Canadian viewers have been watching one version or other of the “Degrassi” TV franchise for the better part of almost four decades.
“The Kids of Degrassi Street,” about schoolchildren from a Toronto neighborhood, aired on Canadian television from 1979 to 1986. The next iteration, “Degrassi Junior High,” featured many of the same actors (though apparently new characters were invented) as they advanced in age. That series also made its way to American television, on PBS, as did the next version, “Degrassi High.”
After a break of several years, “Degrassi: The Next Generation” appeared in 2001, appearing here on Nickelodeon’s TeenNick channel. And after that version was cancelled, the series soon continued with “Degrassi: Next Class,” which was picked up in the United States on Netflix. The first two 10-episode seasons appeared last year.
On Friday, Season 3 of “Next Class” became available on Netflix for viewers to binge-watch or savor one episode at a time. The “Next Class” version of the Degrassi has all the hallmarks of earlier versions: portrayals of adolescents that are pretty true; exploration of issues that include relationships (straight and gay), sex, teenage pregnancy, drugs, drinking, suicide, racism, and just about any other you could think of; and moral lessons that are genuine but not too preachy.
The show is Canadian, but not too Canadian, meaning that it is unapologetically set in Toronto (as opposed to Anytown, North America), and there are the occasional Canadian pronunciations that sound a little funny, eh? But most if not all of the issues and situations are just as relevant in high schools south of the border.
Parents, teachers, and administrators have roles, but the students work out most things among themselves. A major backdrop of the first two seasons of “Next Class” has been social media. Just like in real life, the students at Degrassi Community School are constantly on their phones and computers.
One major story arc of Season 2 involved involved perceptions of racism. The girls on the Degrassi volleyball team pranked a rival school with a predominantly black student population with a zoo-themed painting. The storyline explored issues of white privilege and “trigger points.” (The progressive-minded show is probably a nightmare for those on the right who are easily offended by political correctness.)
Season 2 ended with a cliffhanger involving the crash of a school bus full of Degrassi students who were heading to the big volleyball game. Season 3 opens with some popular characters still in the hospital, while the school is preparing to welcome an influx of Syrian refugee. Tension immediately erupts when the Queer-Straight Alliance is booted from its club office so the space can be turned into a Muslim prayer room.
At Degrassi High, new issues and challenges are always walking through the doors.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.