When the long-loved teen television show Degrassi was cancelled in mid-2015, it was met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth by the public at large. Since the first Degrassi series’ premiere in 1979, the show has been a mainstay for Canadians in general and audiences worldwide as the show’s popularity grew. It is that same international love that may have been what saved the show as, only a short time later, it was announced that Netflix would be picking up a new Degrassi series, thus continuing the long-running franchise.
Since its initial run as The Kids of Degrassi Street in 1979, the Degrassi franchise has been tackling personal issues that teenagers of its time have faced in a dramatic but relatable way. Ida Makes a Movie, the first entry in Degrassi canon, addresses the issue of honesty. In its two-year, 26-episode run, The Kids of Degrassi Street also addressed incarcerated parents, neighbourhood gangs, and the sudden death of friends among other problems.
In 1986, Degrassi Junior High premiered to a new generation and addressed new problems, including teen pregnancy, divorce and abuse. Degrassi Junior High also featured the return of some familiar faces, albeit as different characters. Stacie Mistysyn, who played Lisa on The Kids of Degrassi Street, was now Caitlyn Ryan. Neil Hope, who played Griff, was now Derek “Wheels” Wheeler. Degrassi Junior High lasted for three seasons before continuing as Degrassi High in 1989, continuing to address the issues of the time, which now included the AIDS crisis, gay rights and eating disorders.
When Degrassi was brought back for a new generation in 2001, it was dubbed Degrassi: The Next Generation. Since then, it has run for 14 seasons, following the lives of Degrassi teenagers, some of whom are the children of the original class. Over the course of the past 15 years there have been many cast changes as classes have grown and graduated, but the core idea remains the same: to tackle issues of the day in a way that teenagers can relate to. As such, certain archetypes always remain: goths like Ellie Nash and Eli Goldsworthy, or the school idol like Jimmy Brooks and Zoe Rivas.
For example, class of 2014 graduate Alli Bhandari contains strong echoes of Class of 2007 graduate Manny Santos. Both are intelligent women from minority backgrounds who want to be popular and express this through their clothing choices, and both experience a series of boy problems. Their stories have differing details, though: Alli is briefly in an abusive marriage, while Manny undergoes an abortion. And new generations bring new issues and thus, new types of characters. The character of Adam Torres, introduced in 2010, was Degrassi’s first transgender character.
At the heart of the show are the relationships. The rivalries, friendships, love triangles and pairings may have come together and permutated in different ways throughout each series, but always in familiar ways to the viewers.
While waiting for Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix in 2016, it might be fun to see what the issues of Degrassi Junior High were on your local channels, or to catch reruns when they air. Degrassi remains an institution, and its willingness to approach Netflix is just another way that it is willing to change with the times. After all, the success of Degrassi is in its reflection of the times and issues of the day.
Degrassi: Next Class airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET on Family during their F2N programming block and streams on Netflix outside of Canada beginning on Jan. 15.