Degrassi Junior High “Kiss Me, Steph” (part 2 of 3)
Cut to Joey Jeremiah, Esq., with his arm draped around Arthur, leading him through the halls. The whole time, Joey is slapping skin with people left and right. He then introduces Arthur to Hank. Hank is a tallish, blonde kid with a slight resemblance to Kevin’s older brother on The Wonder Years. Also, Hank? Is never seen or heard from again on Degrassi. This is despite him giving Arthur the point-and-snap soul brother shake, and clearly looking like he’s best buds with Joey.
Joey opens a door, and tells Arthur this is class. Arthur, not looking at all, and somehow not noticing the door leads to a tiny room full of shelves and mops, awkwardly steps backwards into the room and thanks Joey. He then realizes he’s in the janitor’s closet, but alas, it’s too late: Joey shuts the door on him, and Arthur is trapped inside. And here’s the thing about janitor’s closets at Degrassi Junior High: They lock from the inside. Automatically.
Now, you’d think doors that lock automatically from the inside might be a slight safety concern. Especially in a junior high school. But given all the crazy shit these kids have to endure when they’re not in school, like drugs, and pregnancy, and drunk drivers, and pedophiles, I’d say storage closet doors should be the least of anybody’s concerns.
Arthur pounds on the door while Joey does yet another soul brother shake with Hank, best known as Degrassi’s winner of the Chuck Cunningham Memorial Award. (Maybe that was the trophy they were holding up in the opening credits.) And would you believe that soon-to-be MIA Hank is actually the first person in history to use an epithet unique to Degrassi? He declares, “What a broomhead!” It seems, much like Ronald Moore, the writers of Degrassi wanted to come up with an insult that would make it past the censors. Hence, “broomhead”, the standard slur of choice among Degrassi students. Sadly, this word never really caught on, or entered the general lexicon. I mean, “broomhead”? What does that even mean, when you think about it?
But Joey’s revelry in committing false imprisonment is quickly forgotten. His eyes widen as he catches his first glimpse of Slutty Stephanie. All the boys stand and gawk as she passes, and there should be thought bubbles above each and every one of their heads that read, “unnnnhhhh… boobies.”
Steph enters a classroom and everyone inside is taken aback. Steph says hello to a future Degrassi player, L.D., a girl wearing a mesh cap that looks about ten times too big for her head. She’s talking about how her dad let her work on his “’59 Chevy” over the summer. Okay, she’s a tomboy, check. Steph snarks, “I’m jealous,” and I have to wonder, does every word from her mouth have to be delivered in a smug, detached tone? I’m really starting to feel like an extra in Stephanie’s movie.
Anyway, it looks like Steph’s milkshake has brought all the boys to the yard, and they huddle around the doorway just staring at her. Joey is the first to approach. He says, “Joey Jeremiah, playboy, at your service! Wanna play?” I’m not sure, technically speaking, if “playboy” is a step down or step up from “esquire”, but he says this with a wiggle of his eyebrows, fully bringing home how deeply creepy all of this is. Steph reacts with equal parts revulsion and fascination. This, it seems, is Stephanie’s first indication that dressing like a slut actually means guys will treat you like a slut. Hey, now! I was promised no learning!
But before the innuendo can continue, in walks the teacher. Entering the classroom now is a dour guy in a suit with a cop mustache. This, my friends, is Mr. Raditch, soon to be a permanent fixture in Degrassi mythology. And for reasons that will only make sense a few episodes from now, I will be referring to him mostly as “Rockin’ Raditch”.
Everyone scurries to their seats, kind of implying the guy is a harsh disciplinarian, which later episodes will not bear out. Not really. Rockin’ Raditch declares, “Greetings, scholars!” He goes on to address the class as only Mr. Raditch can, in that stagy, stiff “I should have bean treading the boards in London” tone of voice.
When he passes Joey, he pulls the porkpie hat off his head, and plops it down on his desk. A move that Mr. Raditch will perform roughly ten gajillion times over the course of this Degrassi saga. But all things considered, Hugo Weaving’s “Misssssster Anderson…” has got nothing on Mr. Raditch’s “Missssster Jeremiah”, at least in terms of sheer menace.
He introduces himself to those who are new students. And “for those of you who are returning, we meet agayn.” So, I’m guessing he’s the English teacher. Actually, I wasn’t really sure until this very moment, because there’s a rule on this show that we never see more than 45 seconds of an actual class going on. True to form, we immediately cut away.
In the hallway, a girl in a wheelchair passes through a door. But of course. Any earnest, well-meaning teen drama has got to have a Wheelchair Girl, right? But don’t look too closely at her, because I’m pretty sure the part of Wheelchair Girl gets recast in a few episodes. I guess. I mean, this school can’t have two girls in wheelchairs, can it? That would be unrealistic.
An Asian kid with big SJR Glasses heads down the hallway, looking at a piece of paper and frantically searching. As we’ll soon find out, he too is looking for the promised land known as Miss Avery’s classroom. Oh, sweet Miss Avery.
Frankly, I don’t know why it’s so hard to find her classroom. Because as this entire season will prove, there are exactly two teachers at Degrassi Junior High. I could never figure out if we’re supposed to infer there are other teachers that we just don’t see. Because they never even get referenced by name. Nobody mentions an off-screen gym teacher, or an off-screen soccer coach, or anybody teaching band, or anything. All of Degrassi, it seems, rotates around a Raditch-Avery axis.
So the Asian kid passes a janitor’s closet, and hears somebody desperately trying to get out. The voice inside yells, “I’ll sue! I’ll sue!” In all honesty, I think he has a solid case. So the Asian kid opens the door, and out pops Arthur, and a legendary bromance in Degrassi history is suddenly born.
The Asian kid says he’s trying to find Miss Avery’s class. Arthur says he’s headed for the same place, so they should look together. The Asian kid says his name is “Yick Yu”. No, seriously. Amusingly, Arthur’s reply is a simple, “Don’t tell Joey.” Oh, Yick and Arthur. If only you knew the secrets that shall pass between you over the coming years, or how you will soon become more inseparable than Geordi LaForge and Data during TNG’s later seasons.
Finally, we cut to a woman standing in front of a chalkboard. She’s got obscenely long dark hair, and a slightly Hawaiian look to her, like maybe she was the woman who sang “Midnight at the Oasis” before getting a teaching gig. She tells her class that she is “Ms. Avery, A-V-E-R-Y, Ms. M-S”. And not “Miss” Avery like everyone’s been saying. Yes, this show has a slight feminist bent to it, and what of it? What did you expect from something funded by your tax dollars, the NRA Beer & Tits Comedy Hour?
Ah, sweet Ms. Avery. I bet you’re wondering why I keep calling her “sweet Ms. Avery”. Well, if you actually saw her big, warm smile that would fill even the terminally ill with euphoria, you would know why. She tells the assembled group of Grade 7-ers that she’s their homeroom teacher for the year. And, as it turns out, their only teacher. But she doesn’t tell them that.
Sweet Ms. Avery then calls roll. She calls out “Stacey Darrow”, and the girl who replies “here”, well, let’s just say she won’t be known as “Stacey” in any other episode. Nor will she be a Grade 7 in any future episode. But hey, come on, it’s the pilot. It’s annoying enough when people obsess over “UESPA” and “Vulcanians”, so I see no need to apply the same line of thinking to Degrassi Junior High.
Suddenly, Yick and Arthur appear outside the door. Ms. Avery lets them in, and Arthur takes this moment to declare that Degrassi, with its grand total of two classrooms, is “a very confusing school!” Or maybe he just means confusing in general, what with all the various dramatic, perplexing, pansexual events that will be occurring over the next five years.
Over in Rockin’ Raditch’s home room, he’s got the complete schedule for Grade 8-ers up on the chalkboard. It seems Thursday at 9:50 is “Pool”. Whatever that means. Regardless, I don’t think I’ll be playing billiards with the kids up in Toronto any time soon. They’ll probably clean me out.
Raditch explains that after lunch every day, “your typical French fries and gravy” (see? I told you! I told you!), they’ll be taking math. Perfect class for fighting through that food coma, is what I say. You know, I’ve never actually tried poutine, but I definitely plan to before I die.
Voula and Steph whisper to each other. And Steph, with her crazy teased up hair, actually looks certifiably insane in some shots here. Remember that album cover where Pat Benatar was in a straight jacket? Steph is the spitting image.
Stephanie says she wants to run for school president. But there’s a slight hurdle to overcome: she “can’t write speeches or make posters, or any of that stuff!” Hey, that didn’t stop… You know where I’m going with this joke, don’t you? Boy, is the rest of this recap going to write itself.
Voula declares that she can write speeches, and offers to be Steph’s Karl Rove, in so many words. Their conversation is interrupted by another of Mr. Raditch’s trademarks, the abrupt clearing of the throat. He even snaps his glasses at them. You don’t wanna fuck with the Raditch.
Later, we see Voula putting up “Stephanie Kaye for President” posters. Voula is wearing the exact same blouse, so at first I thought it was the same day. But then we see Stephanie wearing a completely different slutty outfit, so I guess not. One can only assume Voula has an entire closet full of dowdy Marie Curie dresses.
Steph is putting up some of her own posters, and Arthur sees this and approaches her. But he thinks better of talking to her when she looks at him like he is, in fact, a pile of rat feces.
Cut to the library, or somewhere, with Stephanie trying to wrap her lips (now, now) around the goofy speech Voula wrote for her. Naturally, it’s all about “family planning” and “current events”. She awkwardly stumbles all over the speech, and I suddenly feel like I’m watching a Madonna screen test.
Steph just laughs at the speech, but Voula tells her to stick with it. She’s interrupted by Joey, who full-on whistles at Steph from across the crowded library, and gives her another taste of the come-hither eyebrow wiggle. A jealous Voula tries to get Steph to focus on the speech, but Joey continues to whistle. Steph, all girly-fied and twirling her hair, is eating up the inappropriate harassment like a kitten lapping up sweet buttermilk. Voula then harshly brings Stephanie back on point, causing Joey to give Voula the stink-eye. Oh, come on, Joey. You know you’d hit that.
And so comes a montage of Stephanie teasing up her hair, while Voula hangs posters, becoming the sinister Sven-Jolly behind the remaking of Stephanie Kaye. Voula is totally Tracy Flick without the need to be the center of attention.
Cut to… the next day? I guess? It looks like Yick Yu has now ended up stuck in the janitor’s closet. We know it’s Yick because this door has frosted windows, where we can see him as he pounds and pleads for help. And yet, all the other students are completely blasé about this, and walk right past him, deaf to his cries. Who knew that Kitty Genovese Syndrome had made it all the way up to Canada?
I’m also somewhat surprised to see total cutie Erica walking past. I mean, she literally does not get a single line until the third season. After which, she gets her own Very Special plot arc, wherein she, a white girl, begins dating the only black guy at Degrassi. But I’m getting ahead of myself here. The point is, later on she’s a total sweetheart who would probably not leave somebody to rot away inside a supply closet, but again, this is the pilot.
Arthur finally appears and lets Yick out. Yick simply says, “I met Joey.” Wisely, the issue of how Joey tricked Yick into entering a broom closet is never addressed. I mean, certainly he wouldn’t need help getting to Ms. Avery’s classroom again, would he?