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Degrassi

Like most women in their late twenties, I spend my Friday nights watching a soap opera for 11-year-olds.

Ironically, I tell you. Ironically.

Last week I finally caught up on all the Degrassi: Showdown episodes. I know what you’re thinking: “What on earth is Degrassi: Showdown??”

I’ll explain: TeenNick does this thing where they give a “name” to, like, 6 or 7 sequential episodes and pretend it’s some kind of exciting mini-series. The tagline for Degrassi: Showdown (really, there’s a tagline) is “Whose side are you on?” and the whole “theme” is that characters disagree with each other. TeenNick, are you actually trying to insinuate that CONFLICT BETWEEN CHARACTERS is a unique dramatic motif?


Did I mention there’s a music video trailer (with production values that in no way resemble the actual show)?

Underneath the fancy marketing, it’s still the same old low-budget Degrassi. Returning (and rapidly aging) characters include Fiona, who’s having an awkward romance with the even-more-awkward Imogen; Drew, who’s finally split up with prissy Katie (to reunite with sexay Bianca); and fan fave creepy couple Clare and Eli, who are also back together (but mostly offscreen).

Season 12 also brings us a bumper crop of new young’uns, including Maya, Tori, and Insecure Hockey Guy (I didn’t catch his name).

Comparing the incoming and outgoing cast got me thinking: why is it that Degrassi characters seem to grow blander over time?  It reminds me of a phenomenon from the world of statistics: regression to the mean (RTM). The basic concept behind RTM is that things have a tendency to average out over time. (Yes, that’s a gross oversimplification. This is a blog about TV and pizza. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves.)

Degrassi Personality Regression To The Mean (DPRTM): Description and Case Studies

When characters on Degrassi are first introduced, they typically dress and act somewhere between quirky/weird (Imogen) and batshit insane (Eli). After a few seasons they regress to bland everyteen protagonists who just want to go to the prom or work at a newspaper. Sometimes they briefly return to their former personality, usually as part of a story arc for one of those godawful straight-to-TV “Degrassi Travels Somewhere” movies. But generally they settle back to “average.”

Eli

Early Seasons: Weird. Intense. Kind of scary. Drives a hearse and occasionally smashes it on purpose. Serious issues with revenge and self-control. Creative but also nuts. Clothing = Hot Topic Halloween Costume.

Now: Basically an average guy. Kind of polite. Spends most of his scenes leaving or arriving. Dresses like a JCPenny catalog model (but with dark colors).

Claire

Early Seasons: Wears a catholic school uniform for no reason. Repressed. Writes erotic vampire lit.

Now: Wears business casual outfits to her internship at the newspaper.

Ellie


Early Seasons: Goth punk with crazy wardrobe. Sassy. Alcoholic mom. Cutter.

Later Seasons: Has boring job at college newspaper with boring boyfriend (what is it with Degrassi and newspapers?). Wardrobe = J. Crew catalog.

Holly J.


Early Seasons: Megabitch supervillian. Backstabs basically every character. Rage issues.


Later Seasons: Eh, she’s really a nice girl underneath it all. Has a series of low-intensity relationships with weird boys. Finds out she was adopted and takes it pretty well, all things considered.

Fiona

Early Seasons: Super-wealthy but unstable. Passionately kisses her own brother during a fancy party out of spite/jealousy. Buys a potbelly pig. Hates Holly J. and plots her destruction. Alcoholic.


Now: Has a stable relationship with a girlfriend who started out weird but is now getting more normal (RTM!). Becomes BFF of former enemy Holly J.

And those aren’t the only examples. How about Emma transitioning from eco-freak activist to ordinary college girl? Or Johnny going from murder accomplice to Ali’s sarcastic boyfriend?

All in all, it’s a pretty solid theory. Any chance of getting it published? Conference proceedings, maybe? No?

Last Friday’s Degrassi season finale was hyped to be the most shocking episode yet – but the only thing shocking was how little happened.

I mean, the show is only like 20 minutes long without the Zeno Hot Spot and Gigantic commercials, but I was expecting more.

Fiona tells Anya about her secret crush on Holly J…

Anya is able to keep the secret to herself for 5 minutes and then spills the beans to Holly J., days before the big dance. I smell drama…

They used this sex-ay promo shot a lot but all Holly J. did was act awkward for one scene until the pair got over it and resolved to just stay BFFs, totally! Moving on…

As for the A plot:

Eli does spooky things that bug Clare, like “accidentally” bring a hunting rifle to school. Ooh, I smell drama!

 The big climax involves Eli busting up his car and Clare deciding to dump him and go to a school dance (which is so exciting it mostly happens off screen).

This is it, guys?

I’m hoping there will be much more debauchery in store for this summer’s episodes.

And I’m sensing Bianca will be the one to bring it.

Bring the trashiness, Bianca. I know you can.

Hating on Eli and Clare, the overexposed Degrassi couple du jour, has become essentially a national pastime. And it’s pretty understandable – Eli is a spooky and pretentious emo kid who drives a hearse and Claire is a goody-goody teacher’s pet who belongs to the Math Club. Eli’s haircut alone is enough to raise your blood pressure.

It’s like Justin Bieber robbed a Hot Topic. In 1991.

But once again the blame lies with the creators and producers —  who are either a) trapped in a product placement contract with a mid-level department store or b) just totally clueless about how young people look and act. Check out what they think 15 year old Clare would wear to school:

Why, this outfit will be perfect… for the Junior Accountant Awards Luncheon!

Even despite Eli and Clare’s obvious faults, I maintain that Eli and Clare are the Degrassi couple you “LOVE to hate,” much more than they are the Degrassi couple you just plain “hate.”

When you really think about it, aren’t they MUCH more fun than watching Marco spend an entire season on the phone with his long-distance boyfriend?

Dylan, Marco’s boyfriend, circa season 7.

Actually, the actor playing Dylan left the show for a real acting career, but since this is a show for children it was ok to frame it as, “uh, yeah, Dylan’s just like…off screen. Yeah.”

Still not convinced?

How about Craig? The 38-year-old screenwriters for season 1-7 had such unwavering moistness for this BORING character that we had to endure a veritable sample space (look it up) of Craig couplings.

Craig and Manny, Craig and Ashley, Craig and Ellie…each one more boring than the last.So now you see why you should give Eli and Clare (or EClare, as the Internet calls them) a shot. In last week’s tension filled episode, Clare announced that she needs some space from Eli’s creepiness and would not accompany him to the Gothic Lit Convention.

It should be noted that, like pretty much everything in Degrassi, Gothic Lit Convention is code for “doin’ it because our parents are away.”

“Dammit, I was sure we were going to do it in my hearse.”

This week’s conclusion will reveal whether or not this turn of events pushes Eli over the edge. I’ll make the popcorn!

Last week, I realized that I have been watching Degrassi for ten years.

Ten.

Years.

You may be asking yourself, “Degrassi — but isn’t that a soap opera for like, 11 year olds?”

Well… basically. But it’s still awesome.

Degrassi is a teen drama starring an ensemble cast of young ‘uns at the fictional Degrassi Community School in Canada. Pretty much every episode is of the “after-school” variety, replete with underage drinking, drug abuse, school shootings, etc. Every few years the kids age out, or get jobs on American shows, and they have to replace them with a new crop.

The current series actually owes its concept to Degrassi Junior High, a teen drama broadcast on Canadian TV way back in 1987. Some of the actors from the original Degrassi Junior High (later Degrassi High) even crop up as teachers or parents on the current Degrassi.

As you might expect from a more than 20-year-old franchise, they sort of struggle to stay current. In addition to edgy plot points (Abortion! Ecstasy! Hoarding!), the scriptwriters frequently resort to piggybacking on other teen entertainment trends. When the Twilight films came out, a character on Degrassi began writing a romance story about (surprise!) vampires. When everyone was abuzz over Friday Night Lights, the previously ignored Degrassi football team suddenly started getting serious screen time. When Gossip Girl was all over Teen People, a brother-sister pair of wealthy socialites enrolled at Degrassi.

XOXO, Gossip Girl (of Toronto).

But the best reason to watch Degrassi is to revel in the anachronistic plots—which are OBVIOUSLY written by 38+ year old screenwriters. In the Degrassi universe, throngs of just-pubesced teenagers hang out at mid-priced cafes drinking coffee and couples in tenth grade solemnly discuss the state of their “relationship.” The fact that everyone on Degrassi has an obsession with cheerleaders – who’s on the cheerleading squad, who isn’t, will the squad get to regionals?!?  — is also the telltale mark of an over-30 screenwriter, because no one under 30 cares about cheerleading in a non-ironic way.

High school parties on Degrassi also  bear a striking resemblance to soirees thrown by suburban publicists.

Whatever happened to beer in a basement?

I KNOW there must be other people over the age of 20 who watch Degrassi, so I’ll be adding episode reviews to my (attempted) blog repertoire. Here’s a sneak peek of this Friday’s episode.