Degrassi, in one form or another, has been on the air since 1979. That’s 35 years! (Feeling old yet?) What began as The Kids of Degrassi Street eventually evolved into Degrassi Junior High, then Degrassi High, then Degrassi: The Next Generation and is now simply Degrassi (and about to embark on its 14th season). From the beginning, those kids got us, and we loved them for it.
For one, the actors actually looked like real kids — the people you passed in the halls every day, shared lockers with, passed notes to — not to mention, the actual age of the characters they were portraying, with new crops of students coming and going every year. But aside from being the anti-90210, Degrassi was also the first high-school show to not trivialize the teenage years. The kids of Degrassi Street face real issues, just like you did. From school shootings and teenage pregnancies to drug abuse and eating disorders, no topic is or was off limits on Degrassi.
Here are at least 16 times that Degrassi totally nailed what it’s like to be a teenager.
That time you had a pregnancy scare — or your friend actually was pregnant
Spike got pregnant in Grade 8 after unprotected sex with Shane. She had her daughter, Emma, after the end-of-year dance and while it was a struggle, she made it work. (Now she is happily married to Snake, who has become Degrassi’s prinicipal.) Mia was actually the youngest character to be pregnant and raise her kid, which is also what Vanessa did. Jenna and Liberty gave up their babies for adoption. The latest to learn she is expecting: Clare. Who didn’t know someone in high school that had to go through all of that?
The heavy decision that is abortion
A formerly taboo subject (that still elicits heated debate), abortion is another option for teenage pregnancy, and one that Degrassi never shied away from. Despite her twin sister Heather’s protests, Erica decided to get an abortion after having unprotected sex and had to walk past picketers outside the clinic. She was also bullied by classmate Liz, who vandalized her locker and branded her a murderer. Over the seasons, Tessa and Manny also had abortions (ironically, Tessa became pregnant from her fling with Joey; Manny became pregnant from Joey’s stepson, Craig).
Dealing with haters
While bullying has been rampant throughout the series, we learned there were ways to cope with it and one didn’t always have to be a part of all that icky stuff. No violence, no fighting, no anger, no bitterness. Just … dealing.
That time you did something really, really, really stupid and had to take responsibility for it
Despite having had too much to drink, Wheels got behind the wheel and ended up hitting another car, killing a child and temporarily blinding and partially crippling passenger Lucy. He eventually took responsibility for his actions, went to jail after pleading guilty to all charges, and once out, let Lucy know he was constantly haunted by what went down. OK so maybe we didn’t do something that bad in high school, but we’ve definitely done some stoopid stuff we later had to ‘fess up for.
Or when you just made poor decisions in general
Like Wheels, when you do something wrong, you learn from it and, hopefully, you move on. It’s not always puppies and rainbows and sunshine. We should all embrace our mistakes; they help shape us and make us who we are.
When he was more than just a bad boyfriend
Everyone thinks they’re going to be with their high school guy forever, right? Sadly, abusive relationship have been happening for decades. On Degrassi we had Kathleen and Scott, Terri and Rick, Fiona and Bobby, Alli and Leo and Bianca and, well, bunches of dudes.
Everything coming up LGBT
Some of the students were gay. No big deal, right? Well, for the most part, it was taken with a grain of salt (as it should be) but for others, their lives were made miserable. Adam, however, was not only the first transgender character to ever be featured on Degrassi, but the first transgender main character in Canadian television history and the first teenage trans main character in television history. RIP, Adam.
When a school drill is no longer a drill
It’s happened on other shows like One Tree Hill, Glee and American Horror Story, but what happened with Rick really left its mark. He was bullied (albeit because everyone knew he beat his ex-girlfriend, Terri, into a coma) and in this post-Columbine world, there was no happy ending. Rick brought a gun to school and shot Jimmy, whom he thought was responsible for a prank played on him, in the back. Rick was killed during a struggle with Sean but Jimmy wound up confined to a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down.
Wanting it all to just stop
Whether it’s grief, depression, guilt, numbness, none of the above, or all of the above, many Degrassi characters have killed themselves, including Claude Tanner and Cam Saunders. Those whose actions were stopped in the nick of time include Craig, Sean, J.T., Darcy, Ellie, Dallas and Zoë.
Good, old-fashioned pranks
Joey Jeremiah may be best known for his signature fedora
butt but we can’t help remembering when he was dared to walk naked through the cafeteria — and did it, with only his hat “on.”
The constant wardrobe struggle
Remember when original mean girl Stephanie would change into sexy clothes and slap on the makeup in the bathroom before the bell rang? Many Degrassi gals followed suit over the years including Manny, Alli, Clare and Maya.
Getting all dolled up for your latest crush
While some of the female students’ looks simply changed as they got older, many also made a conscious effort to go from geek to chic. And the reason was often the same: boys. They didn’t like the girl next door so transforming into the bad girls is what many of them felt they had to do. Ugh.
Feeling like you’re gonna live forever
It would’ve been nice if we all weren’t in such a rush to grow up. Because it’s scary how one day they are all sweet and innocent…
… And then a year or two goes by and this happens:
Or, even worse, this (shudder):
Bullying, mean girls and cyber-bullying
Remember when Joey was picked on by Dwayne, Ashley was ostracized by her friends after she took ecstasy and Marco was a victim of gay bashing? How about when a video of a topless Manny went viral, Maya’s sexy music video had people labelling her a “slut” and Zoë’s drunken adventures at a recent party were documented and posted online? Or when Drew got the crap kicked out of him by gang members and J.T. was killed by the rivals from Lakehurst? The worst.
When your mom wasn’t around to wash your mouth out with soap
Snake was the first Canadian character to use the word “f*ck” on primetime Canadian television (during the totally tubular TV movie, School’s Out), followed quickly by Caitlin. Amazing (and obviously NSFW).
Feeling like the world is your oyster
Finally, if the Zit Remedy taught us anything, it’s if we want something we should never, ever, ever give up our dreams of getting it.
Degrassi premieres Tuesday, Oct. 28 at 9 p.m. ET on MTV.