Since the early 80’s Canada has produced a teen drama franchise that has covered every high school crisis ranging from suicide to worrying about your penis size. Whether it be The Kids of Degrassi Street, Degrassi Junior High, Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation, or Degrassi: The Next Class, this franchise has created their own style around how to present these teen crises. Said style is usually dismissed by most people as cheesy and unrealistic. Especially in Next Generation and Next Class which is full of presentational acting, characters that are very dumb, and unrealistic dialogue that feels like it is just a guess of what teen slang sounds like.
But that’s just the outer shell of the show. The reason Degrassi is one of the best vehicles for not only teen drama but drama in general is because the stories are real. The dialogue may not sound cheesy and the way the characters got into the conflict in the first place may not be realistic. However, the issues presented are real teen issues which you can identify with. For Degrassi, it’s not so much what works, but what can move the story along in order for us to cover this big issue. For example, Peter’s crystal meth addiction in season 9 came from a very random place. While the people who got him hooked were very wealthy so they could afford such uncommon party drugs, the peer pressure and situation didn’t seem extreme enough for Peter to get addicted to meth. However, it didn’t matter how they got there, as long as Degrassi got to a point in the story where there was a meth addiction so they could talk about it.
Degrassi: The Next Class has proven that this franchise can keep up with the times and address problems that are currently relevant. Next Class realized that this generation is starting to normalize mental health issues and treat them legitimately. This is beautifully done with Hunter Hollingsworth at the end of season 1 and beginning of season 2. Hunter has depression which manifests itself in anger toward others. We see him try to hurt other people, create a kill list, and even bring a gun to school. Then at the beginning of season 2, Degrassi takes Hunter’s story, which not every teen with depression could relate to, and addressed the more broad topic of the normalization of mental health issues. We see Hunter being brought to a psychiatric ward, start to understand he has a problem, and follow him as he copes with it and finds ways of helping himself. This is a very real moment. Especially in a time where these issues are starting to be brought to the surface. I applaud Degrassi. It doesn’t matter if its cheesy or ridiculous, they find a way to get to where they need to go. Once they get the story where they need it to be, they tell a real story of struggle that is relatable.