New Year, new network and a new class. Yes, Degrassi makes its triumphant return to television in 2016 after upheaval in 2015. First came word last summer that Nickelodeon had cancelled the long-running teen series for U.S. viewers. That was followed by the news MTV Canada would no longer broadcast Degrassi in this country. After much hand-wringing on sad-face emoticons, the good news was announced: Degrassi was moving to Family Channel in Canada—it debuts Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT—and Netflix in the rest of the world.
“A few years ago we were doing a read-through and Lyle [Lettau], who plays Tristan, said, ‘Why are we not on Netflix?'” recalls longtime series star and series producer Stefan Brogren. “And everyone said, ‘Yes Lyle, we’d all love to be.’ But that started us thinking about where our audience is at. Where are they watching these shows?” The audience was headed online, streaming content, and the Degrassi: Next Class folks decided if they had the chance to pitch the program to Netflix they would. Brogren is quick to compliment the online network, marvelling at the lack of notes and being left alone to follow the season story arc everyone wanted to follow.
The same is true of the relationship with Family, where Degrassi: Next Class takes pride of place in the channel’s new teen block, F2N. Brogren says their Canadian carrier has been just as supportive of the show’s direction, which kicks off with 10 episodes, and fans will see a lot more truth than they’ve seen from the iconic show amid the tales of high school students beginning their journey into adulthood. Of course, there are issues to tackle along the way, from homophobia and racism to substance abuse and the complications of dating in the social media age.
Back for more drama—and laughs—are Ana Golja (Zoe Rivas), Ricardo Hoyos (Zig Novak), Eric Osborne (Miles Hollingsworth III) and Sara Waisglass (Frankie Hollingsworth) alongside Brogren, who plays Principal Archie “Snake” Simpson. The New Class title is fulfilled by new cast in Jamie Bloch and Dante Scott, who play Yael Baron and Vijay Maraj, respectively.
“Yael is a girl in a man’s world,” Bloch, who most recently co-starred on Wingin’ It, says. “She’s very into video games and technology. She’s quiet and keeps to herself and doesn’t like to be the centre of attention.” Bloch had originally auditioned to play a lesbian character named Maude, but changes resulted in new student Yael.
“No, she is not a lesbian, and that becomes very clear near the end of the season,” Bloch says with a laugh.
“Vijay is very outgoing and energetic and a little bit dramatic,” Scott says of his character. “He’s always there to talk to if you need him—I think he’s a really good friend to have—and can take a negative situation and turn it into a positive.” Tonight’s debut episode oozes positivity; Scott says its because of characters like Vijay and stories that delve into hope and a bright future for the Degrassi kids.
“This season feels a little like old-school Degrassi did,” Brogren says. “We were able to have more fun while at the same time telling exactly the stories we wanted to tell. For all the trouble that goes on at Degrassi you still want to be there.”
Degrassi: Next Class airs Monday to Friday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Family Channel for two weeks and streams on Netflix outside of Canada beginning Jan. 15.