Degrassi
Despite being a teen drama, "Degrassi" helped spark conversations about serious, real life issues. (Image via GameSpot)
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Degrassi

It might have been a soapy teen drama, but it was the second-longest-running series in television history.

My breath hitched when I read the tweet.

“The ‘Degrassi’ building is for sale.”

I hurriedly scanned the replies to see how the other heartbroken fans were faring. As I expected, many responses flooded the screen in all caps, shouting their disbelief in the show’s discreet cancellation.

Netflix has still not made an official statement about cancelling the show, opting instead to keep their fans in the dark for over a year.

I may not be the typical “Degrassi” fan, being a 21-year-old, but to be fair, I never intended on continuing my affection for the show after high school. However, since I followed it so closely for many years, it was difficult to make a clean break.

My love for “Degrassi” began when I saw a commercial at a friend’s house that showcased an edgy bad-boy falling for a quiet bookish girl. This, at the time, was the dream. I was fully engrossed in the world of YA novels where the cool guy goes for the girl at the back of the class, so my tween heart could not resist the endearing preview.

The show quickly consumed my life. I joined online fan sites, live-tweeted and never missed an episode throughout high school. Just one week after I graduated, TeenNick announced they were cutting the show. I was upset, sure, but I also felt a hard-to-explain type of relief. It was a way out. I had just graduated, so my interest in a show all about the ups and downs of high school naturally ended along with it. At this point, I felt like I was on the cusp of adulthood and I was ready to leave “Degrassi” behind.

A few days later, Netflix swooped in and saved the 600+ episode series and I was drawn back in. Despite swearing off the juvenile show, I found myself absorbed back into the world of Degrassi High. Four seasons later however, it was cancelled yet again. But this time, it was done quietly.

I am still in disbelief that a show that has been around for as long as “Degrassi” has would go out so faintly. This was a television show that was the first of its kind to tackle a vast array of teen issues like abortion, domestic violence, divorce and suicide. In fact, Vulture published an article featuring 239 different issues that “Degrassi” featured in 12 seasons.

I can’t help asking, why don’t people care more about this? “Degrassi” began in 1979 as “The Kids of Degrassi Street.” That means the franchise has existed for 39 years. Through all of its iterations, 621 episodes have been produced. For reference, “The Simpsons” is hailed as the longest-running television show of all time with 636 episodes. “Degrassi” was only 16 episodes away from beating out “The Simpsons” to hold the impressive title of the longest-running TV show ever made.

Perhaps everyone thought it was time to retire the cheesy Canadian show. “Degrassi” was full of cringey one-liners and text-talk in real life that made it difficult to immerse yourself, as it could feel like an unrealistic portrayal of high school students at times. No one actually says “LOL” out loud, unless it is being done ironically. But in the world of “Degrassi,” the inclusion of text-lingo was all done with the intent to seem realistic.

However, I would argue that the show has always been overly dramatic (at least since I started tuning in). Take for example, the number students that have been shot on school property in the show. The answer is too many. “Degrassi” has been a touch unrealistic for much of its run, but maybe that is part of its theatrical charm.

So, to give the show the celebration it deserves, I am going to highlight three of the most memorable characters.

1. Drake/Jimmy

Degrassi
Drake has “Degrassi to thank for his start to fame and the kick off of his music career. (Image via TV Guide)

You can’t bring up “Degrassi” without mentioning Drake. This is where the now-famous rapper got his start, playing a wheelchair-bound high schooler named Jimmy Brooks. At this point, he was still going by his real name, Aubrey Graham, as you can find in the credits of the show. Brooks was one of the aforementioned characters that got shot on the campus, but luckily, he survived.

After the shooting though, he was bound to a wheelchair and his storylines tended to revolve around his understandable frustration with the significant life change. You can find clips online of his iconic rapping scene on the show; some say this is where his music career truly began. A few months ago, Drake released a music video for his song “I’m Upset,” which depicts him returning to Degrassi High for a reunion.

2. Eli and Clare/Eclare

Eli Goldsworthy and Clare Edwards made up one of the most well-known pairings on the show, and their often-tumultuous relationship managed to last throughout their high school career and a year beyond. Although the couple was on-and-off and incredibly unhealthy at times (most notably being when Goldsworthy crashed a hearse during a manic episode to try and get Edwards to date him again, out of pity), they built up quite a following, myself included.

Their drama was unparalleled. From my recollection, some of the craziest twists that happened to Edwards alone include: a nude photo leak, parents’ divorce, a miscarriage, a psychotic boyfriend, having to live with her new stepbrother who used to be her boyfriend, dropping her vibrator in front of an entire class and a diagnosis (and eventual remission) of cancer. All in four years. Of high school. And don’t even get me started on Goldsworthy and his “Love Roulette” play that ended in him dramatically calling out Edwards on stage for breaking his heart.

3. Campbell Saunders

Degrassi
Saunders’ heartbreaking character arc was unexpected but got audiences thinking about mental health. (Image via Twitter)

Saunders was a student who loved hockey and was in a happy relationship with fellow student Maya, but tragically ended his life by committing suicide. Although he was the second character in the school to do so (the first being Claude Tanner), his death seemed to affect viewers more deeply. This is because of how “Degrassi” handled Saunders’ character.

With Tanner, the audience could tell he was struggling. We were shown his emotional turmoil throughout the character’s arch, whereas with Saunders, it was much more subtle. His emotional struggles were only revealed a few episodes before his suicide and were portrayed as severe anxiety, but not anything as dark as it panned out to be. Viewers believed this to be a more accurate portrayal of a suicidal individual, as it is often that the people around those with a mental illness are unaware they are struggling.

The average “Degrassi” watcher was shocked right alongside the students of Degrassi High. The handling of Saunders’ suicide has been praised for that reason; it prompted the audience to look more closely at the ones around us.

Now, when I indulge in slightly pretentious shows like “Black Mirror” and “Mr. Robot,” I can’t help but miss the simple absurdity of “Degrassi.” But I also miss the occasional deep-dive into complex issues plaguing teenagers today. The show will always have a special place in my heart, as cheesy as that sounds. To be fair though, that is definitely a line they would use on “Degrassi.”

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