Feb 1, 2013

Degrassi Junior High

During its early years, Nickelodeon aired several Canadian programs, such as You Can't Do That on Television and Rin Tin Tin: Canine Cop.  Degrassi Junior High (1987-89) was a teen angst drama set in an urban high school on De Grassi Street in Toronto. After three seasons, it became Degrassi High (1989-91), and then, after a 10-year hiatus, Degrassi: The Next Generation (2001-2009) The teens have more problems than any daytime soap opera: alcoholism, drugs, child abuse, domestic abuse, teen pregnancy, sexual harassment, stalking, HIV, suicide, disease, death, plus the usual dating triangles. Not quite as scandalous as Beverly Hills 90210, but for the children and teenagers used to squeaky-clean teencoms like My Secret Identity and Out of this World, it was a revelation.

Gay people appeared twice in the original series, but not among the teenagers: a teacher is rumored to be a lesbian, and one of their older brothers announces that he is gay.  Both episodes received howls of outrage from homophobic watchdog groups, and were not aired in the U.S. until later.

There was a huge cast of characters, including a number of hunks for the straight girls and gay boys to swoon over, often with underwear or swimsuit shots.  The casual nudity was quite risque by American standards.

The main focus of the original series was on Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni), a quick-witted, impertinent slacker who always wore a signature fedora (usually on his head).  In Next Generation, he returned as a used car salesman and mentor to the new generation of kids with problems (including Ryan Cooley, Jake Epstein, and Daniel Clark).

Joey had two close friends, Snake (Stefan Brogren) and Wheels (Neil Hope, left), but his strongest bond was with Wheels.  Though each dated and had relationships with girls, as they helped each other through various crises, broke up and reconciled, got jealous over each others' outside friendships, they came arguably close to the passion and heat of a homoromance.