What I Learned From My Aggressive Degrassi Marathon

The early 2000’s as a whole should be entombed in a shrine for the entirety of history

I have a specific fascination with the early 2000’s. My love for teen movies produced between 1994-2004 is not necessarily well-disclosed—enough to where I have become tired of writing about it and fear for its redundancy in my own writing. When I was able to separate my pride from pleasure and indulged in an aggressive marathoning of The Next Generation, I was genuinely thrown off-guard by the blatant tackiness of every element of the show—the dialogue (you gave me a social disease!), the superannuated technology they use in their Media Immersion class (which was definitely incorporated into the show during the first season to underscore the era’s sudden fascination with the manipulation of computer technology), the fashion, and the plotlines themselves (particularly the very first episode when Emma is hunted down by her online predator, but we’ll discuss that later). It combines the unmistakable beauty of the early aughts with the cloying melodramatic nature of valueless teen-marketed culture (specifically, culture that doesn’t acknowledge the intelligence of its own audience) that I hold so close to my heart.

The show’s attempt to capture the zeitgeist of each season’s respective era rendered every episode painfully outdated. Apart from the ubiquitous issues that were tackled within them, the episodes did not age well. The earlier seasons seem to have fossilized the true nature of the aughts that everyone fondly remembers it for. Everything is so beautifully 2000’s—Paris Hilton namedrops, Nelly Furtado bedroom posters, mid-class IM’ing. It’s precious. If I could live inside of the Degrassi universe circa-2003 for the rest of my life, I would.

There truly did not need to be nineteen seasons

The running joke about Degrassi is the fact that it has been on for so long and the bulk of the episodes continue to perpetuate the same themes, topics, and issues. Fortunately, the occasional reincarnation of past plotlines and character arcs was never explicitly redundant (even if I often found myself skipping through entire episodes because their plotlines seemed too disinteresting to sit through twenty-two minutes of it).

When the last of the OG cast graduated, it took me a while to acclimate to the new group of students that I was forced to care about. A lot of the newer characters were reflections of past ones; Clare is clearly a reincarnation of White Savior Queen Bitch Emma (although much, much more tolerable), KC is literally Sean, Holly J is an unmerciful mirror-image of Paige, and Eli is a more brooding carbon-copy of Craig. The supersedence of older characters that are clearly written off the show due to bigger, better, and higher-budgeted projects—Shenae Grimes, Nina Dobrev, Jake Epstein, aaaaaaaand Drake—with bland replacement characters (and, not to mention, the shitty justification for each character’s departure) seemed to have ruined the trajectory of character arcs that the producers spent so many seasons trying to carefully evolve.

Although I grew to like the newer characters, if the episode didn’t involve a tragedy, pregnancy, or death (for this reason alone, two-part episodes were the greatest), I only had enough patience to truly focus on the ones centered around my favorite characters. If the main plot didn’t involve Craig, Jay, Eli, or Ellie, I spent half of the episode idly scrolling through my Instagram timeline or online window-shopping in another tab. I found myself feeling extremely indifferent to the majority of plotlines of each season.

There is so much extraneous content in Degrassi; I understand that all twenty-two episodes in each season are supposed to balance darker subject matter with less hard-hitting issues, but do I really have to pretend I care about trivial subplots to get to the juicier content? Instead of developing plausible conflicts and designating an appropriate amount of time for specific subplots, the producers prioritized the equalization of good with bad (Manny’s abortion, Liberty’s pregnancy, and Emma’s eating disorder were concluded just as quickly as they were introduced, making each individual character arc appear to be forced and brushed under the rug).

Like, who gives a fuck about Johnny DeMarco? Or when Emma gets her first period? Or any of Peter’s plotlines? The first season was worst for this; you have to act like you care about Spinner going through puberty or Ashley running for student council president just so you can get a feel for the character’s backgrounds.

I know the whole point of Degrassi is relatability (and the active justification of each episode’s plausibility), but sometimes the ridiculous and the outlandish is what keeps the audience engaged. I didn’t start watching it to see the character progression of Bruce the Moose. I wanted to witness the drama! The teenage pregnancies! The drug abuse!

Did there really need to be nineteen seasons? Shouldn’t have viewers learned the value of not taking Adderall or leaving your drink unattended the first time? Do we really care about the new captain of the power squad? Or any of the multiple music subplots (God, save us from another terrible school band)? The producers spent too much time half-assing the development of characters that were dull and uninteresting instead of focusing on storylines that captured the most interest.

Adults truly ruin everything

Midway through my senior year of high school, I got into the Norwegian television show Skam via stan Twitter and developed a short-lived love affair with it. Before it concluded its fourth and final season, Skam aired in the most peculiar and unique fashion; it unfolded in real time. When the characters within the show went to a house party at 11:35 PM on a Saturday night, the clip of them interacting at the party was uploaded onto the NRK Website at the same time on Saturday. When two characters gossiped within a groupchat after they left, that text conversation was uploaded onto the website. By the end of the night, the photos from the party would be uploaded onto a character’s Instagram account.

By formatting the show in this specific manner, the creators developed characters that were not necessarily fictional. They were not frozen behind a screen or powered down once the show ended and segued into another Teen Wolf rerun. With active online social media accounts and accessible text conversations, they seemed to be real people—the kid in your math class, your lab partner, the boy from next door. The novice actors that portrayed each character were students themselves, unlike television shows like The O.C. or Glee, both of which contained actors that were five years short of a midlife crisis (and, not to mention, the characters were modeled around the actors that portrayed them, which continued to give Skam the most-realistic feel possible).

This demolished a heavy cement barrier between the viewer and the content they were consuming. The characters were accessible and easy to identify with, which gave it a keen voyeuristic feel. You were never really watching scripted television while watching Skam, but rather omnisciently witnessing a genuine exchange unfold in front of you. This allowed for viewers to project themselves onto the characters and their storylines because they were, virtually, real. Accessible, yet unattainable.

The unprecedented (or, at least, near-unprecedented) facet of Skam was the fact that the plot of each season was rooted in real-life experiences. Julie Andem, the creator of the show, spent a year observing, studying, and interviewing teenagers to develop an understanding of their lives—their worries, concerns, aspirations, influences, and pressures. Through this, everything discussed within the show was not far-fetched or infeasible (sorry, Degrassi). It was the sweet spot between True Life and Skins.

Although it is physically impossible to have aspirational teenage screenwriters draft working scripts for television (which stan Twitter seems to forget), Andem and NRK’s joint-decision to interview actual teenagers in pursuit of the most authentic content possible worked really, really well. This is vaguely the opposite of Degrassi. As much as it had a lasting influence on the millennial generation that watched it on The N after coming home from school, it’s completely misleading and depicts an inflated and hyperbolized side of high school that you will only find within fiction. It’s understandable that the showrunners desperately strive to have their content attain a certain degree of genuineness, but after attempting to shoehorn one-thousand different taboo topics into one season, it eventually becomes clouded by novelty. 

An explicit example of this occurs in the very first episode, a two-part special that finds Emma being hunted down by an online predator in the newsworthy year of 2001. This episode is campy at best; not only is it entirely unrealistic, but shrouded in absurdity. Its inanity highlights the fact that adults definitely write content for the show and are not necessarily attuned the reality of being a teenager in the new millennium (being that parents thought all of their web-surfing children were being stalked by predatory older men, it makes sense that the adult showrunners thought it was a bigger threat in students’ lives than it really was). This inability to write from the mindset of a teenager unfortunately takes away from the impact of each episode and destroys the show’s intentional purpose of influencing its viewers’ perception of right and wrong.

Damn, was high school really that eventful? 

I know I just complained about its unbelievability for seven paragraphs, but watching all of this shit happen to the student body of Degrassi Community School made me contemplate my own high school experience. Did I miss out on something? Should I have had a ravaging drug problem? Should I have started a band? It’s too late now, I guess.

 

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