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Series / Degrassi High

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Everybody can succeed, in yourself you must believe!
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The immediate sequel to Degrassi Junior High, and the show that solidly transformed the Degrassi series into a full Soap Opera. This series lasted from November, 1989 to January, 1991. A total of 28 episodes in two seasons.

Most of the episodes focused on the day-to-day problems of being a teen, such as bargaining for more freedom from your parents, preparing for life after graduation, and (especially) the perils and pitfalls of No Going Steady. Every few episodes, a monster problem would hit, like AIDS, a kid running away from home, and so on. However, the cast were such a Dysfunction Junction that the day-to-day episodes could feel almost as soap-opera and dramatic as the heavy-hitter ones. Without exception, every single storyline had a follow-up later.

Like the rest of the Degrassi franchise, the series was intended as a tool for teaching teens about "hot-button" issues like abortion and AIDS. In many ways, it serves as a bridge between the individual episode focus of Degrassi Junior High and the sprawling Soap Opera of Degrassi: The Next Generation. But in spite of that, it was far more continuity-heavy than Degrassi: The Next Generation, with its Three Month Rule and Heel–Face Revolving Door.

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At its best, Degrassi High turned Loads and Loads of Characters into True Companions with a bond so real you could taste it, and a school that felt more real than almost any other on TV. It still has a ton of die-hard fans who love it like Star Trek fans love their continuity. At its worst, it could be frustrating stew of too many Spear Carrier characters and repetitive romantic subplots, made worse by regular Retcon. The most striking innovation of the show was that all characters had Soap Opera adventures even when the camera wasn't on them, and time visibly passed each episode — which made everything fit together, but also meant a ton of Second-Hand Storytelling.

The series ended with a Grand Finale movie, School's Out, which caused an outcry by going Darker and Edgier than anything Degrassi (or almost any other teen show) had done at the time, with tons of Fanservice (from actors who were real teenagers), drugs and alcohol, sex scenes, and characters turning very unpleasant (themes that teen dramas would later be DEFINED by, mind you). Most notable was using real cursing in a show that had never had it before — one foul-mouthed line became an instant Memetic Mutation. Like many Darker and Edgier shows, fans tend to either love it or hate it. (Of course, compared to Degrassi: The Next Generation it feels almost quaint in a lot of ways — and yet, still Darker and Edgier in others.)

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The series was followed up with Degrassi Talks, a documentary special where Degrassi actors interviewed people for real stories of drug addiction, domestic abuse, etc. interspersed with relevant clips from the show.


This show provides examples of:

  • A Day In The Lime Light: As is par for the course with Degrassi, characters get a plot centered around themselves.
  • Adult Fear: a curious example in that none of the people involved are technically adults. In "Crossed Wires" when Liz confides in Spike about being sexually abused as a child, Spike is quick to reassure her it wasn't her fault, as she was just a little kid. Her eyes and the camera then wander over to her toddler daughter Emma, happily playing in a kiddy pool. Spike says nothing, but it's not hard to tell what she's thinking.note 
  • The Alleged Car: Clutch's Mustang II, Joey's older (but cooler if no less junky) Mustang Sportsroof, Snake's parents' huge, rusty '76 Oldsmobile, Spike's mom's Lada, Wheels' heavily beat-up Chevy Malibu wagon. It gives the impression that the production could only afford Alleged Cars for the characters to drive.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Just like in Degrassi Junior High, it's very frequent.
    • Heather's crush for Wheels.
    • Alex likes Tessa, who has a crush on Joey (who doesn't seem to notice her until The Movie).
    • Arthur loves Caitlin who is interested in Claude.
    • Spike likes Snake, but he has still a crush on Michelle (ironically since in The Next Generation, Snake and Spike are a married couple).
  • Alpha Bitch: Averted when Stephanie Kaye left Degrassi Junior High — this may be the only teen Soap Opera without one.
    • Amy and especially Allison though they are only minor characters.
  • Ascended Extra: Maya, Michelle, Diana, Alex, Dwayne and Tessa. All of them were minor or background characters in Degrassi Junior High. Dwayne was a one-off (and also a background character) in Season 2 in Junior High.
  • Badass Beard: Scott the abusive boyfriend has one in his earliest appearance, although the guy isn't really a badass at all.
  • Bad "Bad Acting": Some of the teenage cast fall susceptible to this because they weren't experienced actors. This is also a reason some newer fans tend to write off the older Degrassi no matter how entertaining the show still actually is.
  • Break the Haughty: Dwayne. Poor, poor Dwayne when he gets HIV. One good thing to come out of this is that he befriends Joey.
  • Broken Bird: Liz at the end of the day, having been sexually abused as a child.
  • The Bully: Dwayne (initially) and his minions, Nick and Tabi, although they are mostly only shown bullying Joey and a bunch of non-notable background characters most of the time. (Tabi towards Melanie and Kathleen in that one episode not withstanding)
  • Crapsack World: At the end of the day, Degrassi seems like a high school you would actually want to avoid. Nearly everyone has problems and conflicts.
  • Dark Fic: School's Out according to those who find it overdone.
  • Deconstruction: School's Out according to those who think it's an appropriate Bittersweet Ending.
  • Demoted to Extra: Arthur and Yick. Along with Stephanie Kaye and Joey, they were the main stars of Degrassi Junior High (especially in season 1), and were often involved in a subplot in every episode. But no longer cute little kids, they were relegated to minor background players in Degrassi High.
    • Melanie. She has even less screen time than Yick and Arthur in Degrassi High.
  • Dirty Coward: Claude, who leaves Caitlin stuck on a fence when escaping police and then uses his suicide as essentially an act of revenge.
  • Domestic Abuse: Scott, Kathleen's boyfriend, both verbally and physically, especially involving a play. Melanie unwittingly stumbles across one of the more physical instances and tries to tell Kathleen that she is being abused.
  • Funny Background Event: While Joey and Caitlin are sharing an emotional moment at the talent show, Wheels is dancing in the background in his Mexican outfit (complete with a huge sombrero covering his head).
  • Hustling the Mark: In one episode, the cool kids invite nerdy, insecure Arthur to their poker party so they can take him for all he's worth. He's totally out of his depth — at one point, he asks, "does three of a kind beat a full house?" But he suddenly starts winning, and by the last hand, it's down to Arthur and the host ...and Arthur wins almost all the money by bluffing when his hand is complete junk. The cool kids are amazed, then Arthur grins and says, "'Does three of a kind beat a full house?' You guys are so gullible.".
  • Imagine Spot: Spike has one where she is laughed out of the library for asking out Snake.
  • Irony: Wheels lost his parents to a drunk driver, he ends up taking a life while driving intoxicated. Snake even Lamp Shades this in "School's Out".
  • It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Pretentious Claude insists on having his name pronounced in the same manner as "clone".
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Joey. In School's Out he's more of a Jerk with a Heart of Jerk.
  • Karma Houdini: The only penalty Luke ever faces is losing some money.
  • Kudzu Plot: The use of Second-Hand Storytelling means we simply never find out how some things happened.
  • Literal Genie: A complicated one in School's Out.
    • Joey wanted to get laid. He got Tessa and Caitlin.
    • Wheels didn't want to live with his grandparents. He isn't living with them at the end.
    • Caitlin wanted to choose between university and love. Joey made the choice very easy for her.
    • Snake wanted a lifesaving fantasy, but he still didn't lose his virginity.
  • Loony Fan: Real Life example: Sara Ballingall, who played Melanie, was stalked for six years by a crazed Australian fan who kept an armory in his house, sent increasingly threatening letters, claimed Ballingall was the one wronging him, and ran a Degrassi fansite. Ballingall is nowhere to be found at any fan events or conventions.
  • Love Triangle: Joey, Caitlin, and Claude were the main one but School's Out has the much more infamous triangle of Joey, Caitlin and Tessa.
  • Magical Negro: BLT, Maya, and Patrick, a rare Magical Irishman.
  • The Masochism Tango: Joey and Caitlin, despite being deeply in love, would clearly make a horrible couple in the end, and some characters point this out in the show.
  • Naïve Everygirl: Melanie, although she's a bit toned-down since Degrassi Junior High. Michelle also.
  • Narm: For how ahead of it's time the show actually was in dealing with these issues, this can happen quite frequently.
    • Dwayne's kicking rampages in the bathroom after fighting Joey and drawing blood are hilarious since he can barely lift his legs.
    • The Degrassi Talks theme song is catchy but very cheesy and sappy.
  • No Respect Guy: Snake in School's Out. It made no sense when you consider he had multiple girls interested in him all through junior high and high school, and was respected by everyone.
  • Positive Discrimination: Averted — even with three Magical Negro characters, some of the most unpleasant characters on the show are minorities.
  • Precision F-Strike: The F-word is used twice in near-succession during the climax of "School's Out". Extremely jarring in that the show hardly ever used even mild swearing. Notable in that it's the first use of the f-word on Canadian television.
  • Product Placement: Skippy peanut butter, Canon cameras, and Dipps granola bars.
  • Put on a Bus: Many. However L.D. is still mentioned by Lucy even in the last season.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: the opening sequence has a scene of Arthur's bike getting smeared with peanut butter — part of a bullying plot that was canceled when Arthur's actor suddenly hit his growth spurt.
  • Slumber Party: Where Melanie infamously blurts out Kathleen's personal problems while laughing on weed.
  • Soapbox Sadie: A whopping four of them — Caitlin, Claude, Liz, and Lucy, and each one with a distinct style.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: The end credits theme can have this effect on the show's Cliffhangers. A standout moment is the end of Bad Blood, Part 1, when Dwayne learns that he's been exposed to HIV.
  • Terrible Trio: Dwayne, Tabi, and Nick, although Dwayne falls out with them after revealing he has HIV.
  • Took a Level in Jerkass: Wheels and, to a lesser extent, Yick. Wheels gets much worse in The Movie, and so does Joey.
  • Took a Level in Kindness: Kathleen, especially after being abused by Scott.
    • Tabi, Dwayne's female crony, has a change of heart after he reveals his HIV status and asks him to dance at the prom.
  • Those Two Guys: Amy and Allison, the closest we get to an Alpha Bitch archetype in this particular season, and are never seen by themselves most of the time.
  • The Unfair Sex: Joey and Caitlin both cheated on each other at different points. While Joey's affair with Tessa was rightfully viewed as him being in the wrong, Joey never discovers that Caitlin went out with Claude and kissed him at least once before their first relationship ended. This occurs in again in The Next Generation where Caitlin drunkenly makes out with Kevin Smith. Both times, Caitlin is portrayed sympathetically.
  • Variations on a Theme Song: The theme song for here is more or less the same as Degrassi Junior High, shifted two keys below and with a new set of lyrics. However, the end theme is basically that of Junior High but rearranged in a more late 1980s style as opposed to the synth-drenched mid-80s sound of the original.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Patrick is nowhere to be seen after his argument with Spike in the library in Body Politics. Shane (in his brain damageed state) is only seen in one episode, with no resolution to his story until Next Generation.


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