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Series / Degrassi Junior High

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"I've often tried to figure out why I liked it so much. I thought it might have been due to all the teenage girls with pert breasts and cute accents ("what are you talking aboot?" was a fave-rave thing for some time), but in the end, I think it had something to do with high school in general, a time that - until Clerks took off - I assumed were the the best years of my life. The show calls to mind an era when one's largest crises were wondering when you were finally going to get to third with a girl, or the possibility of a shitty grade in gym."

The second series in the Degrassi franchise (third if you count the half-hour film Ida Makes a Movie as freestanding, as it originally had been intended), and the one that put Degrassi on the map for good. It re-used some of the actors from The Kids of Degrassi Street, but playing different characters. The series lasted from January 1987 to March 1989 with a total of 42 episodes in three seasons. There is a reason Degrassi: The Next Generation has "Next Generation" in the title!

The series was created by CBC as an educational tool for teens, to teach them about "hot button" topics like eating disorders, teen pregnancy, losing parents, etc. Most episodes followed a fairly standard formula: one of the kids has A Day in the Limelight where they deal with some nightmarish problem. At the same time, another kid has a comic adventure that mirrors the main A plot (Two Lines, No Waiting). At the same time, several arc plots floated around the show, and each episode would move the arc forward a bit (often serving as Foreshadowing for the A and B plots of later episodes).


Described like that, it sounds like a crappy Very Special Episode. What made it more than that was the willingness to (sometimes) have unhappy endings, and for the consequences to last more than an episode — when a character fails a grade, the whole next season shows then struggling with the stigma.

While the show featured a recognizable ensemble cast, it wasn't fixed and would rotate every episode. It is not uncommon to see a major character as a glorified extra in the background if they aren't the main focus of the episode, and a minor extra in the background get A Day in the Limelight, or become a major character later. Some of the show's biggest, or most iconic characters include fedora-wearing Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni), spiky-haired teen mom punk Christine "Spike" Nelson (Amanda Stepto), passionate activist Caitlin Ryan (Stacie Mistysyn), Gentle Giant and future Degrassi principal Archie "Snake" Simpson (Stefan Brogren), and bespectacled, wangsty Derek "Wheels" Wheeler (Neil Hope).


When it first aired, the show was ground-breaking for dealing with these hot topics without censorship or neat happy endings; it became a cult hit in America via PBS. It eschewed parents always being right for parents sometimes being quite unsympathetic, bigoted and abusive (and at one point dying), it introduced the first primetime TV depiction of Teen Pregnancy (and the treatment that said teenager received by adults), it portrayed an interracial couple where not even American television 5-10 years later would and even featured the utterance of the N-word to depict racism. Most notably, it mostly avoided the Dawson Casting trend that would become par for the course with the teen drama genre, with the majority of the characters being played by legitimate teens. Not only that, but even the haughtiest would end up breaking at some point, with Alpha Bitch Stephanie Kaye becoming suicidal, and The Bully Dwayne Myers getting HIV in the sequel series. This is a far cry from Next Generation, who features the indestructible Paige Michalchuk.

By today's standards of course, with how far teen dramas (largely influenced by this show and its successors) have pushed the envelope especially in the post-Beverly Hills 90210 era, Degrassi Junior High could very well radiate "Seinfeld" Is Unfunny to a modern audience. Its raw, gritty filming style, as well as its cast consisting of real late 1980s Toronto teenagers instead of experienced actors, makes it resemble the very after-school specials the show was partially rebelling against. However, the show has remained a cult favorite, including with Degrassi: The Next Generation fans interested in Degrassi's origins.

There are also persistent rumors that Aaron Spelling attempted to buy the rights to the show to adapt it for American audiences but was refused, so he created Beverly Hills, 90210 instead. These rumors have never been confirmed outright, but it is plausible to compare 90210's first season to Degrassi as it was very issue-based and episodic (and even possibly nicked some plotlines from this show).

It is also worth noting that the character Christine "Spike" Nelson (played by Amanda Stepto) would gain unsung popularity in the mid-late 2010s in the vaporwave and TikTok communities, as it is her voice saying "I'm just a was just a little mistake."

The most notable American fan was one Kevin Smith, who later achieved his life's dream of romancing the character Caitlin (whom he named Caitlin Bree in Clerks after) in the later series. Another American fan was Albert of The Agony Booth, who planned to recap every DJH episode, but stopped after the first episode of season 2 back in 2010. However, another guy has taken it upon himself to review the entire show here, in a much more Caustic Critic tone.

The series was immediately followed by the sequel series Degrassi High.

This show provides examples of:

  • A-Cup Angst: Melanie had an episode on the subject.
  • Abusive Parents: Rick's dad is violently abusive, and Kathleen's mom is an alcoholic.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Degrassi loves this trope
    • In season 1, Joey likes Stephanie who is interested in Wheels (who initially likes her back but gets tired of her at the end of the season).
    • Yick likes Melanie, who has a crush on Snake. In season 3, Allison likes Snake but he clearly prefers Melanie.
    • In season 2 Stephanie likes Simon but he chooses Alexa over her.
    • In season 3 Caitlin likes Joey but he's still pining over Liz.
    • In season 3 Dorothy has an unrequited crush for Yick.
    • The twins are both interested in Clutch but he only likes Lucy.
    • And probably a lot more, and even in Degrassi High there are several examples too.
  • Alpha Bitch: Stephanie, a rare case where the Alpha Bitch is also the protagonist (at least, in season 1 she was). As a result, she's more sympathetic than the usual example, and behind all her slutty and manipulative ways to keep her popularity as the school president, there is an insecure and vulnerable girl who just wants to be special.
  • Asian and Nerdy: Yick Yu is a downplayed example. He's a dorky kid with glasses who's also Chinese. However, he's also athletic and has to study extra-hard to overcome the stereotype of Asians as dumb jocks. Originally going to be played straight, but the actor thought it was too stereotypical.
  • Big, Thin, Short Trio: Snake, Wheels, and Joey, respectively. Although it's more a case of Big, Average, and Short Trio.
  • British Brevity: Seasons 1 and 2 have 13 episodes. Some fans feel that this wasn't enough to accommodate the show's ensemble cast. Season 3 inches closer to averting this by having 16 episodes.
  • Bruiser with a Soft Center: Deconstructed in Fight! Transfer student Scooter befriends Dwayne after he gets Scooter's locker open and lifts him up off the ground to get snacks just out of reach. Scooter and Dwayne become fast friends until Scooter learns about the fight between his new friend and Joey Jeremiah. In spite of trying to reason with Dwayne, the fight goes ahead and Scooter breaks off his friendship with Dwayne the following day.
  • The Bully:
    • Joey is introduced this way, and in early season 1 he's seen picking on younger kids like Arthur and Yick. He grows out of it.
    • Dwayne and his two minions. Don't get too attached to the minions. They appear in only one episode and are replaced by other two minions in Degrassi High.
  • Canada, Eh?:
    • Downplayed. While the accents and some of the language used were a dead giveaway, there was nothing really stereotypical Canadian about the show. It really demonstrated just how Rust Belt Toronto in the '80s was. Despite this, most people think Next Generation became overly Americanized over time, and think of Junior High as being more Canadian.
    • Wheels' thick accent.
  • Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Almost always. In Trust Me, Spike getting expelled which had been built up to all season was shunted to a rushed B-plot while the plot of Snake, Wheels and Joey joyriding Snake's parents' car is unnecessarily stretched out to get to consequences.
  • Canon Discontinuity: Any and all of the above-mentioned attempts to portray the setting as anyplace other than Toronto.
  • Casting Gag: Many plots were based on what happened to the actors playing them.
  • Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Despite the Degrassi Black Hole (a term referring to Degrassi characters who fall under this trope) being coined during the Next Generation era, it actually existed as far back as this show.
    • Voula was the first one. Despite her relatively prominent role in season 1, she disappears in season 2 without any explanation, except a brief voice-only cameo.
    • Caitlin's best friend Susie and her potential Love Interest Rick. Both disappear in season 3 without any explanation.
    • The very first episode brings us Joey's best friend Hank. It seems like he will be a major character and will get into all sorts of mischief with Joey over the years. You'll never see him again.
    • Jason Cox, the sexist sports kid from the season 1 episode "The Great Race", is never seen again after that episode. While it is said that the character left school, it is never explained why.
  • Clip Show: The 4th episode of season 3 Season's Greetings.
  • Comic Trio: Stephanie and the twins Heather and Erica. Joey, Snake, and Wheels.
  • Darker and Edgier: Typical The Kids of Degrassi Street plot - Kid goes downtown to buy clothes on his own for the first time. First major DJH plot - Teen Pregnancy.
  • Date Rape Averted: Happened to Steph in one episode. And Wheels in another infamous Degrassi episode. Watch here and try not to be creeped out.
  • A Day in the Limelight: Pretty much every character gets the spotlight at some point.
  • Downer Ending: The last episode ends with the school burning to the ground.
  • Demoted to Extra: Happened at least once an episode with some of the leads who clearly appeared not being billed in the closing credits.
  • The Ditz: Alexa and Simon are a rare ditzy couple. They are both dimwitted, with Simon being also a Dumb Blonde.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: Season 1 has notable differences, when compared to the later seasons and its immediate successor ''Degrassi High):
    • Stephanie is the clear protagonist, in contrast to the Ensemble Cast of the rest of the series.
    • The prominent presence of Voula, a character written out after the first season.
    • The lack of Alexa, Simon, BLT, Michelle, and Liz, who are regulars in all the other seasons.
    • Spike, the infamous teen mom, being an extra with no lines until episode 8, and not even being pregnant (until episode 11 that is).
    • Joey is much more of a bully. He also seems to have a different best friend in every episode, like Hank, Wheels (the only one who sticks), Tim, or Rick. He and Snake are not friends in the first few episodes, and it's clear that they don't even like each other.
    • Lucy and LD are not friends. Before season 2, they both used to hang out with other people.
    • Wheels doesn't wear glasses.
    • The much more frequent use of Catch Phrases like "Broomhead!", or Joey often repeating his full name along with a "Metaphor" Is My Middle Name joke, changing middle initial every time. They become Abandoned Catchphrases after a while.
  • '80s Hair: Steph has this in spades sometimes, but Spike out-eighties them all with a large spiked punk do. By Degrassi High and the beginning of the 90s, the spikes itself go away but the size doesn't.
  • Extraverted Nerd: Alex and Dorothy are both pretty outspoken and participative in the school's extracurricular activities.
  • Foreshadowing: The show was rather good at throwing out hints that wouldn't be followed up on until later. One episode before we learn Kathleen's Freudian Excuse, there's a blink-or-you'll-miss-it giveaway of what's wrong with her. Also notice how cozy Shane and Spike are in the second episode of the first season. This will be important later.
    -Have you ever been to a party where something didn't get broken?
    -Snake, 15 years before he'd go away for a weekend and his stepdaughter would hold a Wild Teen Party that ended with a kid getting stabbed in the street.
  • House Fire: In the final episode ("Bye-Bye Junior High") a faulty boiler sparks a fire during the graduation dance that spreads when Scooter and Tessa discover the fire but leave the boiler room door open. The fire spreads to tanks of flammable gas being stored in the corridor outside the boiler room, and the fire soon engulfs the whole school.
  • Imagine Spot: When Wheels runs away from his grandparents in the two-parter "Taking Off", he imagines happily reuniting with his biological dad (who he met in the first season). However, in reality, his bio dad did not expect him to come and awkwardly invites him in.
  • It's Always Spring: After the first few episodes, they decided to film only during summer vacation.
  • Jerkass: Kathleen, and how — she only gets to Pet the Dog once, and one episode later, it turns out she's expecting a favor in return.
  • Jerk Jock: Jason Cox and the Degrassi boys' soccer team in "The Great Race", who are sexist towards the girls swim team.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Most of the jerks in this show, or those that display Jerkass behavior, like Joey, Stephanie, and Lucy, are still shown to have degrees of humility and compassion.
  • Karmic Nod: Joey openly admits that he did deserve getting beaten up in Fight! during his After Action Patch Up.
  • Leave Me Alone!: Spike tells Shane to leave her alone and mind his own business when he wants to help or tries to help with the pregnancy. However, this is slightly averted as it doesn't lean to An Aesop.
  • Lonely Rich Kid: Lucy is shown to be pretty well off, but her parents are always away working, leaving her alone in her house. However, she turns this into a positive by hosting regular parties at her house.
  • Long Bus Trip: Stephanie, Rick, and Suzie all get put on a bus never to be seen again after season two. Stephanie was said to be going to school in France. Rick and Suzie just vanished.
    • A Degrassi tie-in novel has Suzie moving out of the school district. Considering Rick's home life it not unlikely this is what happened to him as well.
  • Long-Lost Uncle Aesop: Snake's brother.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Lucy's attempts at love with Paul and Clutch. One was a drunk and the other looked like Steve Urkel from Family Matters.
  • High-School Hustler: Joey — subverted in that his schemes usually blow up in his face.
  • Miss Conception: Type II. When Spike fears she's pregnant, Heather tells her she can't get pregnant the first time, although Erica thinks it's BS. Spike later asks her mom about whether that's true but her mother laughs it off.
  • Mood Whiplash: The insanely bright and perky theme song leads to a lot of this - especially in the teasers. Perfect example: The Cover-Up. Also, the overly optimistic lyrics such as "Be honest with yourself, forget your fears and doubts", when a lot of said fears and doubts end up being justified. This isn't just limited to the original era: Next Generation and Next Class are just as guilty of doing this.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: Intentionally averted by the writers, who wanted the kids' dialogue to be as realistic as possible.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Stephanie parades around the school in tube tops and short skirts to the enjoyment of every boy. The first episode centers around her taking advantage of this to win the school election.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: Early on, they referred to the setting as a "hick town" and characters exchanged U.S. currency. Contrast with recent seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation where both the Canadian and city flags fly from the school building and the Local Hangout's name comes from a nickname of Toronto.
  • No Dress Code: By necessity early on (unless someone's specific clothing was important to the plot, their clothing was the actor's own). In the series pilot, Stephanie changed from her parent-approved clothes to something more revealing in the girls' washroom before class. Liz roasts Stephanie over this.
  • Operation: Jealousy: Stephanie tries to make Wheels jealous by flirting with his best friend Joey (who has a huge crush on her). It fails when Wheels finds out and both guys turn their backs on her.
  • Pair the Dumb Ones: The only stable couple from this show and the sequel series Degrassi High is bubbly airhead Alexa and her Satellite Love Interest Simon, a foolish and easily confused Pretty Boy who only appears to follow her around. They even end up married in the movie.
  • Parental Abandonment:
    • Wheels, as both his adoptive parents die in a car accident in early season 3.
    • Spike has an absent father, and it's implied that it was possible abandonment.
  • Parent ex Machina: Averted for the most part, as this trope was one of the aspects of other TV series that the writers wanted to push back against; being meant to be from the kids' perspective, it was one of the first shows of its type to do away with the adults/parents being always the morally superior.
  • Pet the Dog: Almost every character gets to do this. One episode Joey will be selling fake drugs to grade 7s. The next episode he will be concerned about Rick's abusive home life.
  • Picture Day: "The Cover Up", the episode where we see Rick's abusive home life. Because of this reason, he does not smile for the camera and delivers a scowl for the camera.
  • Plucky Girl: Spike, despite being kicked out of school for being pregnant and failing grades due to her struggles with teen motherhood, still makes it through, despite inching really close to throwing in the towel in the series finale.
  • Power Trio: The Zit Remedy - Joey, Wheels, and Snake, are a three-man band. They don't have a drummer, however.
  • Product Placement: Not as obvious and in-your-face as Degrassi High, but there is occasional moments, such as how LD and Melanie are seen with McDonald's sodas in the season 1 "The Great Race".
  • Put on a Bus: Voula disappears after the first season. In an early second season episode, she leaves a message on Lucy's answering machine telling her how happy she is living in the suburbs.
  • The Quincy Punk: Averted with Spike and Liz.
    • Spike in particular was probably one of the nicest, most politely spoken punks to be portrayed on TV in the entire 1980s. [[Tsundere At least when Shane wasn't in her vicinity]].
    • Liz is more socially-conscious, but was mostly portrayed to be aloof and angry.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Many of the stories were based on real life incidents with the actors, or off of real events throughout Toronto. Head writer Yan Moore recalled that the cast would come into his office and tell stories about their lives, and they would find weeks later their stories in the script.
    • Joey joyriding Snake's parents' car was influenced by Pat Mastroianni doing the same with a Playing With Time company van.
    • Spike being made fun of for her hair by the manager of a diner, right down to the actual quips the manager makes.
    • The plot with Shane taking acid and jumping off a bridge was based off a real world incident where a 14 year old kid did a similar thing after a Pink Floyd concert. Except that kid actually died.
  • Rich Bitch: Lucy, although she does become sympathetic.
  • Running Gag: The P.A. announcements, such as Principal Lawrence's "thought of the day", which matched the theme of the episode; in the episode Snake finds out his brother is gay, the "thought of the day" is brotherhood.
  • School Newspaper Newshound: Caitlin, although she isn't the maestro most anime examples are.
  • School Play: "Stage Fright" in season 2, when Caitlin tries to audition for a role, but ends up losing to Kathleen, and getting a role as Kathleen's servant.
  • Shout-Out: In "Nothing to Fear", Doctors Donald Westphall, Annie Cavanero, Philip Chandler, Roxanne Turner, Seth Griffin, Carol Novino and David Domedion and Nurse Shirley Daniels are paged at St. Michael's Hospital. They are all characters in St. Elsewhere. Dr. Westphall is paged again in "Sealed with a Kiss".
  • Slumber Party: "Stage Fright" in season 2. Caitlin, who has intentionally not been taking her epilepsy medication, has a major seizure at one of these.
  • Star-Crossed Lovers: Stephanie and Wheels in Season 1, Joey and Caitlin; also played for laughs with Snake and Melanie.
  • Stuffed into a Locker: In Season 1, it was tradition to be stuffed in a broom cupboard rather than a locker.
  • Teen Drama: Trope Maker. While this wasn't the first TV series to center on teenagers going to school and dealing with issues (that honor would go to the UK's Grange Hill, which debuted in 1978 and serves as a Ur-Example), Degrassi Junior High was the first to include many elements of the modern teen drama, years before Beverly Hills, 90210 took the genre to mainstream commercial success.
  • Teen Pregnancy:
    • One of the defining and most influential Degrassi plots was this: Spike with Emma. It by all means put the Degrassi name on the map, won the show an International Emmy, and led all the way to Degrassi: The Next Generation.
    • Spike herself was the result of one. In the Spike novel, her mother was disowned over this, and the father skipped town wanting nothing to do with them.
    • Wheels was the result of one as well.
  • Theme Tune:
    • The opening/ending theme serves as general incidental music during exterior shots of the school.
    • The Zit Remedy's song always plays when one of them does something stupid. Which is often.
  • Those Two Guys: Arthur and Yick, who often get subplots together. In season 1, it happens in almost every episode.
    • Spike and Liz slowly become this, as they are seen together quite a lot. If Spike is the focus after season 2, expect most of her shots to be with Liz.
  • Title Drop: Half the episodes, the most notable probably being "Trust Me", where the phrase, already a sort of catchphrase for Joey, is said multiple times.
  • Tuckerization: In "Nothing to Fear", Dr. Bruce Paltrow is paged at St. Michael's Hospital. He was the executive producer of St. Elsewhere, whose character provided the names for everyone else paged in the episode.
  • Two-Teacher School: Mr. Raditch and Ms. Avery to begin with, but Mr. Garcia (technically from Borden High) appears in Season 3. Mr. Colby (the creepy substitute teacher) doesn't count.
  • Unbuilt Trope: As the Trope Maker of the Teen Drama, it feels more like a deconstruction, despite predating pretty much every single show in its wake that introduced the stereotypical traits of the genre.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "You broomhead!" and "Narbo!"
  • Very Special Episode: The entire show was arguably a Very Special Series, although the show is viewed by many as being more sensitive and realistic than its American counterparts.
  • The Voice: Mr. Lawerence, the principal.
  • Wham Episode: While "The Cover Up" (where Rick is beat by his dad) was the first serious episode of the series, the episode where Spike becomes pregnant, "It's Late", is not only the first Wham Episode for the series, but of the franchise as a whole.
  • You Go, Girl!: Melanie winning the swim race against the sexist sports rep Jason Cox.