[Review] Degrassi: Next Class

Warning for: spoilers for the series, brief discussions of biphobia, consent, and date rape.


 

Degrassi

I am officially old.

Why?

Because I watched Degrassi: Next Class on Netflix and spent more time worrying about those teenagers than anything else. Maybe it’s because I worked in high schools for like a year and a half. Maybe it’s because some of my nieces and nephews are the same age as the characters onscreen. I’m not sure. Either way, it was a little hilarious to realize that I was finally and officially, no longer part of the core demographic for Degrassi.

However, I watched all ten episodes anyway, because I feel strongly about shows like Degrassi and Skins that look at serious issues that affect teenagers these days. Mind you, I completely think that Degrassi: Next Class did a much better job of tackling relatable issues than Skins did in much of its run and was infinitely more diverse with regard to race and sexuality.

Mostly because it’s true.

Degrassi: Next Class is easily one of the best shows for teenagers out there. It doesn’t shy away from the issues and problems facing teenagers and young adults today. The show covers consent in romantic relationships, masturbation, drug use, the toxic mentality of the video game community, feminism, and so  much more. Even though the episodes are only a half hour long, they certainly pack a ton of content into each one with something new and shocking happening every few minutes, I swear.

I’m new to these characters, but they remind me of kids I taught and that I grew up with. My high school life wasn’t entirely like theirs, but it’s relatable. I dealt with peer pressure, toxic nerdrage, and trying to figure out who I was well into my first run of college. I had some friends that were wonderful and wanted to be there for me (like Shay and Lola with Frankie) and others that were enabling harmful behavior that negatively impacted my life (like Esme with Miles).

I saw moments that reflected my school life in this season of Degrassi, but more than that: I saw a show that I would be happy to let my 14 year old niece watch because it would answer questions that she might not have known she had. Degrassi as a show has always been great for introducing these questions and starting up a dialogue. It’s groundbreaking because we get to see real teenagers dealing with real problems that other adults might think are minor.

No one really talks down to the kids in the show and when they have questions, they have adults and more experienced friends they can go to for help even if they don’t know that at first.

Now I want to talk about a couple of serious positives for me in this show:

First: Maya and Zig talked about consent and the show introduced the concept of assaulting one’s partner (because date rape especially among teenagers/young adults is a HUGE problem that we don’t really talk about). Zig is this dense but adorable jock who’s dating future pop sensation Maya. They’re darling (up to a point) but they have some issues. Zig is like obsessed with the idea that not having sex, or talking about it, means that Maya is about to break up with him. So after talking with Tiny, he actually keeps kissing her when she says no and then winds up whacked in the face.

There are like two really great moments that deal with this. There’s one  where Shay and I think Lola explain to him and Tiny that they’re not entitled to have sex and that they’re not entitled to their partners time. The episode actually uses the word “rape”. It also shows Zig and Maya sitting down with Maya’s mother for a talk about sex and how to be prepared and safe.

On top of that?

We even get a scene where Maya and Zig practice clear and open verbal consent before engaging in sexual activity, showing that it’s something that couples need to do.

I’m also super invested in how the show handles feminism. The feminism on Degrassi: Next Class isn’t White Feminism ™. It’s not.

The head of the feminist club in the school is a hijabi named Goldi Nahir and she’s outspoken, thoughtful, and strong. You see characters changing the way that they view feminism and how they view themselves as feminists. It’s a lot like Supergirl in that it’s a show that introduces feminism to young girls and women who otherwise might not have a good glimpse of it, but it also goes deeper.

Speaking about going deeper: Degrassi: Next Class also looks at some pretty deep issues.

We have Miles’ brother Hunter who basically turns into a GamerGating rage monster after the feminism club points out that the game the school’s gaming team is playing is intensely misogynistic. Like I’m not going to spoil it beyond that, but the kid’s trajectory is terrifying and you need to see it to kind of grasp it.

The show also talks about mortality and disability and illness. It’s not shying away from giving us recurring characters (like Maya’s mother) who have disabilities or other characters with chronic illnesses  that may kill them. We see intense portrayals of mental health issues onscreen and while not all of the characters are explicitly neuroatypical, many of them are definitely probably such.

I’m not entirely feeling the romantic relationships (because I’m kind of elderly, I guess), but the friendships in the series are interesting. I like that we see healthy and unhealthy friendships from across different gender lines and we see different kinds of relationships.

Now let’s talk about what I didn’t like:

There’s no catch-up for people who know nothing about Degrassi so if this is your first time watching this show, you have no idea what’s going on. Which can be confusing because there are a lot of prior relationships that get referenced and some of them aren’t so clear.

There were no fat characters as main or recurring characters.

Ditto on trans characters (as far as I know).

And the biphobia–

Oh, the biphobia.

I could’ve done without it. Especially because one area that the show failed was on resolving it and showing that sexuality can be fluid but that sometimes, it’s not. Tristan spends like three episodes being snide and rude about Miles’ bisexuality in the wake of their pre-series breakup. The stuff that he says to Miles and about him is just cruel and petty and no one ever calls him out for it. Out of all of the stuff that we see the characters do that’s problematic, the biphobia never actually gets resolved. In fact, Miles and Tristan wind up being okay with one another by the end of the season.

What sort of message does that send to younger fans of the show and even some adults? Bisexuality is real and it’s valid and it’s not about choosing or being greedy. Like there’s so much that they could’ve done to have Tristan get over himself and they didn’t do it. I’m super disappointed.

I’m also not a fan of how the Zoe/Grace relationship went down. Zoe is gay and loves Grace. Grace liked Zoe but wasn’t sure that it was in “that way”. So they hooked up, but things went horribly wrong. Grace didn’t like any of what happened and has said that she isn’t gay. So Zoe’s response? To go after Grace’s crush (you’ll sigh angrily when you see who it is) and send Grace a video.

I know that teenagers can be cruel. I experienced so much of the horrors that teenagers willingly and gleefully participate in. But I felt like there was too much going on with their relationship and that it was possibly the most unrealistic of the romantic relationships shown. Because with everything else, we saw lead-ins. We saw what was going on. We expected that shit would go down.

But not here.

Maybe that’s why they did it? Either way, I would’ve been happier with a different resolution.

I came out of Degrassi: Next Class kind of torn. It’s a great show and I like the way that they handle most issues. It’s the way that the show handles (or doesn’t handle) the stuff that doesn’t ping as issues that bugs me. Next season, the show needs to cover girl/girl romantic relationships (and how those too aren’t excluded from being harmful) and show more diversity in terms of body types and gender identity.

Because this season was good —

Great even.

And I feel as if it could be even better.

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About Zina

Zina writes about comics, nerd history, and ridiculous romance novels when not working frantically on her first collection of short stories and complaining about stuff. One day, she'll settle down and write that novel.
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One Response to [Review] Degrassi: Next Class

  1. may says:

    excellent review. i just finished watching the series and your positives and negatives were mine as well. the biphobia i hope they address next season, but your other concerns: lack of trans characters and lack of fat characters… i’m annoyed about this too, but it’s even more frustrating as a longtime watcher of degrassi because the former series had both of these. degrassi was actually the first teen show to introduce a scripted transgender main character in television history. but they only had one, and that character’s arc is over (since he was of the last generation). it’s been like two seasons and they haven’t had any others since. the graduating seniors of the old series had better diversity in body types, there were a few fat main and recurring characters but none of them would make it to the new series since they also graduated. i’m impressed that so much of the cast is POC for next class, but diversity is more than just race, and i hope they work on this the next time they add more characters to the cast (since it’s rotational, if the series keeps getting picked up, they definitely will add other characters). they actually also had another bi character on the show, and they’ve had several f/f relationships, but they’ve never had a character call themselves bisexual or pansexual and i hope they, in addressing tristan’s biphobic commentary, go into this, especially with zoe rivas.

    the other stuff you mentioned – zoe/grace, zig’s dependancy on maya, background on tristan/miles, background on the hollingsworths – not exactly things you need to know, but i feel like i had a different experience than you watching degrassi: next class because the show could have done a better job filling in viewers without prior knowledge of any of these characters what their backgrounds are like. it helps make sense a lot more of some of the things going on that are vaguely referenced. i think the show didn’t go into it too much because they wanted to stress that it was a new series, but the characters they chose have such rich backgrounds that it feels like a disservice to new viewers to throw it in without much explanation (but then the show might spend more time explaining, and i understand they probably struggled there).
    i really thought overall the show was well written, and i hope degrassi works on becoming an even better, more representative show, but i was impressed with what i saw, especially since they went from doing 40 episodes in which only maybe 5 are really well thought out and the others have some highlights but are basically fluff to 10 excellently written episodes and a more cohesive storyline. degrassi used to have issues where they’d write a really great episode/arc and then the next episode/arc would have that character act like nothing had ever happened – there would be inconsistencies, and those great episodes would end up feeling like a Special. here, everything fit a lot better and made more sense than the show has made for the past few seasons, it seems like an excellent start to what could potentially be an excellent series.

    great review!

    Like

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