I Love the ’80s | O Canada!

80s_degrassi_smI saw a group of junior high kids in the middle of their day at school. At first, I thought it was a documentary because the kids looked so real. They spoke and behaved so honestly. There was nothing phony about them.





The year was 1988. I was a 12-year-old sixth grade student at Jury Elementary in Florissant. As is the case with most kids during adolescence, I enjoyed hanging out at the mall with my friends, listening to music, and talking on the phone. Of course, I also enjoyed watching television to no end. At that time, some of the most popular shows were Who's the Boss, Growing Pains, and The Cosby Show—and I loved them all! Those awesome shows shared one common thread: they each featured teenagers, and those teenagers were the absolute coolest kids in school. But of course, that was pure, sensationalized family TV. I mean, honestly, did you ever go to school with anyone even half as cool as Mike Seaver?

One Saturday evening at around six o'clock, when I was bored out of my mind with nothing to do, I happened to turn on the television to Channel 9 (PBS). To my surprise, I saw a group of junior high kids in the middle of their day at school. At first, I thought it was a documentary because the kids looked so real. They spoke and behaved so honestly. There was nothing phony about them. Caitlin, Snake, Wheels, Joey, Spike, Lucy, and of course the twins, Heather and Erica. They could've been kids at my school. Instantly, I was drawn in.

As the final credits rolled, I was elated to learn that the program wasn't a documentary, but a scripted series. Still, I had no idea what it was called or when it would air again. Then I checked the TV Guide and saw it there in black and white: "Degrassi Jr. High." Upon that very first viewing, it was love at first sight. Degrassi became my absolute favorite show. Never before had I seen a kids' show that was so much like real life—funny and sad and exciting and painful, all at the same time. In the world of Degrassi, just like in the real world, every problem didn't always have a neat, happily-ever-after solution. It was no Saved by the Bell, that's for sure. (But please don't get me wrong, I was a BIG Saved by the Bell fan.) TNBC Saturday mornings, I was there with bells on. Zach Morris ruled! But c'mon, did Zach ever get punished for anything…ever?


Back at my elementary school the following week, I quickly told all my friends about my Degrassi experience and encouraged them to watch the show. My friend Kyle became an instant fan just like me, so much so that he and I would watch the show while talking on the phone together. When I learned that Degrassi was filmed in Toronto, Canada, my interest in that great northern city and country was enormously piqued. I couldn't wait to one day visit to see what life was like there.

Fast-forward 18 years to 2006. In celebration of my 30th birthday, I finally made the trip to Toronto. I spent four amazing days there; I even rode the subway and a street car to get to the real Degrassi Street. During my short stay in Toronto, I realized that the city is everything I thought it would be and so much more. It's a great place with lots of friendly people – even during the dead of winter, when it's barely 20 degrees outside.

For almost 20 years now I've been a diehard Degrassi fan, and today, I'm still faithful to the show, thanks to cable television. Every week I look forward to watching new episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation on The N (Noggin). While the days of Degrassi Jr. High and Degrassi High have come to an end, I've come to love Degrassi: The Next Generation just as much.

So, if by chance you've never had the pleasure of seeing this golden gem that first hit the airwaves back in the 1980s, or if you're like me and simply can't get enough of a good thing, I encourage you to definitely take a closer look at the wonderful world of Degrassi! Seasons 1-3 of Degrassi Jr. High are available on DVD, as are seasons 1-5 of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Strapped for cash, or would you prefer to try it before you buy it? Well, just head over to your nearest St. Louis County Library and check out the series there. I promise you won't be disappointed.

And please, don't let the fact that Degrassi is a "teen" series turn you off before you turn it on. The series is written with so much wit, integrity, and honesty that it easily rivals the best "adult" shows currently on the air. And frankly speaking, how many of these "adult" shows are known for their honesty and integrity? | Retannical D. Russell

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