While other kids grew up with cable television I was lucky to grow up with PBS, which stands for Public Broadcasting System. It was free and it came with standard channels. In Manhattan where I was born and spent my childhood, that channel was channel 13. There I experienced television shows like Reading Rainbow, Sesame Street, 3-2-1 Contact, Doctor Who, The Voyage of the Mimi, and another show called Degrassi Junior High.
Degrassi is known today by its revival with the series of the Next Generation but it all began in 1979. A production company called Playing With Time Inc. decided to create a show that would follow the lives of kids and address challenging topics such as death, drug abuse, and teen pregnancy.
The first show was The Kids of Degrassi Street (1979) and although many of the actors that were on this series turned up in Degrassi Junior High (1987-1989) and Degrassi High (1989-1991) they were not the same characters so it is not considered a precursor to the later shows.
What blew me away as preteen and teenager was for the first time being exposed to teen pregnancy. Most of us who watched Degrassi back in the 80's will never forget Spike and the moment she found out she was pregnant. I think Spike's character became pregnant at only 13 years old (by 14 she had Emma) so it was shocking. But the way they handled her story line you couldn't help but learn a thing or two. It was powerful.
There were other story lines that can easily be applied to today which makes Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High so timeless. They address issues on sexual confusion, parental abuse and alcoholism, the effects of taking drugs, cancer, suicide, molestation, cheating, lying, young love, insecurities, and all sorts of peer pressures.
I learned so darn much from those episodes as a kid that I decided to take a look back and refresh my memory on them. I can tell you that it felt like I was walking through memory lane. There was a rawness and simplicity about the 70's and 80's that was gone once the 90's came and I miss often.
Degrassi is something special. I watching a few episodes of the latest two reincarnations (Next Generation and New Class) of the show and although it is too much like a soap opera for my taste I appreciate that the writers and producers are still addressing real problems among teens today.
I own all the cds to Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High (including their movie School's Out) and I will definitely let my children view them when they are older. I think the best part of the show (aside from The Zit Remedy) is that watching it can open up a dialogue with your child. And frankly I think that is just incredibly awesome.
I am a sucker for cheese and not just the kind that comes from cows. I love the uber cheesiness of the 80's and Degrassi delivers. Better still it will teach you a little something about others and give you the appreciation in knowing that the teen angst years are far, far behind you.
A Vintage Nerd Supplementary Reading:
67 Truly Iconic Degrassi Moments (old and current)
Four Decades of Degrassi-Interview with Stefan Brogren