Whatever It Takes — My Trip To Degrassi
I had been driving back from my annual trip to Los Angeles and to pass the time I usually throw on a podcast. I downloaded one of my favorites, a quaint little exploration into the tv shows that raised us as kids, when I decided to listen to an episode about Degrassi. The two hosts had maybe watched a few episodes long ago and decided to watch both the first and last episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation. In listening to this podcast it dawned on me that I have never watched an episode of any kind of Degrassi…or at least that I know of.
Look, growing up in Canada, we all know Degrassi. My age group was around the time of Spinner and Jimmy, Manny and Emma, and who could forget the amazingly great Paige. Hell I even knew about the OG cast but names only. There was Wheeler, Snake and Spike but because those were so typical 80s names. Did the first series take place in the 80s or was it the 90s? I’m not sure. What I do know and what we all knew about Degrassi was the now infamous unforgettable episode. The one where dear old Drake was gunned down by a bullied kid. But for the life of me I don’t think I ever watched that episode. I just knew that Drake was in a wheelchair and that was that. Okay no never mind I do remember watching an episode where Drake was trying to get an erection. Not sure why that one stuck in my mind but here it is for all to know about me.
When I returned home from my road trip I just had to binge the series. Not because I yearned for it but because I felt as a Canadian it was my patriotic duty to explore this series. So here I am on the search for Degrassi on youtube and crazy thing I couldn’t watch the episodes on the official youtube page as they were on a Regional Filter. Super confused because I was back in Canada at this time. So I scoured the site for some cheap blurry knockoffs when I came across a page dedicated to showing us wayward travelers every episode our hearts desired. Now began my journey into the world of Degrassi and I was going to watch every episode, whatever it took.
I did not know what I was getting into but the second that theme song started playing I felt like I was transported back to 2001. For me those were the formidable years for me as I was coming of age. I felt regret for not having watched this show religiously, the way I watch shows today. Had I watched this show then maybe I would have had a better experience as a teenager. That’s not to say my teenage years were horrible, in fact they were great. I was a social butterfly being able to jump from clique to clique with ease. People liked me and I had tons of friends. I even had a few girlfriends who were definitely out of my league. Looking at you she who shall not be named.
Going back to this coming of age thing though. It was nostalgic to see these kids go through some of the things that I remember going through. I’ve come to realize that I’m a very nostalgic individual and I often find myself digging into the deep crates of my mind to relive old memories. I felt nostalgic for a bygone era. Post 9/11 but Pre-Facebook. It was an interesting time to be alive and Degrassi definitely knew what we as teenagers went through. It’s tough for shows about teenagers to get this when it’s written by old people. We all dealt with the very serious subjects like online predators, STIs, teenage pregnancy, and even death. Yes as a teenager I was not protected from the death of a fellow student or friend. Nobody in my close circle was killed but there was an incident that many of my friends were involved with. Much like the murder of JT, a beloved character, there was a stabbing of someone from our community. Just like how JT was murdered at a birthday party, this individual was murdered at a birthday party. It’s crazy to think about now, that feeling that we all went through, whether we knew the guy or we didn’t. There was just a strange atmosphere that moved through the crowds. Hell for all I know the murder of JT could have happened around the same time as the murder of the person I speak of. That’s the crazy thing about this show though. They knew teenagers and they knew the emotions we dealt with.
In my travels within the film industry, and more specifically the Canadian Film Industry, I found myself rubbing elbows with former Degrassi alumni. A good friend, and possible cousin, Jennifer Podemski played the school counsellor. She was there for all the major incidents like when Drake was shot. This one time at a party in Toronto at a place coincidentally called the Drake I awkwardly hit on one of the female actors from the show. I won’t say which one to spare me the embarrassment but if she remembers and reads this, hey! Sorry about my drunk self, it was my first time at TIFF, and I was coming off an amazing high of having our film premiered that night.
So that brings me to this, whatever this is, or what it will become. Maybe this little essay will be the part of a book I write about my discovering Degrassi in my 30s and how it brought me back to my youth. Maybe it’s just about me trying to meet every Degrassi alum that I can possibly meet. At this point I have no idea I just felt like putting something on paper about what Degrassi has done to me and why I am now a fan. Much like the theme song states, whatever it takes, I’ll figure this thing out. Until then I hope you enjoy this read and if not well I hope you meet the same fate as Drake’s spine did. I shouldn’t say that actually as someone who suffered a spinal injury and had major surgery to repair it. There I go again talking about my spine. But in all seriousness I believe this might be a series of essays about my experience watching Teenage shows from my youth but as a 30 year old man.
Okay that’s enough. Until then I’ll meet you at the dot where I’m sure The Zit Remedy, Paige and the Sex Kittens, and Downtown Sasquatch will be performing. Was that lame? Probably.