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 it's 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. It's raw, gritty filming style, as well as it's 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 kid...it 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.
- 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.
- 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: Many.
- Voula was the first one. Despite her relatively prominent role in season 1, she disappears in season 2 without any explanation.
- 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. (Fun fact: He is mentioned over the intercom in the season 3 episode "The Whole Truth" at exactly 14:38 in the episode)
- Circle of Shame: In Degrassi High, Spike has a day dream about this happening when she asks Snake to the formal. Everybody including Snake points and laughs at her.
- 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 seasons 2-5 (including 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...good lord◊. By Degrassi High and the beginning of the 90s, the spikes itself go away but the size doesn't◊.
- 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.
- Gentle Giant: Snake towers over everyone else but is really a nice guy.
- 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.
- He Who Must Not Be Seen: Mr. Lawrence, the principal, is never ever seen and only heard over the PA and when people are leaving his office. Lucy's parents are also never seen and only heard on the answering machine, as well as Caitlin's brother.
- Homoerotic Dream: Caitlin got a Very Special Episode about her sexuality because she has a strange dream about her teacher Ms. Avery.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Ms. Fanservice: In-universe, Steph is this to the male population of the school, though nowadays she looks more silly 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. 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.
- 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: LD and Melanie are seen with Mc Donalds sodas in "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 Liz. A socially conscious punk.
- Real Life Writes the Plot: Many of the stories were based on real life incidents with the actors, or off of real events
- 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.
- School Newspaper Newshound: Caitlin, although she isn't the maestro most anime examples are.
- 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".
- 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 Drama: Trope Maker. While this wasn't the first teenage, school centered television series (Grange Hill, which debuted in 1978), Degrassi Junior High was the first TV melodrama centered around a school, although it is overshadowed by the likes of Trope Codifier Beverly Hills, 90210, and even it's own successor.
- 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.
- Those Two Guys: Arthur and Yick, who often get subplots together. In season 1, it happens in almost every episode.
- 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.
- Unusual Euphemism: "You broomhead!" and "Narbo!"