi gets so many of its stories from is that people are experiencing so many things for the first time. Because those four years, you go through so many changes, both physically, emotionally, it’s probably the most dense period of one’s life for change.”

Shenae Grimes is a perfect example of that, on screen and off. The 18-year-old actress who plays Darcy Edwards had planned to head down to Hollywood for the pilot season, but due to the writer’s strike has changed her plans.

“I’m just hanging out. I’ve got one more high school credit to get and I just actually found out that I got an internship with Fashion Television, so I’m really excited about that. Hopefully that will finish up around when the strike does,” she says.

But Grimes is excited about the turn that her goody two-shoes abstinence-ring-wearing Spirit Squad captain character Darcy takes this season. Darcy feels pressure from her boyfriend Peter to have sex, but the plot quickly heads into darker territory, with ramifications throughout the season.

“My jaw dropped. Literally,” says Grimes of her initial reaction to the developments. “More and more things just kept happening to her, and I was like `guys, one issue is enough!’ ” she jokingly says. “But I felt honoured to be given such an amazing storyline, but big issues that I knew I had to tackle seriously, but lots of pressure, so it was very exciting.”

Like many actors on the show, Grimes says she was a big fan of the series before she was ever on it, and while this year the spotlight will be on her character, she’s glad some of her co-workers are sticking around.

“This season they’ve integrated the post-secondary storyline, so they’re still all our favourite characters, and from this point forward, a lot of us are graduating after the seventh season. I’m not too sure what’s in store but they’ve introduced lots and lots of new characters that fans will definitely take to. (Rival high school) Lakehurst invades Degrassi High, which stirs up lots and lots of trouble,” Grimes promises.

“What happens to Darcy is important because it ends up having reverberations within the school community, huge reverberations, so there’s a lot of mileage in that” says Schuyler. “One of the characters will develop cancer, and how he deals with that is really fascinating. We’re also dealing with young kids wanting to be famous from posting online videos of them fighting, doing this sort of one-upmanship about fighting and then posting that violence on the web. We’ve got a couple of fun music stories and even an episode where we deal with stem cell research,” she says.

“And you know, of course, the fun and malarkey getting ready for graduations and exams, so you know, it’s your regular year at Degrassi, some tough issues, some really fun romances and much more.”


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