Whether you want to admit it or not, you’ve probably watched at least one episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. The college class of 2019 may be a little too young to remember the earliest seasons of the show, dating back to 2001, but if you’re a fan of the rapper Drake, you might know that he played Jimmy Brooks on Degrassi when he was still known as Aubrey Graham. Rick shooting Jimmy in the hallways of Degrassi Community School will go down as one of the most iconic, OMG kind of moments that this show is so well known for.
Degrassi has become known for pushing limits beyond what’s traditionally talked about on television. While, yes, sometimes it does become a little bit far-fetched and too drama-filled for traditional high-school life, the plots and storylines tackled by this show go far beyond hoping that your favorite pairing gets back together or that your least favorite character will get what’s been coming to them. Sometimes it seems like this show is teaching us more of what not to do to successfully navigate high school, with all of the drama pictured. In two seasons alone (in this case, seasons twelve and thirteen), the issues of homophobia, sexuality, religion, teenage parenthood, body image, depression and suicide, gang violence, texting while driving, cancer, PED use, domestic violence and sexual assault were all touched upon in some capacity, be it one or two episodes or an arc spanning half the season.
These are just a few of the things I took away from the show and it's 14 year run.
1. Whatever it Takes:
From the very beginning of each episode, the theme song reminds the viewers that “whatever it takes, I know I can make it through.” It’s a simple phrase that carries so much meaning both to characters on the show and the viewers watching at home.
I could go on and on about every single Degrassi character’s “whatever it takes”, but then we’d be here all day. There are so many well thought out, brilliant characters that have been created and put through the ringer in 14 years. I know there’s no way I’ll get through this without talking about my favorite character, so let’s just get that out of the way now; Miles Hollingsworth III, season 13 and 14’s bisexual billionaire bad boy. His dad was the number one problem in his life, so in typical Degrassi fashion, Miles did whatever it took to eventually get Mr. Hollingsworth, a politician, out of his life for good.
- Miles confronts his father.
Miles was pushed to a certain point with the pressure his dad put on him to live up to the family name. Miles went against his father’s word multiple times, throwing parties, skinny dipping and drinking alcohol at social events. When his father wanted him to make the starting lineup of the basketball team, Miles resorted to steroids. Whatever it takes, right? He makes his dad out to be a homophobe to the media when he begins dating Tristan Milligan. He and Tristan are pragmatic lovers; driven by Miles' head and desire to get under his dad's skin, not his heart.
Miles gets high a lot and crashes his car. The final straw for Miles is actually being hit by his father. Burning a picture of his father leads to setting a hallway of the school on fire, but strangely ends up being beneficial for Miles. His siblings find out what Mr. Hollingsworth has been putting Miles through, and defend him for once instead of their father. Whatever it took for Miles to break free from his dad ended up being beneficial in the end, as the Miles seen at the end of the show is a happier Miles than in the past season.
One of the best things about Degrassi is that nothing’s ever sugarcoated and that's pretty clear just by watching Miles grow, make mistakes and learn how to navigate being his father's son throughout two seasons. Obviously, life isn’t perfect, and this show is one of the few shows on television that didn’t shy away from the perfect Hollywood dream life. Whatever it takes doesn’t have to be easy. Sometimes, it's not even legal (a lesson in what not to do), but it definitely isn’t rainbows and sunshine. That’s important to remember.
2. How to deal With an Ending:
There are moments of hope that can be found even when a character would least expect to find it. A character usually has to hit rock bottom before things can get better, but everyone gets an ending.
All good things must come to an end. All bad things end too. Basically, everything has an ending. It’s how we deal with the ending that is what makes all the difference. It’s always been rare to see an ending that wasn’t happy, but even the unhappy ones are done right. When the ending is unhappy, the people left behind are the ones who have to turn that ending into a new beginning.
Dealing with happy endings shouldn't be hard, that's why we're going to talk about the unhappy ones.
Unhappy endings are rare, as most characters get that storybook ending; they get the guy or girl, acceptance into their dream school, and a generally perfect life. Real life doesn't work like that, and once again, Degrassi was there to teach the 12-17 demographic just that.
The most commonly talked unhappy endings from the show's run were JT Yorke, Cam Saunders, and Adam Torres. All three classify as an unhappy ending because they ended in death. JT's death was the only one directly at the hands of others. Cam committed suicide in the school greenhouse. Adam was killed off in an attempt to teach viewers the severe and deadly consequences of texting and driving.
- Liberty finds JT.
All three of the show's untimely deaths were beloved characters. JT, part of the first generation of Next Gen characters, was the class clown, and was generally liked by everyone. Cam was a talented hockey player with a girlfriend who loved him. Adam, the show's first openly transgender character, was a fan favorite as well as a very friendly face in the halls of Degrassi Community School.
All three characters had people who loved them, and those characters left behind were ones who had to deal with an ending and create a new beginning. Whether it was Liberty, Manny, Toby, and Emma still mourning their friend at their own graduation ceremony, Maya trying to create a new beginning for herself after the death of her boyfriend, Dallas blaming himself for Cam's death, or Becky and Drew finding solace in eachother after the death of their boyfriend and brother, respectively, something could be taken from the unhappy endings.
Things get better and there's always a chance for you to turn unhappiness around into a new beginning.
As an 11 year old kid who had turned on Degrassi for the first time ever, it's safe to say some of the things I was watching were foreign to me. I didn't understand certain concepts in certain storylines, but the great thing about Degrassi is the way things are explained. Certain medical storylines, countless coming out storylines, and Adam Torres' journey as the first transgender character are just a few of the things this show deals with in depth.
Just one example of something that was made clear to me throughout the show's run was bipolar disorder. Before watching the show, I had only heard the words before. Craig Manning and Eli Goldsworthy's bipolar disorder plots were eye opening in the way they were handled. I'll always remember the scene where Eli intentionally crashed his car, that he'd been extremely attached to. A kid like me, who grew up in a somewhat "paper town" (thank you, John Green), had no idea what someone going through bipolar disorder's life was like, but this show made it even just a little bit clearer to me.
I could go on and on about Degrassi, it's importance, and the impact it's made on both viewers and cast members alike. I will say this, however. Whether you think it or not, Degrassi was an important show. Missing on TV will be raw, honest stories that tell it like it is without sugarcoating what may be deemed ugly or hard to talk about. All good things must come to an end, and unfortunately, it was Degrassi's time this past summer.
Lead Image Credit: TeenNick