Whatever It Takes: “Degrassi” Comes to HBOMax

Whatever It Takes: “Degrassi” Comes to HBOMax

A couple weeks ago, the news dropped that HBO Max would be picking up a new Degrassi show.

For the masses who didn’t grow up with a cross-Canadian-culture on their tube, this may just feel like a shrug-whatever moment. But for those of us who can still sing The Zits song, who remember the trauma of wearing a swimsuit in public, or who always rooted for Spike and Snake, we have a lot of fondness for this eternal classic.

What’s Degrassi?

Actually it’s a where, not a what. The original series was an after-school special type annual show from 1979 to 1982 called The Kids of Degrassi Street. In 1982, it became a series.

The premise was … real kids! The very first episode was “Ida Makes a Movie” (based on the book of the same name) and was about the kids having lives and doing kid things. What made the series special was that they cast real kids. The actors weren’t always the best, since they were aiming for children playing children, but over time they balanced out the various experience levels to make a fun series.

In 1986, the series was canceled and became Degrassi Jr. High (and yes, I can still remember that theme song). After three years of Jr. High we had Degrassi High which ran for another 2 years. That got us to 1991 and all was silent in Degrassi Land.

But for those five years, the kind of stories we got were actual, real, stories. Sex and drugs, yes, suicide, yes, but also banal things like studying for exams or worrying about developing breasts (or not). Unlike series like Beverly Hills 90210, the kids were age-appropriate and had relatable problems. I have a memory of a sex-ed class showing us the episode where Spike finds out she’s pregnant, but also when Brandon (of 90210) is worried about sleeping with an older woman. The stark disparity of how relatable Degrassi was stuck with me.

Unlike those American shows where teens were played by people half again my age, Canada had kids who looked young because they were young.

The Next Generation

In 2001, 10 years had gone by and someone realized “Hey. The baby Spike had back in Jr. High would be going to Degrassi now, wouldn’t she?” They had a class reunion movie, with many of the original cast returning, and suddenly realized a lot of us were 10 years older and had fond memories.

At first, the reboot Degrassi: The Next Generation was split between the old students being adults and parents (Snake was now the vice principal!), but over time most of the adults (properly) faded into the background and we resumed following the kids of Degrassi once again.

Much like the predecessors, TNG jumped to the front of actual issues that kids faced. Marco was a young man questioning his sexuality. He had a multi season arc about coming out and his first boyfriend, Dylan, was a member of the hockey team. Dylan’s sister, Paige, turned out to be bisexual which was NBD. Kids struggled with mental health, bullying in a new, online, world, and figured out who they were.

Oh and this kid, Jimmy? He was played by Aubrey Graham, got shot, and lost his basketball career. You probably know the actor better by his stage name, though: Drake.

Just Degrassi

As the importance of the older characters faded, the show slowly migrated to being just plain ol’ Degrassi again, and we got more and more gay kids. Some kids had problems with it, some didn’t. Adam, a young trans man, joined the school with his brother, and eventually found a girlfriend who was from a conservative, religious, family. When Becky’s family tried to reject Adam, she pointed out that God would never make her fall in love with a woman, so Adam must be a man.

Of course, being a real story about real kids, Adam’s ending wasn’t the best. He died in a car accident. A lot of other kids had traumatic issues, and those plots tended to be cyclical. Every 3 or 4 years, some main character got pregnant. Sometimes they kept the kid, sometimes they didn’t. There were school shootings, budget cuts, uniforms came and went, and the kids kept growing.

It always fascinated me as to what would and wouldn’t change, and how the stories repeated without being boring. For example, Paige fell in love with a young hot teacher, and later on so did Tristan. While Paige lucked out, Tristan did not and was sexually abused. Not that Paige had it much better, but that’s another plot line.

The Next Class

After 14 years (!!!), the show was canceled and then pretty much immediately picked up as Degrassi: Next Class by Netflix. That lasted 4 years, and moved into even more serious topics. They brought in more social media drama, racism, religious discrimination, refugees, and more. There was an episode about how different types of Muslims wore head coverings, and yes, one of those girls was gay.

But Next Class had a couple flaws. It was on Netflix which made it a little more ‘edgy’ sometimes, to the detriment of the characters. While TNG veered towards sensationalism, Next Class jumped the shark on a couple occasions. As we hit season 4, though, it actually started to even out and get back to telling the complicated but welcome stories.

The End…

After the fourth season, in 2017, there were crickets. At that point, we were up and running this site and I’d rewatched so much of the show to add everyone, I was excited for the next season. Sadly in 2019, show producer and frequent director Stefan Brogren (aka Snake) informed us all the show was canceled. I was sad since they show had finally stepped into gender fluidity!

So when, on January 13th 2022, they announced a new Degrassi show was coming, I texted some friends and danced.

School is back in session at HBO Max as WarnerMedia Kids & Family announced today it has greenlit Degrassi, a brand-new version of WildBrain’s award-winning youth franchise of the same name. The new teen and family series helmed by showrunners Lara Azzopardi (Backstage, The Bold Type, Mary Kills People) and Julia Cohen (Riverdale, A Million Little Things, The Royals) will include 10 hour-long episodes and is expected to launch in the US exclusively on HBO Max in 2023. Additionally, HBO Max has picked up the U.S. rights for the entire 14-season library of the franchise’s longest running and most popular installment, Degrassi: The Next Generation which will become available on the platform this spring. Degrassi will also become available at a later date on Cartoon Network.

A reprise of the original teen drama, Degrassi is a character-driven series about the high school experience and the thrilling, often painful journey of self-discovery. Set in Toronto, the new series explores a group of teenagers and school faculty living in the shadow of events that both bind them together and tear them apart. The show travels deep into the hearts and homes of diverse, complicated characters, as they struggle to find their new normal, reaching for hope, redemption and love.

WarnerMedia Kids & Family Greenlights new Degrassi Series and Picks Up Degrassi: The Next Generation Library for HBO Max

Unlike the original series, though, this will be a one hour drama. While some people are worried it will embrace the Euphoria style of storytelling (Drake, yes that one, works on both series), many are excited to get another series of these Canadian kids and their little world.

Personally, I’m looking forward to seeing how they update the stories and bring them to a new generation.

Whatever it takes.

About Mika A. Epstein

Mika has been deep in fandom since she could say 'Trekkie.' With decades experience in running fansites, developing software, and organizing communities, she's taken on the challenge of delving into the recesses of television for queers long forgotten. Making this site with Tracy is nothing short of serendipity. Mika lives with her wife and their cats in Southern California. Of course she has a hybrid, but she'd rather ride her bicycle.
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