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Today’s Reject: Orange Is The New Black

Why did we start watching: Orange Is The New Black is the first Netflix original series show I remember watching. The first season was campy, self-aware fun with the occasional heartfelt flashback sequence. Like the rest of America, we ate it up like popcorn. By seasons three and four the bloom was off the rose, but we decided to give the recently-released season five a try.

What did we think it would be like: Campy shows tend to get sillier over time, so I was prepared for the tone to go a little spastic , e.g., late-period Malcolm In The Middle. But I also expected some fun/humor along with it. (I was wrong.)

When did we stop watching: Episode 2, but it probably should’ve been Episode 1. Or back when they started the panty selling business.

Why did we stop watching: Oh boy. Where to begin…

Hungry Games
1) The super unfunny meth head girls. These two make Cletus on The Simpsons look like nuanced satire. There’s a scene I’m mostly forgetting (but it’s too stupid to look up) where these two don’t know how to, like, turn a doorknob. Because they’re DUMB DUMB DUMB. get it they’re DUMB? Hmmm…..
2) Weird sadistic bullshit. I don’t know about you guys, but for me TV is supposed to be at least partially fun. And scenes involving 1) weird sexual abu ghraib type torture and 2) revenge that involves inducing a stroke and 3) a character falling in love with her rapist — are pretty much no bueno. And you can’t pull the “great art” card because….
3) This show is trash. It was always probably 15% trash, but now it’s more like 95%. And 95% trash doesn’t get to go serious and do ripped-from-the-headlines storylines about police brutality. It may get you lots of retweets, but it’s offensive. Stay in your trash lane.

How secure am I in our choice? Completely. I would probably go back and unwatch those two episodes if I could, and I watched eight seasons of Parenthood.

What to watch instead: Go for Trash Done Right and point your roku remote to Degrassi: Next Class. I’ve been watching Degrassi in its various incarnations for a disturbing number of years, and this new season does not disappoint. Like OINTB, Degrassi trivializes serious issues… but it’s so much fun you forgive it. Plus it teaches you important (read: useless) facts about the youth of today, like the fact that there’s such a thing as a “prom proposal (promposal).”

(I’m still amazed by this.)

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Oh. Oh my.

We got sucked into this movie on a Sunday afternoon, the traditional time for doing laundry and watching 5-hour Lifetime Movies. But! It’s not technically a Lifetime Movie. At least, not originally.

Chloe has real stars in it and appeared in actual movie theaters. It’s got arty camerawork and tense dialogue, but instead of retiring to IFC it ended up on Lifetime. This happened because 1) it is terrible and also 2) it was filmed in Canada.

It stars Julianne Moore…

?????

I know. Everyone has at least one person (real or famous) who makes them feel inadequate and dumpy and Julianne Moore is definitely on my list. The woman has cheekbones that just WON’T QUIT.

They make my face look like a cheese danish.

It’s more than just her looks, though. Julianne Moore is a really good actress who’s made a career of playing intelligent and complicated characters. She’s classy and smart so WTH is she doing in this trashy “erotic” thriller? It’s like if Meryl Streep was suddenly in some stupid, lame, dorky…

….oh.

Ahem, back to Chloe. The main plot follows Julianne Moore, a bored housewife living with her husband and teenage son in a big, sparsely decorated house straight out of Unhappy Hipsters.

The interior designer’s monochromatic color scheme had relegated the children’s toys to the exterior. The architect would not be pleased.

Julianne’s got a pretty sweet life, at least in terms of hegemonic middle class values: she’s a doctor, she’s married to a professor, their kid is a talented, they’re pretty wealthy, the house has a lot of windows, she’s got great cheekbones…

But there’s trouble in paradise. Julianne finds a cell phone picture of the husband hugging a college student and becomes convinced that he’s having an affair. She has a great idea: hire a random call girl to flirt with him and report back to her. This scheme reminds me of those rom-coms where a girl vows to find her platonic male friend (who she’s secretly in love with) a date. WHY, WHAT A PERFECT PLAN THAT CAN IN NO WAY BACKFIRE HORRIBLY.

The call girl is the eponymous Chloe (played by Amanda Seyfried). Kudos to the casting agent for picking an actress that, appearance-wise, seems like she could actually be a young prostitute.


I think it’s the dead eyes.

Chloe starts flirting with the husband and eventually they kiss. She reports this back to Julianne Moore, who gets pissed off because Chloe was just supposed to see if he was interested — not actually do anything.

Too late.

Eventually Julianne gets over it and asks Chloe to continue her fake relationship with the husband. (Which is always shown in flashbacks told from Chloe’s point of view — hint, hint.) At this point the movie veers into bad fake French film territory as Julianne gets all hot and bothered about Chloe seducing the husband.

Julianne! What are you doing? You’re a serious actress! Your cheekbones are better than this!

(At this point, Mr. Max reminded me that Julianne Moore was also in that silly it-was-aliens movie, The Forgotten. But this is a whole ‘nother level.)

So, because this is one of those “arty” movies where characters start randomly having sex with each other, Julianne and Chloe begin an affair of their own.

The age difference is a little distracting, I think.

It’s all very moody and dark. Eventually, in a dramatic plot twist that anyone with half a brain saw coming a mile away, Julianne realizes that the husband has never met Chloe — she was lying about everything. She breaks all ties with Chloe and confesses the affair to the husband and who’s all like whatever, sounds pretty hot. All is well until…

Chloe, bent on revenge, shows up at the house to seduce the teenage son. Julianne gets back just in time to CB, but not before Chloe grabs a hairpin and starts threatening her. (Um, a hairpin? Those are dangerous?)

The thing looks pretty blunt to me.

Chloe demands one last kiss, and Julianne complies, thus scarring her teenage son (who’s still hiding out of sight) for life. Teenage son reveals his presence, startling them both, and causes Chloe to accidentally fall through the big glass window to her death.

Seriously, how is this not a Lifetime Movie?

The movie ends with Julianne embracing the husband at their son’s graduation party. She smiles and turns to her guests and the camera zooms in on Chloe’s hairpin in her hair. (GET IT?! IT MEANS SOMETHING. WE’RE NOT SURE WHAT, BUT DEFINITELY SOMETHING. SOMETHING SMART. BECAUSE THIS IS AN ART FILM. WE THINK.)

Boringness Rating: 0 Hotels. Get out the popcorn because this is the best: an awesome trashy Lifetime Movie + pretty actors + self-importance + a huge budget. You might even consider renting it for the non-cable experience (i.e., sex scenes). Also, be on the lookout for Degrassi alum Nina Dobrev. Go Canada!

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.