Nov 15, 2009
Degrassi Junior High “It's Late” (part 1 of 4)
Previously on Degrassi Junior High: Rick Munro, the school’s resident bad boy, thought he had finally found an “in” with Caitlin Ryan by joining her boring Environmental Action Committee. Unfortunately, the Action Committee wasn’t quite what they advertise on the poster, but Rick got all the action he wanted when Caitlin gave him a peck on the cheek.
Meanwhile, in the boring Arthur and Yick B-plot, Yick decided to fake like he came from Asian royalty or something and his family had a centuries-old vase that he kept in his book bag. To no one’s surprise, Arthur was completely fooled by this charade. In fact, Arthur was so fooled that when he accidentally destroyed the vase, he did a shitload of meth so that he could stay awake long enough to glue it back together.
So, we’re finally at the episode that changes everything. Okay, maybe not “everything”, but this is the episode where 14 year old Degrassi student Christine “Spike” Nelson gets pregnant. Talk to any fan of Degrassi Junior High, and this is probably the one storyline they’ll mention right away.
From a 2009 perspective, the idea of a show aimed at middle school kids doing a storyline where a 14 year old girl gets pregnant seems pretty ballsy. That’s most likely because kids’ entertainment has been completely sanitized over the past 20 years. I can’t think of a show airing today that would have the guts to do this (besides, of course, Degrassi: The Next Generation, because once you’ve gone there, you can’t really un-go there).
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But the storyline didn’t seem all that outlandish or controversial at the time. At least, not to me, anyway. Maybe it’s because I grew up with ABC Afterschool Specials, and Very Special Episodes of sitcoms such as “The Dude Who Diddled Dudley”, and, as mentioned previously, Degrassi Junior High is one big Very Special Series. So, to me, a teen pregnancy fit right in with the usual maudlin antics of this show.
But yeah, looking back on it now, they were taking a big risk by doing this storyline. And I’m sure it was tough on all the young actors involved, in particular Amanda Stepto, who plays Spike. Amanda was actually 16 at the time they filmed this, not 14 like Spike, but 16 is still pretty young to have to carry a heavy plot arc like this.
But it was one of the plots that put Degrassi on the map, and 14 years later, it paved the way for a new Degrassi series centered on Spike’s daughter. But I’ll get into that in due time, roughly 59 recaps from now.
One final note: The episode you’re about to experience won an Emmy. Actually, an International Emmy, which the TV Academy gives out to shows airing outside the U.S. It won in the “Children and Young People” category (an award that went to Kids of Degrassi Street the previous year). To commemorate the occasion, the writers decided to name Spike’s baby after the Emmy, hence the name Emma Nelson. And now you know.
Without further ado, join me as we journey to one fateful night in 1987. There’s a party going on, and no surprise, it’s at Loosey’s house. Because what other Degrassi kid has parents “loose” enough to allow a full-on party with no adult supervision? Technically, this means that Loosey’s parents, through their perpetual absence, are about to ruin a young girl’s life. I mean, besides their own daughter’s.
The lights are turned down low. Cheesy pop music plays on the turntable. In a hallway, Shane sorta makes out with Spike. Heather dances with Tim the Terrific. Above the turntable, two shadows are visible on the wall, seeming to kiss, but when we pan over, it turns out to be… Snake and L.D.? Yeck. Well, I’m pretty sure they were just pretending to kiss there. Only their shadows kissed.
Stephanie Kaye is here, and she briefly glances at them, and she has a drink in her hand. And that has to be soda, because as we all know, she learned a very important lesson the last time she drank at Loosey’s house.
Speaking of Loosey, she’s hanging out in the kitchen with Voula. And Loosey is not only wearing a tie, but also a weird pillbox-type hat. She looks like a demented bellhop.
Loosey walks past Erica, who’s currently locked in an embrace with the Asian Kid Who Is Not Yick Yu. Not-Yick tells Loosey it’s a “great party”, and I have no doubt he really feels that way. This party is just a few minutes away from turning into an orgy. Loosey heads upstairs, passing Joey and Wheels coming downstairs, and Wheels says his parents would never let him have a party like this. Joey whispers to Wheels that Loosey’s parents are never around.
They pass Stephanie, who’s also heading upstairs, and I’m afraid I can’t really remember where we’re at in the endless Wheels-Stephanie relationship saga. Are they on again? Off again? For the record, they don’t even say anything to each other in this scene.
Then Joey and Wheels come upon Shane and Spike pseudo-making out in the hallway, and start harassing them. Joey feels up on Spike’s shoulder, and even asks if they can “all share”. Geez. The thing I said about the orgy was just a joke, people. By the way, this is the first indication we’ve gotten that Shane and Spike are a couple. We did see them canoodling outside the Big Dance, but now I’m kind of thinking that was just a coincidence.
Shane wants to get Spike away from Joey as quickly as possible, so he ushers her into a dark bedroom. So you see, what’s about to happen is really all Joey’s fault, for being such a sleazebag.
In the bedroom, Shane leads Spike over to the bed. He pulls her down on the bed, and they just sort of awkwardly lie down next to each other. And that’s all we get to see of that.
Meanwhile, Heather goes over to her twin sister Erica, who’s still slow dancing with Not-Yick, and taps her on the shoulder. She says they have to go. Erica says, “Now??” a little too forcefully. Damn, who knew Not-Yick was that much of a stud? Not-Yick lets out a disheartened “Bye,” and walks away. I’m guessing it’ll be another three, four years before he gets this close to grabbing a girl’s ass again.
Then the Twins start asking around, wondering if anyone’s seen Spike. I’m not entirely sure why. But Joey tells them she’s in the bedroom. And then he laughs and says that Shane is in there, too. Erica just rolls her eyes and calls through the door to Spike, but there’s no response. She knocks, and there’s still no response. She tries the doorknob, and it’s locked.
She’s outraged that they locked the door. She yells, “What are you guys doing in there?” I think it should be pretty damn obvious to everyone what they’re doing in there, but the Twins keep pounding on the door, and yelling for Spike, and then suddenly, it’s opening credits time. That wasn’t the smoothest transition into opening credits in the history of this show. Especially since all the knocking drowned out the drum machine.
Regardless, I think we all have a fairly good idea of what Very Special Lesson we’re about to learn here. I think it’ll be about how sex makes you oblivious to people pounding on your bedroom door.
Back from credits, Spike’s mom is dropping her off at school. Spike’s Mom is a woman with dark brown hair, who’s a lot younger than every other mom on this show (important!). She tells “Christine” that when she’s late for school and Mom has to drive her to school, “it makes me late!” See, it’s just like the title. And if you think that line landed with a thud, just wait.
Spike’s Mom complains that Spike’s been acting weird lately, and is “thoroughly unpleasant” to be around. You mean, this is a recent development? Spike snaps back that Mom needs to “stop treating [her] like a little baby!”
Mom says it’s not easy raising Spike by herself (important!), and Spike needs to be a little more agreeable. Later on, to no one’s surprise, we’ll find out that Spike’s Mom was herself a teenage mother when she had Spike. I assume they threw this in because teen mothers tend to have daughters who become teen mothers themselves, because pretty much every plotline on this show is driven by statistics from the Canadian Ministry of Health.
Spike gets out of the car and heads inside. She walks into Raditch’s class late, and Raditch brings class to a screeching halt so that he can lecture Spike about being late for the second time this week, and also so that he can reiterate the whole “lateness” theme of the episode. He marks her tardiness down in his book and adds, “It’s disappointing when such a good student sets such a bad example.” We’re not even five minutes in, and the foreshadowing is already getting painful.
Raditch goes back to teaching, and his voice fades into the background. Spike turns around to look at Shane, the guy she had the little tryst with at Loosey’s party. He looks at her with a big goofy smile on his face. She doesn’t return the smile, and immediately turns away, and Shane makes a big goofy frown. It’s almost like some sort of happy/sad switch exists in his brain. Either that, or he’s working on his impression of those comedy/tragedy masks.
Contrary to what this performance would lead you to believe, the guy who plays Shane, Bill Parrott, is one of the few actors from this show who went on to have an actual career outside of Degrassi. He’s mostly done bit parts, but he’s shown up in everything from Lars and the Real Girl to Saw III to an episode of Warehouse 13. Okay, most of the time he’s playing “TV Reporter #1” or “Security Guard #2”, but it’s a much longer résumé than 99% of the actors from this show.