Degrassi Junior High “The Experiment” (part 1 of 4)
In the time since my last recap, I was finally able to buy Degrassi High: The Complete Collection on DVD. And guess what? I’ve already watched the whole damn thing. In fact, I watched the whole damn thing (all 30-some episodes) in the space of one week.
Ordinarily, I’d consider anybody willing to sit through that much Degrassi in a week to have some kind of mental disorder not yet listed in the DSM (and it’s true that five years of recapping bad movies have done a pretty good number on my head). But I have to admit, it never felt like a chore. The characters of Degrassi High are remarkably easy to spend time with. At no time did I experience the fatigue that sets in after attempted viewing marathons of, say, 24 or Deep Space Nine. Go figure.
I hesitate to say anything specific about Degrassi High, because I still have it in my head that I’d like to save all that commentary for the eventual episode recaps. But the truth is, you and I know that at the rate I’m going, it’ll be a long, long time before I ever get to recap Degrassi High. In fact, it may never happen, especially if I get put up at an old folks’ home with no internet access. But I will say this for the series: There are a few episodes where the show deviates from being so-bad-it’s-good, to being genuinely moving and intentionally entertaining.
But I can only say that about a few episodes. The rest of the high school years are rife with the bad acting, goofy plots, and bargain basement dialogue I’ve come to expect from the Degrassi brand name. Not to mention the obvious product placement.
Yep, somewhere between Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, they really got their shit together in terms of product placement. No more equating Aqua Velva with mosquito repellant, nosiree. The first season of Degrassi High could conceivably be retitled Skippy Peanut Butter’s Degrassi High. And the second season could have been called Dipps‘ Degrassi High. Or Dipps’ Dipps High. Or maybe even Dipps’ Dipps Dipps (Sponsored by Dipps). It’s that obnoxious.
In the high school years, characters will often wear T-shirts emblazoned with the logos of Skippy, Dipps, and also Cleartech (an acne cream that seems to have gone away since the show aired). There’s even a character whose primary function is to walk around the school carrying the currently placed product of choice. And I can’t tell you how many times a character will give a big emotional speech, and there it’ll be, directly behind the actor’s head: a big box of DIPPS.
Now, if the prospect of this much unintentional hilarity doesn’t make you want to rush out and get Degrassi High, I should add that the set also includes the big finale TV movie School’s Out! Overall, the movie is a disappointment, in that it only deals with about five characters out of the big ensemble in any meaningful way. And they didn’t even throw us a bone by having Stephanie or Voula make a cameo in the final ten minutes. But one thing I will say for the movie: It’s the only place where you can hear Stacie Mistysyn, sweet Caitlin Ryan herself, actually say the word “fuck”. Towards the end of Degrassi High, I was seriously growing disenchanted with Caitlin, AKA the Destroyer of Men’s Souls. But hearing her say, “You fucked Tessa Campenelli?” made me fall in love with the character all over again.
But, we’re not here to talk about Degrassi High. Dearly beloved, we are here today to get through this thing called Degrassi Junior High, where I have yet to even finish recapping the first disc of the first season. So let’s step a little farther back in time and pick up where we left off, with “The Experiment”.
This episode is definitely less interesting than the previous two, and the reason for that is simple: a severe lack of Stephanie Kaye, Your New School President. She does pop up a couple of times in the episode, but it appears the Degrassi writers realized they couldn’t build an entire series around Stephanie and her wild jailbait ways. But on the other hand, if you’re a Joey fan, this is an episode that shows young Mr. Jeremiah slowly growing into his own, and becoming the anchor of the show.
Another school day begins in Mr. Raditch’s classroom. That would be Rompin’ Rockin’ Raditch, for those playing along at home. A disheveled Yick Yu sets his book bag down on his desk, then pulls out a comic book and begins leafing through it. For those who care, he’s reading an issue of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man. Ah, remember the days when Marvel used to publish seven different Spider-Man titles in a month? Oh, right, I guess those days never ended. But how many of you can claim to have collected several issues of Peter Porker, the Spectacular Spider-Ham?
Before the actual dialogue, there’s a little in-joke on the intercom, where Principal Charlie pages the janitor to come to the broom closet on the second floor, and bring her “master keys” with her. Yes, it seems another Degrassi student has fallen victim to those broom closet doors that lock from the inside.
Mr. Raditch enters. He’s making small talk with Arthur, AKA Astrodog. They’re chatting about Arthur’s brand new digital watch, which apparently has all kinds of crazy functions. Like… adding two numbers together! Crazy stuff like that! Raditch asks if Arthur can “pick up the ball game” on it. Ooh, was he trying to make a joke there? Sorry, Mr. Raditch. Please do not try to talk to the kids on “their level” in a language that “they can understand”. You’ll only embarrass yourself.
He then addresses the class with a very Raditch-esque “Good morning, scholars!” Yick Yu continues leafing through his issue of Peter Parker, and it seems his entire desk is covered with papers. Papers are tumbling off his desk and falling to the floor. And he’s got like, three textbooks open while he tries to read his comic book. Why, yes, his messy desk will become important in just a second. How did you know?
As Raditch lectures, Arthur whispers to Yick, asking if he’ll be at basketball tryouts later. It turns out both Yick and Arthur are trying out, and Yick is ecstatic at the possibility of them playing on the “same team” this year. Oh, Yick. I think you and Arthur are already playing for the same team, frankly.
Unfortunately, Mr. Raditch overhears Yick talking in class, and for no reason, the guy just explodes. He brings down the full force of his righteous Raditch rage and yells, “Mr. Yick Yu, who else!?” By the way, if you ever need to practice your diction, just try saying “righteous Raditch rage” non-stop for ten minutes straight. (Okay, how many of you actually said that aloud when you read that? Fess up.)
Raditch approaches Yick, calling him “Mr. Yu the Disorganized”. He then decides to humiliate Yick in front of the entire class, talking about how poorly Yick does in his schoolwork. Because, I guess, talking in class calls into question your entire academic career. He says, “Your work is—how can I explain this to you so that you’ll understand?” Come on, Raditch, what did I just tell you about trying to talk to kids on “their level”? Did you not see the sarcastic quotes that I put around the phrase?
Raditch persists in trying to talk to “the kids” in “their language”, and makes a tortured basketball analogy about there being “ten seconds left, you’re down by fifty points, and you don’t seem to care!” Uh… why would he care? Unless he has the ability to shoot two 3-pointers per second. Raditch admonishes Yick to pay more attention in class, then stalks off. A disgruntled Yick whispers, “He’s always picking on me!” And… is that a drum machine I hear? Yes! It’s off to the opening credits we go!
So, could you spot all the clues as to what this episode will be about? Did you notice all the traits about Yick Yu that have never even been hinted at before now? Let’s see, it turns out that Yick is A) disorganized, B) into basketball, and C) not too good at school. I grant you, it’s not like we had a chance to learn much about Yick in the previous episodes, where he was primarily getting locked in broom closets and talking on walkie talkies. But this is certainly not the last time a Degrassi student will suddenly have an issue, or a problem, or a backstory, or a quirky trait that we’ve never seen before, which only exists to set the episode’s plot in motion. It’s like the last season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, where we suddenly learned every character had a crazy rebellious family member they never mentioned before.
And about this “Yu the Disorganized” thing. I really don’t like to deal in stereotypes, but everybody else is doing it, and peer pressure is a motherfucker, so I might as well just say it: Apparently, Yick Yu is the only Asian kid who’s bad at school and great at basketball. Yeah, I said it. Look, I can understand wanting to defy common stereotypes, but come on. They’re just taking it to the opposite extreme here.
But then again, who knows? Maybe all the techie genius Asian whiz kids like Masi Oka ended up in the United States, while all the underachieving Asian jocks with dyslexia ended up in Canada. Just food for thought. Anyway, I apologize to my Asian readers who may have been offended by that. Please do not attack me with your superior knowledge of martial arts.
(But to the show’s credit, they do keep up the “Yu the Disorganized” character trait for the rest of the series. Every time Yick opens his locker, it’s an avalanche of books and papers, even into the final waning moments of Degrassi High.)
After the credits, Arthur comes out of class, and heads over to Stephanie’s locker for a chat. This conversation primarily exists to remind the audience of a few things established in the pilot episode. Firstly, that Arthur and Stephanie are brother and sister, and secondly, that Stephanie finds this to be the most humiliating thing in the world, because she refuses to even admit they’re related. We’re also reminded that Steph doesn’t talk to Grade 7s, and their parents are divorced, and Arthur only stays with Mom on weekends.
Now that the viewers at home are all caught up, Stephanie takes her leave. Any lovely parting words, Ms. Kaye? “Stay away from me, Arthur. If anyone finds out you’re my brother, you’re gonna wish you were never hatched!” Which, well, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense (if Arthur is a reptile, and they’re related, what does that make Steph?), and is just unnecessarily bitchy. But at least it gets the exposition out of the way as quickly as possible.
Joey comes along with his new best bud Wheels. Joey laughingly tells Arthur, “I hear your mother recalling you!” Is it just me, or do none of these insults make any sense? Then Joey and Wheels approach Stephanie, and Joey starts coming on to her, and talking about how “beautiful” she is. Which is weird, considering that Steph asked Wheels to the dance in the previous episode. And Wheels just stands there, smiling happily while Joey hits on her. But to be honest, I think maybe some of these episodes were shown in a different order than they were filmed.
Enter two Grade 7 girls, two BFFs named Kathleen and Melanie. There’s not a whole lot to say about these two characters at the moment, or ever, really, except they’re both tall, skinny beanpoles, and one has brown hair and the other is blonde. Melanie has the brown hair, and Kathleen is the blonde one (and also, she’s the worse actress of the two, but it’s a very, very close call).
Melanie is complaining that junior high isn’t what she imagined. “I thought there’d be lots of parties!” She adds, “Not political parties, but real parties!” I’m glad she cleared that up, what with all the partisan politics going on at Degrassi. I mean, there was that bruising primary fight for the school presidency in the first episode, and Stephanie really had to struggle to secure her place on the Reform Party ticket. Wait, I’m sorry, I’m being told she was actually going for the Reform School ticket.
Melanie clarifies even more what she means by “real parties”: “With music, and boys, and potato chips!” But not necessarily in that order. Hey, I’m sure boys are nice, but nothing beats a good potato chip.
Kathleen grins and adds, “And dancing!”
And then Melanie adds, “And drugs!” Yeah… Uh, yeah! That’s totally in the same vein as boys and potato chips and dancing! That’s exactly where Kathleen was going with that train of thought! The awful actress playing Kathleen gets a very obvious, moody look on her face at this mention of drugs.
However, Melanie continues breathlessly, saying that her mom warned her that “junior high is full of drugs!” And she’s completely disappointed that this hasn’t turned out to be the case.
Kathleen is simply stunned at all this drug talk, but Melanie says she’d love to actually try some drugs. Sadly, it appears Kathleen has not seen Mr. T’s Be Somebody …Or Be Somebody’s Fool, and therefore has not learned valuable lessons about peer pressure, so she immediately lies that she, too, would love to try some drugs. Eventually, it comes down to both girls really obviously lying about wanting to try drugs. And since they’re both terrible actresses to begin with, the stiffness of this dialogue is off the charts.