Degrassi Junior High “Smokescreen” (part 1 of 4)
Over in the B plot (actually, sort of a rare “A minus plot”), Voula hung out with Loosey, completely unaware of her tendency to shoplift, which was brought on by neglectful, workaholic parents. Thanks to Loosey’s kleptomania, both girls got busted by the cops, and when Voula’s parents found out, that was the last anyone saw of Voula. Fare thee well, Voula, fare thee well.
Here we are, entering the home stretch of the first season of Degrassi Junior High. And I really can’t wait to recap these last four episodes, because they introduce several key elements of the Degrassi mythos, including Spike’s pregnancy, the true story of Wheels’ parentage, and the formation of the legendary band known as the Zit Remedy, along with the very first performance of their most popular song, “Everybody Wants Something”. Well, it’s their only song, actually.
And to top it all off, the first season finale might be the greatest episode of Degrassi ever produced (but I guess I’ve said that about half of the episodes I’ve recapped so far, haven’t I?).
But not to worry, because the current episode “Smokescreen” more than holds its own when it comes to memorable moments. I’m speaking, of course, about a scene where Caitlin Ryan raps. I’m dead serious about this. Caitlin performs an original rap song about the environment, and to no one’s surprise, it’s the most horrible thing ever. If you’ve ever wondered why there are no successful white girl rappers, I’m about to present to you Exhibit A, in the form of this episode.
We start off with Caitlin, Kathleen, and VP Susie Rivera staffing a table in a random Degrassi hallway. They’re asking all the passing students to sign a petition, which appears to have something to do with cleaning up the environment. I think. There are no takers, and the three girls are getting desperate, and the whole thing quickly degenerates into Susie yelling, “Come on! Sign the petition!” Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t win a whole lot of people over.
Caitlin wonders why “no one wants to help”. Maybe because it’s 1987, and gas is cheap, and saving the planet isn’t really that high a priority for anybody just yet? It’s real simple, Caitlin. All you have to do is try again after the U.S. goes to war with a Middle Eastern country or two. In response, Kathleen, better known as Degrassi’s Eternal Ray of Sunshine, spits out, “I told you this was a stupid idea!”
But life has a funny way of proving Kathleen wrong, because just then, Caitlin’s magical prince arrives, slips her foot into a glass slipper, and whisks her away in a pumpkin, much to the jealous rage of her mean stepsister Kathleen. Okay, that’s not quite what happens, at least in the literal sense of things. What actually happens is that Rick enters, and says he’d love to sign the petition.
Ah yes, Rick Munro. You might recall Rick. He’s the guy with the Harley-Davidson jean jacket who was getting smacked around by his dad. Later, he was Arthur and Yick’s prime suspect in an alleged locker robbery, and Rick only compounded their suspicions by handing out licorice to the entire school. At around the same time, Caitlin was developing a crush on Rick, while also dealing with nightly lesbian dreams involving Ms. Avery. It was a heady time in Degrassi history, to be sure, but it appears Caitlin has worked out all those issues and is now totally into dudes, because she gets the shy look when Rick enters.
Rick marches right on up to their table and asks to sign the petition. Mind you, he just walked right into school and walked right to their table, so there’s no way he has any idea what he’s signing up for. Clearly, there’s only one thing he’s after: a little Caitlin Ryan action.
This is confirmed when Caitlin asks why he’s suddenly interested in the environment, and Rick replies, “Yeah, well. Um, catch you later.” And then he walks away. I didn’t leave out any lines there. That’s his entire explanation for wanting to get behind whatever vague environmental cause Caitlin is crusading for this week.
It’s all so painfully obvious, even Susie picks up on it. Susie says Rick is “cute” and Caitlin could do worse, but Kathleen disagrees, calling him “dumb as a post”, as well as “the school criminal”. I thought the rumors of his criminal background were soundly debunked about four episodes ago, but that’s Kathleen for you. Also, if anyone should be regarded as “the school criminal”, I would think it’s the girl who was busted for shoplifting a week ago, but that’s just me.
But Caitlin takes all of Kathleen’s harsh comments in stride and says, “Maybe all he needs is a little help.” And so, for the second time this season, Caitlin has decided to take on Rick as her pet project. The last time she did this, it involved her wearing a pig snout and telling jokes you wouldn’t force upon enemy combatants formerly held at Gitmo. I was kind of hoping that this time around, her efforts to help Rick would be less cringey and embarrassing, but did I mention that Caitlin raps later on?
Rick exits the hallway to the sounds of that ol’ Degrassi school song, and then the drum machine kicks in, and just like that, it’s opening credits time.
I don’t think there’s a Very Special Lesson being set up here in today’s cold open for a change. Other than a lesson about not believing in rumors, but we already learned that lesson a few episodes ago, so that can’t be it. Perhaps the real lesson here is that no guy gives a shit about social causes unless there’s some possibility of getting laid. But hey, at least the girls’ petition actually got one signature. Now all they need is 19,999 more to change the world!
Back from credits, Susie is giving the whole class a very informative speech. She talks about how black people, her people, have risen up from slavery to “the top of many professions, like business, politics, entertainment, and sports.” Wait, wait, hold on there. Politics? Now she’s just talking crazy.
The blackboard behind her has all sorts of colorful words (as in, written in different colors of chalk) about “tracing your family history”, so I guess Ms. Avery’s assignment this week is to talk about your family tree.
Susie namedrops her uncle, Carl Rivera. Oh, yes. I’m sure you all know the great and very famous Carl Rivera. No? Susie further explains, “He’s an astronaut.” Yeah, that Carl Rivera. You heard it here first: Susie Rivera is an astronaut’s niece. I think Stephanie getting a date with a TV star was more believable.
Susie pulls out a random medal and says it’s a “NASA emblem” that her uncle “wore in space”. Jesus, Susie, a space emblem? Is it me, or did Susie just go nuclear on this whole family tree thing? Unless another kid’s dad plays with the rock band Toto and can actually bring all five members into the classroom, I don’t think anyone’s going to top a space emblem from an astronaut uncle.
Okay, so here’s the thing. Going by Wikipedia, which as we all know is never wrong, there actually was a slave trade in Canada at roughly the same time as the slave trade in the Americas. However, it never really caught on, because let’s face it, there wasn’t a whole lot of sharecropping to be done in Nova Scotia. So there wasn’t really that much “rising up from slavery” going on in Canada. Good thing, too, because imagine how uninspiring all those old Negro spirituals would be if they were about laboring in the frozen tundra.
Also, I doubt I need to remind anyone that NASA is the American space agency. What I’m getting at is that already, the makers of this show are clearly pretending it takes place in the United States. Canadian audiences may not have caught onto this scam until a couple of seasons later, but it’s obviously what they were going for from the very beginning.
Susie finishes showing off the NASA emblem, and takes her seat. Cut to Yick Yu, AKA Yick the Disorganized, sitting at his desk looking ill. I know what you’re thinking, but no, it’s not because he’s a secret racist who can’t stomach the thought of black guys in space. It’s all explained when Ms. Avery announces that next week, they’ll be getting a similar presentation about Yick’s family. And I’m pretty sure NASA never hired any extremely disorganized astronauts, so it’s fair to say Yick won’t be presenting his own space emblem.
Class wraps up, and all the kids crowd around Susie’s desk to say how much they liked her presentation. Yick looks even more worried.
Meanwhile, Rick gets up and heads out, but Ms. Avery stops him, asking why he didn’t hand in his homework. Rick replies, “I didn’t do it.” He is nothing if not straightforward.
Avery asks why not, and he stays silent. So she lays a comforting hand on his shoulder and says that “repeating Grade 8 doesn’t mean you have to repeat the same mistakes!” I don’t know, man, is passing the eighth grade really that hard? And I like how Rick looks terrified when Avery touches him. It’s almost the exact same reaction that Caitlin had way back when.
Speaking of Caitlin, she silently observes from across the classroom as Avery warns Rick that he’s in danger of repeating the eighth grade, again. Rick just rolls his eyes and walks out. In the hallway, he angrily punches a locker, and our old friend Arthur “Astrodog” Kobalewscuy backs away in terror. Though, to tell the truth, I think Arthur is actually bigger and taller than Rick, so I don’t get the fear.
Then Yick comes out, and Arthur asks if he’s up for playing basketball today. So that’s still a thing, I guess. Yick says he’s got no time for basketball, because he has to do “research” for his family tree project, and Arthur goes, “Research?” What, suddenly he’s not familiar with the concept? It’s the thing that tells you that snakes like bologna, remember?
Arthur reminds him that the project is supposed to be about his family, so no research is required. Really? Getting information out of the members of your family still kinda counts as research, doesn’t it?
But Yick bitterly says, “Who wants to hear about being poor? And living in a big house with about a million relatives?” He has a point. If you live in a big house with about a million relatives, you would do well to keep it to yourself. Oh, right, we’re supposed to be teaching kids positive lessons here. In that case, I would absolutely love to know about being poor and living in a house with a million relatives! Do tell, Yick.
Arthur says he should talk about how his family first came to the country. Yick says, “Who cares about refugees?” Let’s see… George Clooney, Angelina Jolie, Sean Penn… and not me, that’s for damn sure. Uh, what? Right, positive lessons. What I meant to say is, I heart refugees!
Yick doesn’t think anyone will care. He says he has to come up with something “interesting, like Susie’s badge!” He needs a tangible, flashy object to show off. “Otherwise, I’ll be boring!” Hmm. That didn’t seem to be a concern for him during any of the previous nine episodes.