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Reviewed by Will Harris
he cult of “Degrassi” is one that spent many years as a strictly Canadian phenomenon. Sure, there were those rare Americans who could tell you of the goings-on of the kids of Degrassi Street at Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, but it wasn’t until Banky Edwards – Jason Lee’s character in “Chasing Amy” – acknowledged that he had “a weird thing for girls who say ‘aboot’” that the cult really began to spread into the States in a big way. Soon, the show had evolved into an entirely new entity: “Degrassi: The Next Generation.” By the time Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes turned up for a three-episode arc at the end of the show’s fourth season (ostensibly to make “Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh!”), it was as if there was no longer a border between Canada and America. In short, everyone loves “Degrassi.”
It’s just that, unless you fall into the viewer demographics for The N, where the show airs in the States, you kinda have to keep your love on the downlow.
“Degrassi: TNG” is now in its eighth season, so it’s no surprise that Season Seven has now made its way to DVD. The character roster remains approximately the same as it did in the previous year, and as we begin, some folks – specifically, Toby – are still recovering from the trauma caused by the death of J.T. during the middle of Season Six. If you’re surprised that a storyline from that long ago would still remain fresh in the minds of the characters, then you’re clearly not a “Degrassi” devotee. While it’s clearly a soap opera for the teen set, it’s fair to say that the producers do their damndest to make the characters react to events in as real a manner as possible.
If you’ve not watched the show before but have been tuning in to “90210” on The CW, then you may be surprised to see Shenae Grimes, who plays Beverly Hills resident Annie Wilson here in the States. On “Degrassi: TNG,” however, she’s Darcy Edwards, who starts Season Seven by trying to maintain a promise of abstinence, only to become a victim of rape by the end of the season premiere. (Yes, they try to keep it real, but these episodes are only 30 minutes, people; things need to happen quickly, or they don’t happen at all!) Although Darcy doesn’t appear in every single episode, her storyline continues throughout the season as she deals with the psychological effects of the event. It’s a pretty harsh moment when she bares her soul to Mr. Simpson, then mistakenly decides that trusting him is the same as being in love with him. But it’s nothing compared to when he tries to get her some help and she lashes out by claiming that he’s made sexual advances toward her, thereby permanently tarnishing his career.
The word “melodrama” remains appropriate as a descriptor for “Degrassi: TNG,” of course. Even with a character as well-defined as gay teenager Marco (Adamo Ruggiero), you’ve got a storyline where he’s offered a chance to prostitute himself for extra cash, and like so many teen dramas over the years, the producers can’t resist having a couple of the students – in this case, Ashley and Jimmy – try to break into the music industry. (Actually, this has been an ongoing storyline since well before Season Seven, but it’s still one of those things that would almost never happen in real life.) But whether it’s because the characters have been evolving over the course of so many years or because the show is doled out in bite-sized half-hour segments, the fact of the matter is that, even seven years on, “Degrassi” remains a treat that’s easy to digest and hard to refuse.
Special Features: The usual stuff that you’d expect can be found here, such as deleted scenes and outtakes, but the real bonuses are the previously-online material like the behind-the-scenes footage and webisodes. There’s one audio commentary, but don’t be fooled by the box’s suggestion that it appears on Disc Four; if you go to the bonus material on that disc and click on the commentary, it takes you to a screen that basically says, “Go back to Disc Three. It’s on there.” What the…?