Degrassi Junior High “The Cover-Up” (part 1 of 4)
Meanwhile, Joey P. Jeremiah—the P is for “placebo”—passed off vitamin pills as exotic street drugs, and Melanie and Kathleen somehow convinced themselves that they were getting stoned on Centrum Silver. It was a tough call, but ultimately, the Wrath of Raditch came down upon… Yick Yu, for copying Stephanie’s papers. Degrassi may have a bustling drug trade going on in the hallways, but cheating will not be tolerated.
Once again, I have lots of Degrassi-related stuff to talk about, which is not really relevant to the current episode, but which I’ll share anyway. What can I say? The Degrassi universe is immense, and I’ve only explored a small corner of it.
So, now that the missing link of Degrassi High has made it to DVD, I was finally able to allow myself to watch Degrassi: The Next Generation. I’m currently up to about the middle of season two. At the same time, I’ve been indulging in the predecessor series that kicked off the whole franchise, The Kids of Degrassi Street, which is also finally out on DVD, and I’m about two-thirds of the way through that.
As you might imagine, it’s been a bewildering experience for me, as I violently slingshot back and forth between 1979 (when Kids premiered) and 2001 (when Next Generation premiered), not to mention 1987, where I continue to recap the Junior High episodes. In fact, I’m starting to sympathize a lot with Captain Picard in the Star Trek: TNG finale, where he gets randomly bounced around between three different time periods. I half-expect Q to show up and transport me back in time to show me Mr. Raditch as a zygote.
It’s tough to keep it all straight, and after a while, the lives of various Toronto teens and pre-teens tend to blur together. But through it all, one constant has been keeping me sane: Stacie Mistysyn, the only actor to appear on all three shows. Or, as we’ll soon come to know her, Dear Sweet Caitlin Ryan (albeit, on Kids she was a totally different character). It’s pretty crazy when you think about it: Stacie has been a part of Degrassi from, like, 1982 all the way up to a Next Generation episode that aired this year. So the woman has had a 26-year career in television. Okay, it’s Canadian television, but still! That’s longer than MTV stopped showing music videos! That’s longer than Saturday Night Live stopped being funny! That’s longer than… Well, you get the idea.
Kids of Degrassi Street is a pretty haphazard show. One gets the impression that they filmed a lot of random stories, then decided to call it a series after the fact. There were 26 episodes that aired irregularly from 1979 to 1984, which is the equivalent of airing a typical show’s single season over five years, so I think it goes without saying that the cast changes a lot.
The initial episode, “Ida Makes a Movie”, leads you to believe that a little girl named Ida will be the show’s central character, but the next time you see her, she’s in high school. However, by around the second disc, the show settles down to focus on a core group of kids, many of whom would go on to appear on Junior High, like Neil Hope (who plays Griff on Kids, and Wheels on DJH), Sarah Charlesworth (Casey on Kids, and VP Susie Rivera on DJH), Anais Granofsky (Karen on Kids, and Worldly Loosey on DJH) and of course, Stacie Mistysyn (Lisa on Kids and Caitlin on DJH). Rachel Blanchard (mostly famous for 7th Heaven and the UPN series based on Clueless) also shows up in a few episodes.
I gotta be honest, though: If you’re not a hardcore Degrassi fan, you probably won’t enjoy Kids. It’s unbelievably mundane. I mean, even more mundane than Junior High. Which is to be expected, considering the cast is made up of grade school kids. You really don’t expect them to have to deal much with sex, drugs, pregnancy, abortion, HIV, and all of the other crazy shit that comes along on the later shows. On Kids, you get entire episodes focusing on stuff like:
- two girls fighting over possession of a rabbit,
- a boy getting a job as a dog walker, and then promptly losing the dog,
- that same boy getting a chain letter, and having to decide whether or not to break the chain and risk bad luck,
- another boy having to deal with his dad being in jail, and you know his dad is in jail, because he tells everybody about it at least once per episode, and then the boy is somehow surprised when he gets accused of shoplifting,
- a girl’s family is forced to move to Vancouver, and she has all kinds of separation anxiety about leaving her friends behind.
So it’s not earth-shattering stuff. But if you like Degrassi, it’s worth it to see the seeds of the franchise being planted, and it’s good for a few unintentional chuckles, at least.
And it’s obvious that, even back then, Stacie Mistysyn is the main reason anybody tuned in. Case in point: Her family is the one that has to move to Vancouver, and a huge deal is made out of this, and the whole episode is about her coming to terms with leaving all her friends behind. And then, I swear, literally two episodes later, her family moves back to Degrassi Street. And so it began: a symbiotic relationship between actress and franchise that would last for decades.
Well, I’ve digressed (and obsessed) enough for now, so I’ll save my thoughts on Degrassi: The Next Generation for the next recap.
This recap is about “The Cover-Up”, a very special episode of Degrassi Junior High that deals with a touchy subject. But, as we’ve already seen, they’re all very special episodes dealing with touchy subjects. So I won’t even tell you what this episode’s touchy subject will be. Let’s see how long it takes you to figure it out. I’m guessing it’ll come to you shortly before the opening credits.
This episode’s teaser, much like every teaser on this show, is set in a grimy suburban home. A brown-haired boy sits at the breakfast table, leafing through a magazine with way rad pictures of dirt bikes and stuff. An off-screen male voice calls out to him, identifying the kid to us as “Ricky”, and asking where his tie is.
Enter Ricky’s dad, a plain white guy with insanely poofy hair. He has a white afro, pretty much. For comparison purposes, just imagine ’70s singer-songwriter Gilbert O’Sullivan. Ricky’s dad is the spitting image. And the more I look at this guy, the more I wonder: How was this ever an acceptable hairstyle? And going by lots of photographic evidence, particularly on this website, it was very acceptable at some point in time, but I can’t tell you why.
Ricky’s Dad sees Ricky’s magazine and snatches it away. He angrily asks if “Frank” gave it to him, and if “Frank” has been in here. I don’t know who this “Frank” person is, but he sounds like a real asshole. Dad accuses Ricky of stealing the magazine, but Ricky says he bought it himself.
His dad asks where he got the money. Ricky says he “took back some bottles”, causing Dad to fume and seethe. It seems to me like Dad has a slight anger management problem, but what do you think, readers? He tells his son that money doesn’t grow on trees, and that they don’t have money to waste on “garbage” like motorcycle magazines. Aw, come on, Dad, it’s so rad!
“I have plans for that money,” Dad says while tying his tie, “to get out of town!” Gee, how much was that magazine, anyway? And can you really “get out of town” for the amount of money you get from recycling bottles?
Ricky just scoffs, “Yeah, right!” Oh, sure. Bait the guy who’s already teetering on the edge of violent rage, why don’t you?
Sure enough, Dad explodes, calling his son a “punk” and lunging at him with a raised fist. Ricky gets into a defensive position to block the blow, and in the process shows off the big bruise he already has on his arm. So, just in case you couldn’t figure it out, this is probably not the first time this has happened in the Ricky Household.
And on that note, the drum machine starts pounding, and it’s off to the opening credits. Not the smoothest transition, is it? But that’s a constant problem for this show: That was some horrible child abuse, now let’s listen to an up-tempo number about believing in yourself!
I mean, how many times do I have to come out of a fucking up-tempo record and talk about a dog dying? Is Don on the phone?
So, here we are at the opening credits. Can you guess what the core issue of this week’s Very Special Episode will be? C’mon, guess. I said guess! If you don’t guess, you’ll be sorry, you little punk!
And I recognize the character of Ricky, even though he hasn’t really gotten any dialogue before now, because of his random appearances as an extra in earlier episodes. Not to mention, his prominence in the clips shown in the opening credits. I haven’t counted, but I think there are more shots of him in the opening credits than any other Degrassi character. (Most of which come from this episode.) Which looks really strange, once you find out he only ended up appearing in six episodes of this series.
And as we’re about to learn, “Ricky” actually goes by “Rick” at school. And no doubt he’s doing this on the advice of his agent, and once he turns 36, he will return to going by “Ricky”.