BINGE OR NO: Degrassi: Next Class Season 1 – Review (May Contain Mild Spoilers)
The Little Canadian Show that Never Grew Up made its premiere appearance this weekend (starting January 15th) in its new home (Netflix), with ten highly binge-able half hour long episodes. The episodes were all conveniently titled using hashtags to make them seem “all cool” and “millennial-approved” and stuff. Because, really, who wouldn’t want to watch something called #ThisCouldBeUsButYouPlayin or #SinceWeBeinHonest?
As the Proverbial Peter Pan of Television Shows, this little gem has been around in various iterations, since some time in the early eighties. (That’s a REALLY long time to be in high school!) As such, its seen a whole lot of cast members come and go, some of whom (well, mostly just Drake) went on to become major household names.
Admittedly, I’ve been a bit of a fairweather fan of Degrassi, which makes sense, seeing as I’m no longer exactly (cough, cough) part of its target age group. I was all about the show during the early “Paige, Spinner, Jimmy, Emma, Manny” years, but found myself watching a bit less diligently as time went on. This was so much the case, in fact, that when I readied myself to watch the new Degrassi: Next Class, I was surprised at how few of the current castmates I actually recognized from previous viewings.
Fortunately (though I’m sure it helps to have seen previous episodes, to provide context and understand inside jokes), Degrassi: Next Class functions pretty well as a standalone series. The characters’ personalities, their various relationships to one another, and their basic backstories, are pretty easy to pick up within the first episode or two. (Though I did often find myself a bit confused as to which characters were in which grade.) The rest of the gaps, you can fill in fairly easily, by paying a visit to your local Degrassi Wikia.
I’m only a little ashamed to admit that I completed the entire season in a single weekend. And you know what? I really enjoyed the darn thing!
All the things I loved about “old school” Degrassi (the humor, the drama, the friendships, the cute little high school romances, the surprisingly sensitive tackling of current teen issues) were still there. But the series also had a new modern spin to it. Throughout the episodes, there was a pervasive undercurrent of online activity in all its various forms: texting, vid chatting, gaming, tweeting, cyber stalking. I found this to be a pretty accurate reflection of today’s world, in which most of our lives and relationships, particularly those of teenagers and young adults, are carried out online and through social media.
This fairly recent change to our society absolutely impacts the way in which we all interact with one another. It also tends to lead to some pretty humiliating hijinks, the likes of which Jane Austen never could have predicted.
Issues addressed during this season included, to name a few: new feminism, cyber bullying and stalking, drug addiction, mental illness, masturbation, sexual consent, homosexuality and bicuriousity, depression, panic attacks, school shootings, STDs, and battling with terminal illnesses.
Another thing I enjoyed about the new series was the wide array of characters. No matter who you are or were in high school, there’s going to be someone on this series with whom you could relate.
Stand out performances for me this season, included Eric Osborne as Miles Hollingsworth, the guy who, at least on the surface, seems to have everything: tons of money, good looks, and the kind of superficial popularity most of people dream of in high school. However, as with most characters, Miles’ inner demons, anxiety, and the unrealistic expectations placed on him by his family and himself take a toll on him in a major way throughout the season.
This gives Osborne the chance to show some real vulnerability, and unravel in a way that seems raw and real. It also makes the character’s journey intriguing and immersive. So, by the end of the season, when Miles is able to turn around and help someone else in need, the emotional gravity of his scenes with that character feel particularly well earned.
For Olivia Scriven’s Maya Matlin, the shy band geek turned feminist rockstar, the issues she copes with this season are more external. As anyone who has ever published their work online can tell you, not everyone is going to like what you do, or agree with your message. And standing behind the safety of a telephone or laptop screen makes it a heck of a lot easier for those people to tell you exactly what they think of you, without fear of repercussion. It also makes it easier for those same people to find out personal details about your life that wouldn’t have been accessible ten, even five, years ago.
If you have ever felt unsafe or targeted, while you go about your daily life, for whatever reason, you can relate to the trauma and transformation Maya undergoes throughout the season. Scriven does a nice job of portraying that unique mixture of fear and frustration.
The third big stand out performance of the season, for me, was Spencer Macpherson, as the young Hunter Hollingsworth, an introverted gamer with a hair-trigger temper, who seems to teeter on the fine line between reserved dejection and uncontrollable anger, throughout the entire ten-episode season.
It’s the kind of character, which, if put in the wrong hands, could seem at best, unbelievable, and, at worst, a cartoon villain. But Macpherson handles the role with a surprising sensitivity and finesse, offering the character of Hunter some complex and interesting layers that might not be successfully conveyed if the character were played by a lesser actor.
But lest you think Degrassi: Next Class is all doom and gloom, there are a lot of laughs to be had throughout the season as well . . .
. . . like, for example: an entire episode about masturbation, a classic sitcom-worthy misunderstanding involving online medical diagnoses, an important warning of the dangers of stuffing things down your pants to make your ass look larger, and a very special, highly meta, visit with the dad from Gilmore Girls.
In short, if you like teen dramas, with humor, heart, solid character development, and lots of talk about butts, junk and vibrators, Degrassi: Next Class is right up your alley. If not, stick to the shows about really old people . . . you know, the ones over 20 . . .
(This article has been cross posted at TV Recappers Anonymous.)