Depressing Dog Days of Summer Special: Degrassi High - School's Out (1992)

Several months ago, catalyzed by a sudden change of lifestyle, I began watching Degrassi Junior High from the first episode of the first season onwards. I was a little too old to see it back when it aired on the local PBS station in the late 80's, when I was in high school, but had no problem discovering it at the age of 43. Plus the episodes were 25 minutes, almost perfect for a bottle feeding / burping / rocking session at 4:30 in the morning.

Then I moved on to the two seasons of Degrassi High (which was still excellent by any empirical television standard, but a little trite when compared to its predecessor, ironically). Then I finished with School's Out, a post-graduation followup TV movie that only aired in its native Canada. And this, readers, is the movie I offer to you today as the 1,320th post of Futurechimp.com.

I'll try my best to curb my ecstatic fanaticism for the entire Degrassi saga, except to say that if you've never seen the show, and plan to, definitely do so before seeing this (if you're subscribing to Hulu Plus, all of the Degrassi universe, including this movie, is available there). And I recommend approaching it the same way I did, from the beginning. If you aren't sold by the third episode of the first season, then you can feel free to quit, but give it a chance until then.

However, if binge-watching five seasons of a TV series from the 80's that was made for children doesn't seem appealing to you, then (a) you're a well-adjusted adult with better things to do, and (b) the movie holds up fine enough on its own, and can be seen regardless of familiarity with the characters, so I think you should trust me and give it a go.

It's set during the Summer after High School graduation, and the realism of that retrospectively short time - the feeling that you're growing apart from your closest, oldest friends and starting a new path… it's something I believe most of us can relate to, bittersweet and perfectly realized. And if you've seen even a handful of episodes of the television show, then you know to expect one happy ending for every four tragic endings. It's a sad and dangerous world, but it never preaches or provides easy answers, it only prepares kids to make difficult decisions for themselves.

This was allegedly the first time the word "fuck" was used on CBC. And it's not simply used as an expletive, but in its literal meaning as a verb, in one of the most heartbreaking scenes you'll ever see. It's not exploitive, it's painfully familiar. Quite a moment for a show whose audience was 11-year olds at the beginning. But what made Degrassi so great is the way it evolved with its audience over the five-year run, and continued to respect its intelligence and maturity. It makes Beverly Hills 90210 and everything on the Disney channel look even more like the phony pandering boring corporate consumerist bullshit than it already so obviously is.

(movie is not embeddable: click the links below)

part eight

Postscript: The cast were mostly untrained as actors, so the show's creators seemed to go through the effort of learning who they really were, and writing those qualities into the characters they played.  For example, while looking up this movie just now, I learned that the most consistently troubled character on the show, "Wheels", was played by a kid who grew up with alcoholic parents. His father died of cirrhosis early in the production of the show, when his character was still in the seventh grade. In the second season of Degrassi Junior, Wheel's TV parents were both killed in a car accident. His personal turmoil was written into his character, and he continued to play the role of a deeply disturbed teenager for another three years.

Real life "Wheels" ending up dying alone in a trailer in 2007, at the age of 35. His body wasn't discovered until 2012. Not everyone is granted the privilege of a Disney ending.

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