After 14 Seasons, 'Degrassi' Is Still As Relevant As Ever & Here's Why Teens Need This Show
On Thursday, the worst news ever was announced: According to TeenNick and MTV Canada, they will no longer air Degrassi after 14 long, eventful seasons. Though there's a very real chance that I'm still in shock, I have processed the information enough to know that this is not good: Degrassi is the quintessential teen show, how could it really be over?! There is a ray of hope here, though, albeit a tiny one: According to Entertainment Weekly's report of the news, it seems there's the possibility that episodes might still be produced to air on an as-of-yet unnamed broadcaster — but no further information or specifics have been released. However, if that doesn't pan out, I'm here to tell you how much it really, really should: Because after 14 season run, Degrassi is still just as important and relevant for teenagers as it ever was. I can't think of another series that has been able to achieve for teens what Degrassi has, and it would be a shame for it to end now.
Degrassi has been criticized by some for being a little too "ripped from the headlines," and a little too "after school special." But, as any consistent viewer will tell you, that's not the case. Yes, Degrassi often borrows from recent reports or stories, but the characters never become the issue. When Paige was raped by an older student, her story wasn't dropped after she confronted her rapist, nor was her personal identity lost after the horrific experience. Though she was profoundly changed by her experience, the show never let Paige's rape define her as human being, or turn her into anything more than a survivor. Paige was the sum of her experiences — just as we all are.
Degrassi's brand of storytelling is surprisingly non-judgmental towards its young audience. The two-part episode "Accidents Will Happen" depicted Manny weighing her options about her unwanted pregnancy, before eventually deciding to terminate the pregnancy. (The episode was not aired in the United States originally due to the controversial subject matter.) I've watched a lot of television geared towards teenagers, and not once have I seen an episode dealing with the subject of abortion done with as much respect. The episodes don't have to be dramatic to be smart and respectful towards women: in one particularly memorable scene of another episode, Clare finds a vibrator, which prompts her to have a serious talk with her mother about their "don't ask, don't tell" policy about sex.
It's the characters on Degrassi that separate it from some of the more traditional teen dramas out there — mainly, it's the fact that the characters are treated like actual human beings. If a character initially seems like a cookie-cutter "mean girl" or "bad boy," you can bet that they will be given a backstory by the end of the season that accounts for their behavior. It's why characters so frequently go from being loathed villains to fan favorites — it's a lot harder to hate someone when you know everything they've ever gone through.
Degrassi is one of the few shows out there that has the power to change how teenagers see others — and themselves. It creates talking points for the things that maybe we're not so comfortable discussing. It shows the world that teenagers have full, rich lives with problems that the world doesn't always want to think about. Perhaps most importantly, it teaches empathy for others. I'm sad that TeenNick is ready to move on, but, if there's even an inkling of a possibility that Degrassi itself isn't done, networks should absolutely take notice and scoop up this unique, important series. It's certainly possible — I mean, look at The Mindy Project, which was picked up by Hulu after Fox cancelled it, and The Killing , which was picked up by Netflix after AMC axed it. Degrassi has a very special place on television and I hope it holds it for quite some time.
Images: TeenNick; Giphy