So funny enough, I actually missed the last episode of Degrassi Junior High when PBS aired it. There was a point where I was watching DJH on a fairly regular basis and then PBS started airing episodes of Degrassi High, a series that I’m definitely going to cover in full detail on the blog because whereas I only remember certain episodes of DJH, I remember every episode of Degrassi High and that’s the show that I grew attached to, at least for the couple of years that I was able to find it on television. But really, one day I was watching an episode like “Pass Tense” or “Black and White” and the next I saw the Degrassi kids starting high school at a new show and heard hints of something really bad happening to the junior high school.
It wasn’t until years later–a few years ago, in fact–that I managed to get my hands on a copy of this, the very last episode of Degrassi Junior High. I had placed a bid for VHS copies on eBay and had won an auction but then the auction was done away with because the person involved was selling copies of the show that he/she had taped and that was technically illegal. When that happened, the person contacted me and offered to send me a tape anyway. I offered to pay for shipping and the cost of a VHS tape–all in all it was about $10–and wound up with all of Degrassi High and several episodes of DJH, including “Bye Bye Junior High.” This wound up being one of the first episodes I sat down and watched, thinking, “I never actually got to see this.”
The episode famously (at least if you’re a Degrassi fan) ends with the boiler room of the junior high school catching on fire on the night of the big graduation dance and everyone in the dance being evacuated and forced to watch the place burn to the ground. But before that there’s a lot of resolution to various character plotlines and we get the feeling that this is indeed some sort of finale and that the main stories from the entire season are being wrapped up. So, it’s not a “jumping on” point but then again when is a season/series finale a “jumping on” point?
If you’d been watching the entire season, you know that there have been three major storylines at this point: Wheels’s parents dying at the beginning of the season and his struggle to come to terms with their deaths and getting on with his life, Joey’s learning disorder and having to repeat the eighth grade, and Spike’s struggles in school as a result of raising Emma. All three of these are addressed over the course of the last couple of days of school wherein the gang finishes their final exams and then gets their report cards. Most of them pick their report cards up at the main office but these three have teachers personally hand them their grades. It’s a weird thing, but for story’s sake it works. Oh, and lurking in the background is the foreshadowing of the fire with the constant presence of a malfunctioning fire alarm and maintenance workers who are there to fix the furnace of what is a very old building–okay, it’s not so much lurking in the background for foreshadowing’s shake as it is blatant telegraphing of what’s going to happen at the end of the episode but it works in a sense.
Anyway, the three characters each have their worries and their moments. Wheels struggles to finish his last final exam and in the end barely makes it out of ninth grade. Mr. Garcia–who talks in “teacher vocabulary”–tells him that yes, he passed, but barely and under normal circumstances he would be made to repeat some courses, maybe even the entire grade. Wheels seems to ignore most of this hearing: “Blah blah blah PASSED blah blah blah” and leaves excitedly, which is true to his character, especially considering what will happen as he moves through high school and at the end of the series in the School’s Out movie.
Joey not only passes but passes spectacularly, getting A’s, B’s and one C. He’s disappointed, though, because he had made a deal with his parents that he would be able to go to the graduation dance if he got grades of B or higher and that C means he can’t go. It also means that he can’t take Caitlin, who is definitely happy that he asked her and gets completely pissed off at him when he has to renege (because she doesn’t stick around to find out why he can’t go). But his mother is so proud of him that she and his father let him go to the dance. It’s one step forward to Mr. Jeremiah, who gradually matures over the course of Degrassi High even though he’ll definitely screw things up here and there for the next few years.
Spike, who has had trouble attending school, let alone get good grades, gets her report card from Ms. Avery and sees that while she did pass her grades are pretty terrible. Ms. Avery tries to give her a pep talk and says that if she takes correspondence courses, she can get into the academic track for coursework (I’m not familiar with the Canadian high school system but it seems that at one point you get to choose a certain courseload for school and the “academic courses” are more college prep than say, “general” ones?). Spike is all, “I don’t want to do any of this, it’s too hard, I wish I had never had Emma” and that pisses Ms. Avery off to the point where she says, “At least you can have kids” and leaves.
Later on, Spike will have a change of heart and approach Ms. Avery while at the dance, and Joey will show up, meet up with Caitlin, and give her flowers. So, they make up and this is where their relationship, which will be a centerpiece for much of Degrassi High begins. We have the dance, which is deejayed by Mr. Raditch (who is wearing a horrible sweater) and the boiler room fire that eventually consumes the entire building (mainly because a couple of maintenance workers put cannisters of flammable material right next to said boiler room) is discovered by Scooter and Tessa Campinelli who are seventh graders who spend much of the episode playing a game of tag, something I’m sure that’s meant to demonstrate how immature they are compared to the outgoing ninth graders like Lucy and the Twins who keep referring to them as little kids. Tessa, by the way, is a recurring character who will wind up eventually being pretty important but I’m sure that the series’ creators didn’t know that yet.
Anyway, the school burns to the ground and everyone has to stand there and watch and while the ending of junior high school for me was not as dramatic, I do remember there being a dance at the end of it (and most of it involved me dancing horribly) and I do remember to a certain extent that the differences between who I was in seventh grade and who I would eventually be in ninth grade (although I was in high school in ninth grade) being quite great maturity wise. Plus it’s a pretty good way to put a bow on the series before everyone moved to a different setting and we were introduced to different characters at the beginning of the next season (in fact, this is one of the few times where a complete change of setting for all of the characters more or less works).
You can watch “Bye Bye Junior High” as well as every episode of Degrassi Junior High here:
I didn’t really get into Degrassi when it was out, but a lot of my friends loved it because of the way it represented high school. I watched the last episode of it for curiosity sakes and I was impressed by it. I loved the serious tone of it most of all. It added a lot of suspense.