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aka School’s Out

Degrassi Junior High developed into Degrassi High, breaking new ground with a teen show that featured actual teenaged actors and real-life issues with long-term consequences. Through six seasons, the cast faced abortion, drugs, pregnancy, racism, suicide, and STDs, but also dating woes, generational conflicts, bullies, crushes, basketball, rock concerts, sleepovers, and acne. Finally they graduated, and the show sent them off with this 1991 tv movie, which does not end happily, but holds the promise of better times for most of the characters.

Spoilers follow.

The credits roll over the valedictorian’s address The main cast face the final summer before university, jobs, or whatever else signifies the start of adulthood. Derek "Wheels" Wheeler works at a garage, drinks heavily, and fixes up an old car. He hopes to cross the country and be with his girlfriend. Archie "Snake" Simpson works as a lifeguard and whines about not being able to get laid. Alexa plans her wedding to Simon; Simon gets dragged along with little say. Caitlin Ryan plans university with Lucy and considers losing her virginity to Joey Jeremiah. Joey dates Caitlin, but, facing one more year with the younger characters (he failed several courses) and too little time with his busy girlfriend, he becomes involved with Tessa Campanelli, who until this point has been a minor player in the Degrassi universe. Most other members of the graduating class appear, but in supporting roles and cameos. Few of the younger characters, who might have carried Degrassi for another season, appear at all. This stays true to the series, which focussed on a few characters each episode, and dramatically, a two-hour film requires such a focus. The series’ creators have wisely woven their plot around a handful of the most popular Degrassi kids1

We follow these characters through the summer, to a climax at a party which occurs in August. Around the same time Tessa, now pregnant by Joey, has an abortion. Nothing terribly original occurs, but the story works because the characters seem believable. The use of the actors who are the age as their characters has always given Degrassi a power that other teen shows lack.

The CBC, which handled the original broadcast, from 8:00 to 10:00 pm, had a different set of standards governing what could be shown before and after 9:00 pm. Consequently the unedited film plays like a regular Degrassi episode for the first hour; the second hour features (very) brief nudity and, in a scene that has found fame of a sort, obscenity:

A frustrated Snake, unaware that Caitlin has entered the room, responds to Joey’s teasing by confronting him with the fact that he’s "dating Caitlin" but "fucking Tessa Campanelli."

"You were fucking Tessa Campanelli?" asks an outraged Caitlin.

The audience of fans collectively thinks, "Hey! They said ‘fucking’ on Degrassi!" Reportedly, within a week, at least one Toronto retailer was selling unlicensed "I fucked Tessa Campanelli" t-shirts.

The party ends with an accident which leaves a child dead, Derek in custody, and a series regular permanently disabled.2

The show’s epilogue occurs some months later, at the teenage wedding of the still-virginal Simon and Alexa. Snake brings his new girlfriend; he balks at Joey’s suggestion that he visit Derek.3 Joey and Caitlin dance. Tessa, he admits, won’t talk to him; he has no idea why. They both wonder what might have been.

Degrassi went into rerun heaven after that, enjoying huge success with younger and overseas audiences. Many of the actors appeared in the short-run Degrassi Talks, in which they interviewed teens and experts about issues covered in the series, but they were playing themselves, and not their i characters. A decade would pass before a Degrassi Reunion movie appeared on television, one which doubled as the pilot for Degrassi: The Next Generation. This edgier, dramatically impressive, but somehow less charming version of the show chronicles the adventures of Spike’s now-teenaged daughter and her classmates and a handful of the now-adult original characters.

Writer: Yan Moore

Pat Mastoianni...Joey Jeremiah
Stacie Mistysyn...Caitlin Ryan
Neil Hope...Derek "Wheels" Wheeler
Stefan Brogren...Archie "Snake" Simpson
Kirsten Bourne...Tessa Campanelli
Anais Granofsky...Lucy Fernandez
L. Dean Ifill...Bronco Davis
Irene Courakos...Alexa Pappadopoulos
Michael Carry...Simon Dexter
Amanda Stepto...Christine "Spike" Nelson
Siluck Saysanasy...Yick Yu
Gretchen Helbig...Joey’s Mom
Maureen Deiseach...Heather Farrell
Angela Deiseach...Angela Farrell
Dayo Ade...B.L.T.
Sandra Oh...Waitress

Featuring original music by Gowan.

1. True, favourites vary, but it’s fair to say that Caitlin, Lucy, and the Zit Remedy trio-- Joey, Derek, and Snake-- rank among the show’s most popular characters, played by some of the stronger actors. Spike (Amanda Stepto) would also qualify, and she receives more screen time than the other characters who play secondary roles in this plot. The enigmatic Liz (Cathy Keenan) does not appear at all, though she has turned up occasionally in Degrassi: The Next Generation.

2.One of the show’s significant glitches occurs at this point; we’re told the deceased child is only three years old, but we see a much older child playing the corpse.

3. Archie has always been more than a little uptight and judgmental. His entire family disowned his older brother when they learned he was gay. To my knowledge, the series has disowned the brother, too; I don’t believe he’s ever rated mention on Degrassi: the Next Generation. Correct me if I’m wrong.

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