Aug 17, 2010
Degrassi Junior High “Parents' Night” (part 1 of 4)
Previously on Degrassi Junior High: Degrassi Junior High made a name for itself with an Emmy™-winning episode where 14 year old Spike Nelson finds out she’s pregnant. Despite leaden acting and dialogue consisting mostly of statistics, it became one of the series’ most memorable moments, and it would even set up a spinoff series 15 years later that would eclipse the original show in terms of popularity.
Meanwhile, Yick asked out Melanie. Everybody forgot it happened about ten seconds after the episode ended.
Welcome to the penultimate episode of Degrassi Junior High season one. And as it so happens, it’s a Wheels episode—the very first Wheels episode, more or less. Up until this point, Derek “Wheels” Wheeler has mostly been Stephanie Kaye’s object of wanton lust, but here he finally gets a chance to step out on his own and shine, and, well… the actor is not really up to the task.
Throughout the series, Neil Hope’s performance will alternate between annoyingly whiny and utterly blank. Despite this, Wheels becomes one of the show’s central characters (he even gets a notable cameo on TNG). Unfortunately, he spends pretty much the entire series being a selfish asshole. That’s true even for the current episode, “Parents’ Night”. Looking back on it now, it seems the Degrassi writers were determined to make Wheels an irritating, self-entitled jackass right from the start.
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The episode begins at Wheels’ house. The camera pans past a birthday cake, and a birthday card saying “To a Great Son”, and it finally rests upon Wheels strapping a brand new guitar strap onto his bass. So, I presume that today is Wheels’ birthday. And yes, Wheels plays the bass now, but more on that later.
Opera music echoes throughout the house. Cut to Wheels’ mom, a homely woman with a short haircut, who’s ironing clothes while lip syncing along with the opera singer.
Wheels’ Dad appears, and he’s even more homely than the mom—he’s the Woody Allen lookalike seen in a previous episode. He kisses Wheels’ Mom on the forehead, and I silently shudder. Wheels’ Mom points over to the boombox that’s blasting opera, and declares this to be “real music”, which is “not like that… rock noise you listen to, Derek!” Rock noise? What is this, 1958?
She explains this is why they got Wheels a “good record” for his birthday. And then Wheels pulls out that “good record” from behind a sofa cushion, and hilariously, it’s the soundtrack to South Pacific. Just what every teenage boy wants! Well, the gay ones, anyway. Understandably, Wheels is not all that eager to listen to it.
Wheels’ Dad just can’t help himself from ridiculing that rock noise those darn kids listen to these days. He asks Wheels if he ever considered the possibility that rock is an “alien plot to take over the world”. And then Mom and Dad start reminiscing about more of that “real music”, performed by the likes of Perry Como and Mel Torme. Dad remarks, “Now there’s a singer!” Is this a leftover script from Leave it to Beaver, or what? I’m pretty sure there were no parents still this terminally unhip in 1987, not even in Canada.
The phone rings and Wheels answers, but the person on the other end says nothing. Wheels keeps saying hello for like ten minutes, but whoever it is continues to say nothing. Eventually, we cut to a gloved hand hanging up a payphone receiver. Which turns out to be a lot less ominous than it appears.
Wheels tells his parents that that the unknown caller hung up, and his mom comments that the same thing happened earlier. And with that, it’s off to the opening credits. Wow! That was quite a teaser. Thrill to this week’s A plot of “Wheels gets crank called!”
Actually, there’s more to it than that, but for a refreshing change of pace, we aren’t clubbed over the head with this week’s Very Special Lesson within the first 30 seconds of the episode. But don’t worry, we’ll be getting smacked with the Lesson Club soon enough.
Back from credits, Wheels is walking to school, and excitedly telling another boy about all the cool things he got for his birthday. Something tells me the South Pacific soundtrack will not be coming up in this conversation. And watching them both is an unseen guy sitting in a Suzuki Samurai. As they walk into school, all we see is that same gloved hand ominously tapping against the door.
And look closely, because this scene contains something rarely seen on Degrassi after the first season: snow on the ground. Despite taking place in Toronto, the world of Degrassi appears to exist in perpetual summer. That’s because, at some point, the producers decided it would be easier to film during the summer months than work around the kids’ school hours. And they sure as hell didn’t have the budget for an on-set tutor.
Later on in the series, there’s a special Christmas episode, and I swear everybody’s walking around in shorts. So this episode and the next one are the last times you’ll see any evidence of winter in Toronto, so enjoy it while it lasts.
As Wheels enters the school, the gloved guy gets out of his Samurai, and reveals himself to be a relatively young guy, probably in his early 30s, wearing tight jeans, with a sweet ‘stache. I guess he has “child predator” written all over him, because when Snake passes by, he immediately notices the guy and keeps glancing back in concern.
In the hallways, Snake catches up with Wheels. As they stroll past signs announcing next week’s Degrassi talent show, Snake says he’s come up with a great new name for their band. He thinks they should call themselves “Snake and the Charmers”. Wheels likes it, but doesn’t think Joey will like it. Snake scoffs that Joey “knows nothing about names!” Snake says they have to decide soon, because the talent show is next week. But as we’ll see in a minute, they’ve obviously spent more time thinking about the name than actually learning how to play their instruments.
This is the start of one of the major plot threads of the whole series, which is that Wheels, Snake, and Joey are suddenly in a band together. Earlier episodes gave the impression that Snake and Joey didn’t really get along, but hey, it’s been a long semester, and people have bonded over far less insane things than what’s happened over these past few weeks.
Before they part ways, Snake mentions the guy outside who was staring at Wheels. He figures the guy was some sort of “pervert”, because hey, who isn’t horny for Wheels? Wheels looks perplexed, and Snake promises to “report” the guy if he sees him again.
Wheels goes to the bathroom, where he encounters Joey, who’s currently in the process of trying to forge his mom’s signature on a report card. It appears his grades weren’t so great this time around. Joey wishes he had parents like Wheels’, because his parents have “zero sense of humor!” It’s true, Joey’s parents did look like they had zero sense of humor the one time we saw them, particularly Joey’s dad, but I have to wonder why Joey thinks devoted Mel Torme fans would be any more fun to hang with.
But guess what? Joey has come up with a name for the new band: “Joey and the Joy Buzzers!” It rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it? In a mirror of the earlier conversation with Snake, Wheels says it’s a good name, but Snake won’t like it. “Snake?” Joey scoffs. “That guy knows nothing about names!” See, the joke is that both Joey and Snake think they’re the central member of the new band, and each wants the band named after him. I hope you think this joke is funny, because it lasts for the entire episode, and on into next week.
Over in a classroom, the Twins are having a conversation with Spike. Mostly, it’s to continue the award-winning teen pregnancy storyline from last week. Spike complains that Shane, the baby’s father, won’t even talk to her anymore. She says she’s too young to be a mother, but she doesn’t want to have an abortion, either.
One of the Twins brings up Spike’s mom, asking, “What are you gonna say, you had a miscarriage?” I’m not following. Spike just said she didn’t want to have an abortion. And why would she have to lie about getting an abortion to her mom? They share everything.
Mr. Raditch enters, and today he’s dressed down in a Cosby-esque sweater. Must be casual Friday at Degrassi. Shane enters and takes his seat, and he and Spike proceed to stare at each other. Because all the pointless staring of the previous episode just left me wanting more.
Then Joey enters, and puts his forged report card on Mr. Raditch’s desk. Raditch asks Joey, loud enough for the whole class to hear, what his parents thought of his shitty grades. Joey lies, saying that his parents don’t care that much about grades. Raditch says he’ll change their minds when they come to Degrassi for “Parents’ Night”.
Yes, it’s that time of the year again, and Joey quickly realizes he’s screwed. All the kids freak out, but Raditch chills everyone the fuck out, assuring them that Parents’ Night is “not a conspiracy—”
And then we immediately cut to the bell ringing. Even for this show, that was abrupt. Before everyone leaves, Raditch reminds them that “Mizzzzzz Avery” (I swear, that’s how he says it) is holding rehearsals for next week’s talent show right now, over in the Swank Gym.
Out in the hallway, Joey tells Snake and Wheels he forgot about Parents’ Night, and his parents will kill him when they show up and find out about his grades. Snake jokes that they won’t kill him—they’ll just “break [his] arms”, but I think that joke cuts a little too close to home for comfort.
But then Snake realizes that Joey’s parents never have to find out about Parents’ Night. The notice about it was sent home with report cards, and his parents never saw his report card, so he’s in the clear. Joey says, “Snake, m’man, I like it!” Because on a show where every parent seems to know every other parent, and L.D.’s dad was actually fixing Joey’s dad’s car, there’s no chance that Joey’s parents will find out about Parents’ Night from anyone else.
The Twins come out of the classroom with Spike, and they’re both urging her to go talk to Wheels. The reason is that Spike is considering putting her baby up for adoption, and Wheels… is adopted. Say it ain’t so! Apparently, it’s no big secret that Wheels is adopted, even though this is the first we’re hearing of it. Could this be related to how Wheels likes rock while his parents like opera, or those crank calls, or that strange man hanging around the school? Nah, couldn’t be.