Everybody’s favourite Canadians were an after-school institution for me. Who didn’t marvel at Spike’s hair, giggle at Joey Jeremiah’s class clown antics, and wonder about French kissing boys a la Heather and Erica? I sure did. I also learned about mono and adoption and epilepsy and how to sneak cooler clothes out of the house when my parents weren’t looking.
Who am I kidding, I never had cooler clothes.
Carly and I recently released our Degrassi Junior High podcast episode, and after 28 episodes downloaded in 46 countries (holla Pakistan!) it is far and away my favourite. We couldn’t possibly get to every single thing I wanted to talk about (42 TV episodes across three seasons is a lot, yo), so I thought I would extend the conversation here, with my favourite things that ever happened at Degrassi.
The 80sness of it all
This is such a time capsule of a show. The 80’s hair frizz, the blue eyeshadow, baggy sweatshirts and teenspeak lingo are artifacts of a whole different era. I even thought it was dated in 1991 but you can bet your bottom dollar I never have and never will let that get in the way. All three seasons are a visual feast of stonewash and huge earrings.
The way everyone pronounces “sex”
Y’all, it’s “sax“. They had sax.
Arthur and Yick investigate
So Yick’s lost $20 in his locker and local bad boy/misunderstood teen angst kid Rick reckons he’s just won $100 in the lottery and treats everyone (and I mean everyone) to a piece of licorice. I’m talking the whole school. He’s the licorice king and he’s making that shit rain.
Yick and Arthur are suspicious – I mean what a coincidence Rick suddenly has aniseed treats by the hundreds to dole out. “He’s really been acting strange handing out all that licorice,” is one of my top five quotes across all three seasons. You know something’s shady when you’ve busted out the licorice with gay abandon.
Turns out Rick just really likes sharing licorice and Yick’s 20 is still in his locker. Crisis averted.
Dwayne’s big dumb goofy grin
Much like when Ethan Hawke does that weird smile in the gas station in Reality Bites, Dwayne’s “uh yup, duh” nod and grin when Scooter asks him if he’s really going to fight Joey after school is something that will stay fondly in my heart forever. If you can be bothered, sit through the entire episode, but I’ve helpfully narrowed it down to 18:27:
Shane/Spike’s mom when they find out Spike is pregnant
Ahhhh this makes me so sad. But if you’re 14, scared, pregnant, and living in the 80s, this is the best reaction to a terribly upsetting predicament. Her mum and her boyfriend absolutely nail it, even though Spike treats Shane like 8-week-old lasagna up in her grill every day forever.
Wheels’s birth dad Mike’s getup
From the pedo mustache to the cutoff sweats, everything he does, says, wears, and is is creepy af despite the fact he’s probably a really nice guy. Except that one time when Wheels hitchhikes across the galaxy after his parents are killed by a drunk driver and Mike’s like “wha?” and is not keen to play Dad of the Year.
I could write reams, and we discussed it at length in the podcast, so I’ll just leave this topdeck visual spectacle here.
“You’re a really great teacher and I’m sorry I thought you were a lesbian”
So Caitlin is worried she’s a lesbian because she keeps thinking about Ms Avery being a lesbian. Apparently nobody is a lesbian, because hey, we can deal with teen pregnancies, doing acid, and STDs but a homosexual character is just a bridge too far.
Things come to a head, with Caitlin’s friends defending her (count “she’s not a lesbian, she’s my friend!” in my Top Five Quotes Of All Time), and Caitlin finally apologising to Ms Avery with the contrite “you’re a really good teacher and I’m sorry I thought you were a lesbian” (hashtag top five), because apparently you can’t be a good person AND a lesbian simultaneously in 1987.
Ms Avery in general was pretty badass as a character. She was single, pointedly a “Ms”, compassionate and understanding, occasionally funny, super fair, a pretty decent model of modern women’s rights, and not afraid to give the kids a kick in the ass if she thought they were being sassy.
Snake thinks everyone should get some fries
Wheels is upset at one point (try the whole show) and he and Joey get a bit heated during an arcade game. Snake’s like “why don’t we just go and get some fries” and I’m like: “I TOO ENJOY FRIES, FRIES ARE A BRILLIANT IDEA, SOMEONE GET ME FRIES”. Fries are the great peacemaker, except if you’re around me and you want more than your fair share of gravy. Then it’s fightin’ time.
Wheels’s dad thinks he’s too young to get nasty
Wheels is keen to take out Stephanie after she hassles him for weeks, and everyone keeps telling him he’s gonna get lucky. Joey takes him to buy condoms at the drugstore, but little does he know it’s Steph’s mom selling them to him. The inevitable showdown when Wheels shows up, hands full of flowers and pockets full of condoms, and Steph’s mom opens the door to her daughter’s date… fabulous stuff.
TBH the mom’s discussion with the kids about sex after that is brilliant.
But when Wheels chats to his dad while walking along the beach, Wheels’s dad tells him straight up that there’s no need. Plenty of time fo dat. Later. It’s a good conversations.
All of Heather and Erica’s outfits
They were true geometric-pattern, big-earring, 3/4-length-skirt loving icons. While my outfits in those days ran more to LD style than anyone else’s (too poor, too country), to look back now on their back catalogue is to be totally and utterly pleased.
I don’t know about you, but these didn’t look too much like the house parties I went to. Sure there were people and alcohol, but we rarely had potato “chaps”, nobody danced, and most people just sat out the back and got stoned.
Mr Lawrence the principal was always harping on as the students were roaming the halls – in one episode he sounds mega-excited about the Tuna Surprise in the cafeteria for lunch, and later on in the episode he is heard on the loudspeaker in the background warning everyone who had Tuna Surprise to go see the nurse.
Anytime Arthur says his full name
ARTHUR KOBALEWSKI. What a mouthful. It was like no name I’d ever heard.
Caitlin’s underground newspaper venture
So the school board is throwing out teen mom Spike and Caitlin’s having none of it. She wants to write a persuasive (200 word lol) piece in the official newspaper the Degrassi Digest, but Mr Raditch freaks out. Caitlin is told about other schools that have an underground student-run newspaper and she decides to self-publish her thoughts on how Spike is being treated unfairly. Spike loses her goddamn shit and Caitlin ends up feeling horrible. But how cool would an underground school zine be? I would totally have been all over that shit. And not only because I enjoyed photocopying.
Stephanie lets The Zit Remedy play at the school dance
“but only if they play one song”
They only HAD one song.
Like, two lines of one song.
Very funny, ha ha, LOL I get it.
Little Art Garfunkel-looking mofo walks meekly into school on his first day with a violin case and a goddamn yellow plastic briefcase and steals my heart. Arthur and Yick give him the runaround and he endures much humiliation with his pleasant little face. He looks like someone whose milk I would have kicked over back in the day, but right about now I could pick him up and stroke him like a puppy. He can even bring his Spiderman comic.
Stephanie, Heather, and Erica getting drunk
Actually pretty legit performances from a bunch of kids who probably had never been drunk. It was hilarious.
New Zealand Zappers
Joey “F” Jeremiah (F for Pharmacy) tells Malanie and Kathleeeeeen that he can get them whatever they want (LOLs to Degrassi Grass) and one of his options is New Zealand Zappers. They take him up on that offer. So wild.
“He always looks so tragic”
Caitlin and Susie love Rick the troubled angsty teen and think he’s cute because he always looks so tragic. No idea why this storyline never took off cos Rick was pretty decent and he at Ceeeeeitlin really leeiked each other. I’d have prefered him to Joey, although the Caitlin and Joey years of the future were pretty epic #tessacampanelli
Carly and I know only too well how Ceeeitlin and Susie feel – we’ve got that “troubled boy is hot” gene too, and it is STRONG.
Melanie’s idea of Junior High parties
MY FAVOURITE BIT where Malanie tells Kathleeeeen that Junior High isn’t what she expected. Kathleeeen was like yeah something about homework and Malanie’s like “no, parties, I thought there would be more parties, with boys, and music and potato chaps”
BOYS AND MUSIC AND POTATO CHAPS
like what kind of party is she imagining here?
You can watch for yourself, but if you find yourself rewinding that one line over and over again, you’re in good company.
Kathleen and Melanie trying drugs
Of course they’re vitamin pills, but the girls don’t know. When they get the giggles in class and Kathleeen totally lets loose, you can’t help but laugh.
The outfits in general
SO 80s. So time capsule. So radical.
The child abuse jacket
Joey is wigging out because his mom has patched his favourite cutoff denim jacket with like, a pair of his old jeans or something. School photos are coming up and he loses his goddamn mind. He’s so off it that he shouts at his mum that her patching of his jacket is child abuse.
Arthur and Yick obsessed with Snake
So Arthur and Yick are super short and Snake is about 8 feet tall, so they sneakily follow him around and watch what he eats, so they can eat it too. It’s about the only time I’ve ever seen a dude eat a yogurt.
LD is not having sexist inequality, and she will take down anyone who thinks girls aren’t as good as boys. She gets all of my thumbs up, such a rad character.
Spike and Lucy talking about sex
Loothy asks Spike what it was like when she and Shane had sax, because she thinks she’s on the train to Pleasuretown and wants to get a heads up. Spike’s answer is totally believable and completely realistic. It wasn’t what she expected, it was over pretty fast, and that it hurts. She also mentions she did it because she wanted him to like her, and also that she didn’t know how to say stop. The first sexual experience of girls the world over.
This picture does not do him justice, he was a preppy hot older dude. He looked like he got out of a Range Rover on an English country estate to offer you a spot of tea in a gold-plated 18th century teacup. He was gorgeous. He was also very, very gay, and Shane acts like a giant baby and his parents disown him and it was really sad. Degrassi fails to model good reactions to closet-emergence and it was a big letdown for us all.
Shane and the baby money
Shane is getting the verbal shit kicked out of him from all corners – his babymama is full of white-hot rage, his parents are annoyed and embarrassed, yet he fronts up week after week trying to help out with Emma, and giving Spike some of his allowance. When his allowance isn’t enough he gets a job. Full marks to a teen boy tryna do the right thing in the face of his entire universe being against it.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin”
BOOM. Being a virgin was a huge embarrassment at my high school, god knows why. You were either “friget” (spelling legit circa 1994 at my school) or you were a slut. Both ways was bad, and everyone was either one or the other, apparently. Most everyone were virgins but would give everyone else the hardest time ever that they were. Fer chrissake, it was the source of much angst. BUT THERE’S NOTHING WRONG WITH BEING A VIRGIN.
DJ Rompin Rockin Raditch
Worst school dance DJ name ever, it sounds like he adlibbed it on set in a moment of panic. But it’s everyone’s goofy schoolteacher tryna be cool, in every dance, ever. He’s like a walking dad joke.
We’re expected to believe that Dorothy is Arthur’s cousin when she looks legit like Arthur in a dress. She looks way more like him that Saxy Steph, but no, they are definitely not siblings. I like her much like I like Arthur, she’s slightly weird-looking and nerdy, and they’re my favourite types of people. Her getting a crush on Yick and staring at him strangely for episodes on end is pure joy.
Trish and the French Fries
There can’t really be room for Ceeeitlin’s 200 word exposé on The School Board Vs Preggo Spike because Trish needs the column inches for the topics that really matter – like getting fries and gravy on the menu in the cafeteria at lunch. I see no reason why this would be ignored.
Writing on the blackboard
So many memories! I was kind of disappointed when I started working as a teacher aide as every single whiteboard in the land had been replaced by whiteboards and pens. I longed for the dusty, asbestos days of squeaky chalk despite the fact I literally cannot touch chalk with my fingers.
Caitlin gets her Eminem on
For some reason, Ceeeitlin feels the need to RAP over the school loudspeaker. I can’t remember what it was about, I think I’ve repressed it from my memory.
Melanie finally had enough of Kathleen
Kathleeeeen shits all over her best friend Malanie, again, for the nine millionth time for reasons known only to Kathleeeeen and Malanie gets jack of it. She dumps her milk (oh for god’s sake, the endless millllllk) all over bitchy Kathleeeeen’s head, finally.
Caitlin one-ups Kathleen the Moral Monitor
Kathleen is disapproving of a pregnant Spike attending school, telling her friends “she should be in a home”. Caitlin to the rescue – “well what about Shane? Shouldn’t we put him in a home?” YEAH YOU DID!
“he’s an older man, he’s in grade 8, this is so decent!”
Melanie (or Malanie, if we’re going down the “sax” route and I mean for real, why wouldn’t we (also sax route haha) is chuffed that Snake has asked her out even though she’s only in grade 7. EVERYTHING IS SO DECENT.
“Stephanie’s going to be sorry she crossed 7c I can tell you”
BAM, last quote. 7c, so specific haha.
Degrassi Junior High on fire at the Graduation Dance
Flammable things blow up at the graduation dance and everyone stands outside to watch it burn. Sad, but also totally dramatic. Exactly why I love Degrassi.
Listen here to Carly’s and my epic take down of the best teen school drama this world has ever seen (90210 you come a close second, sorry). But do let us know – what bits did you love?