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. A total of 42 episodes in three seasons.
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 him struggling with the stigma.
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. The most notable American fan was one Kevin Smith, who later achieved his life's dream of romancing the character Caitlin (the same character he named Caitlin Bree in Clerks after) in Degrassi: The Next Generation. (There are persistent rumors that Aaron Spelling wanted to license an American version of Degrassi, but couldn't get the rights, so he created Beverly Hills, 90210 instead.) After all the shows that have come since, it doesn't look very daring. Most notably, it treats gays sympathetically, but doesn't dare have a gay main character or even a gay recurring character; guest stars have to do. (The current Degrassi series, as of Season 12, has had multiple gay, lesbian, and bi main characters and even a trans main character.) There are also several dated moments that were plausible for 1980s teens, but are bizarre now, like when The Ditz hears about anorexia for the first time and wishes she had it.
Fans of Degrassi: The Next Generation will be surprised at how more conventional the show is. Adults are right more often in Degrassi Junior High (it tends to use Parent ex Machina instead of Adults Are Useless). But the biggest difference is that the entire cast of the older show are naive, frightened kids at heart. Even The High School Hustler and the Alpha Bitch turn out to be insecure and uncertain when the mask is removed. This sets it apart far more than the omnipresent '80s Hair — modern shows tend to have teens who are far more crafty. (Compare the Alpha Bitch on both shows. Stephanie, in the older show, bullies people because she's in deep denial about how needy, insecure, and naive she is. Paige, on the new show, is a ruthless shark with no fear and no weaknesses.)
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, and Kathleen's mom.
- Adorkable: Arthur, Yick, Melanie, Snake and to some extent, Joey.
- 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.
- Asian and Nerdy: Yick Yu. Actually a double subversion. He has to study extra-hard to overcome the stereotype of Asians as dumb jocks -wait, what!?
- Originally going to be played straight, but the actor thought it was too stereotypical.
- Brother Chuck: Voula, Caitlin's best friend Susie, Rick and many others.
- 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.
- 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: Dwayne and his two minions. Don't get too attached to the minions. They appear in only one episode.
- 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.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin': Almost always — but one episode subverts it completely.
- 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.
- 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 got 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.
- 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.
- Gay Bravado: Before Snake realizes his brother is. Also, the stereotype that all gays have AIDS. And you can get AIDS from shaking hands. As Lucy would say, it's the 80s.
- Gratuitous Rap: Caitlin and Rick's environmental rap. So bad it must be seen.
- Height Angst: Episode five, "The Great Race." The B-plot was Arthur and Yick being jealous of how tall Snake was, while he found his height made him unable to play soccer.
- 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.
- Karmic Nod: Joey openly admits that he did deserve getting beaten up in Fight! during his After Action Patch Up.
- 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.
- Mood Whiplash: The insanely bright and perky theme song leads to a lot of this - especially in the teasers. Perfect example: The Cover-Up.
- Ms. Fanservice: Steph, though nowadays she looks silly more than anything.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Product Placement: Skippy peanut butter, Canon cameras, and Dipps granola bars in the Degrassi High episodes.
- 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 Liz. A socially conscious punk.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Many of the stories were based on real life incidents of the actors, most noticeably Joey joyriding a car after Pat Mastroianni had done the same with the Playing With Time company van.
- Rich Bitch: Lucy, although she does become sympathetic.
- Running Gag: The P.A. announcements.
- School Newspaper Newshound: Caitlin, although she isn't the maestro most anime examples are.
- Star-Crossed Lovers: Stephanie and Wheels, Joey and Caitlin; also played for laughs with Snake and Melanie.
- Stuffed into a Locker: On Degrassi Junior High, it was traditional to stuff students into the broom cupboard rather than a locker.
- Teen Pregnancy: Spike with Emma.
- Wheels and Spike were both the result of one. Wheels was given up for adoption while Spike's mom kept her.
- Theme Tune: The Zit Remedy's song always plays when one of them does something stupid. Which is often.
- Unusual Euphemism: "You broomhead!" and "Narbo!"
- You Look Familiar: A lot of the kids played different characters on The Kids of Degrassi Street)