When I list my favorite TV series – E.R., Mad Men, Sports Night, Friday Night Lights, Freaks and Geeks, The Good Wife – I always mention Degrassi. I love including Degrassi partly because I enjoy watching someone process how a Canadian teen soap can possibly be on par with more high brow television. I also include Degrassi because it is a damn good television show that often gets passed over simply because it is about teenagers.
You can imagine my disappointment when news broke yesterday that Degrassi: The Next Generation would end its run on TeenNick and MTVCanada after 14 seasons. (Keep in mind, it seems likely that Degrassi will find a new home. Creator Stephen Stohn also tweeted something rather cryptic this morning.) Regardless of what happens next, I’m way more bummed about the mere possibility of Degrassi-less future than a 27-year-old woman should be.
Ironically, although I have an unabashed love for many teen shows (namely Skins), I didn’t start watching Degrassi:The Next Generation until I was in college. Netflix happened to be streaming some of the early seasons and I quickly got drawn into this television universe inhabited by totally normal looking teenagers. By the time Paige was dealing with trauma after being raped and Manny had an abortion at age 14, I was hooked.
Since my initial binge watch, I’ve caught up on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. I’ve fallen in love with so many characters and friendships. Ellie Nash is my long lost emo Canadian soul sister. I cried over J.T.’s death. I wanted better for Anya. I hated then loved Holly J. I shipped Eclare at first but I am totally over their relationship now. I could care less about some characters (sorry Chantal) and I will never understand Spemma (Does anyone??). And somehow after all this time, I’m never dissatisfied by an episode of Degrassi. Except maybe when Clare was hooking up with her almost stepbrother.
Everything imaginable has happened at Degrassi High. Abusive parents, drug addiction, teen pregnancy, cancer, murders, cyber bullying, mental illness, school shootings, gang violence, questionable sexy times in the Ravine. Hell, the school practically burned down in the Season 14A finale. What’s amazing is that it took 369 episodes for that to happen.
Unlike so many teen shows, Degrassi has never been out of touch. Thanks to its longevity, it has tackled issues well before they were cultural norms. Lately, the series has been eons ahead of most shows in its representations of teenage sexuality and mental illness.
Fiona and Imogen became a (short-lived) power couple.
Cam, a hockey player, struggled to adapt to Degrassi and committed suicide.
Adam, a transgender student, fought for acceptance and then died while texting and driving.
These narratives, which are so prevalent in the high school experience, have been normalized and validated through the lens of Degrassi. Only The Fosters and sometimes Switched at Birth are consistently on par with Degrassi. Most other teen shows, with their weirdly too old and attractive casts, are too over-the-top and have too many vampires/werewolves/pretty little liars to really feel like authentic representations of being a teenager.
Degrassi has been around for so long now, many fans simply tune in for pure nostalgia. It’s been remarkable to read over the past day how many people actually care that Degrassi could end. I suppose there was always a sense that Degrassi, kind of like the real high school you went to, would be lingering in the background until you were ready to let go completely.