degrassi junior high

Black and White

Final still from “Black & White” courtesy of

Degrassi Junior High (and later Degrassi High) was known for a few long-running storylines, and I’d venture to say that the fact that these long-running storylines were organic in a sense was the show’s hallmark. In other words, characters whose stories we had been following for what seemed like forever would come and go and the next time we saw them, there would have been some progress in their lives.

Spike is the best example. Her pregnancy, which is quite possibly the thing that people remember the most about Degrassi Junior High, progressed throughout the second season of the show, even though not every episode was about her being pregnant. Other stories included the death of Wheels’s parents and constant fighting with his grandparents, the relationship between Joey Jeremiah and Caitlyn Ryan, and the interracial couple, Michelle and BLT.

This couple is the center of “Black and White,” a later episode in the last season of junior high. It is an episode that, quite frankly, I don’t remember really paying much attention to when I was watching Degrassi as a kid. I’m pretty sure I remember seeing it, but for the most part the reason I decided to cover it in this scattered discussion of the series is because there are episodes about Michelle and BLT from Degrassi High that I remember pretty vividly, so I figured that if you’re following along with this particular feature (ah, who am I kidding, nobody is), it’s probably best to cover their “origin story.”

So the issue here, as I mentioned, is racism, and right off the bat we see BLT confronting it when he bumps into a student who calls him the n-word, which incites a fight. Michelle happens to witness this, and we find out that she likes him–not because he’s fighting with someone, just because she likes him. The feeling is mutual, as Joey, Wheels, and Snake note when they tease him about Michelle being the reason that he joined the yearbook staff. About halfway through the episode, he asks her to the graduation dance.

Unfortunately, there is a complication–Michelle’s parents, who claim that she’s too young to date anyone, even though they have the reaction of “You didn’t tell us the boy you liked was black” when they meet him. When she finally has a heart-to-heart with her mother, her mom gives her the undeniably horseshit excuse of, “We’re not racist but other people are and we don’t want you to get hurt,” before piling on futher with “People like to be with their own kind.” Michelle sees through this and tells BLT she’ll go to the dance with him anyway, which is where the story ends.

In the subplot, Spike is having problems with daycare because her current daycare provider is moving to Vancouver. So, she decides that to pay to put Emma in a daycare center, she’s going to try and get a part-time job. Unfortunately, when she goes to interview for a job at a diner, the manager spends the entire time making fun of her hair and dismisses her as a punk kid.

And there’s some C plot with Bartholomew Bond and Scooter taking yearbook photos. Or whatever. (more…)

Taking Off

A screen shot of the end of “Taking Off,” the two-parter surrounding Wheels’ grief over his parents’ deaths. Image courtesy of Degrassi Online.

I know that I wasn’t the only person surprised by the news that Neil Hope, who played Wheels on Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High not only died, but died back in 2007 and this was just discovered now.  In fact, I probably would have never heard about it at all had I not “liked” his onetime co-star, Stacie Mistysyn, on Facebook and read a post of hers.

In light of this, I watched the Degrassi Junior High third-season two-parter, “Taking Off,” which while not the next episode I wanted to watch for the purpose of this blog (that would be “Food for Thought,” which I think I’m going to get to anyway even if it is out of order), is one of the more important points of that season because it continues two crucial stories–Wheels’ parents’ deaths, and Shane and Spike.  It also puts the spotlight clearly on Hope and his acting, as Wheels continues to struggle with his grief and does so not just by acting out but running away altogether.

We begin by finding out that Wheels has been skipping school and hanging out all day at the arcade; furthermore, he’s sold his bass guitar to get money to play video games like Konami’s Main Event, much to the chagrin of the rest of the Zit Remedy (especially Joey, who’s still in his Zack Morris “scheme to get us some airtime” phase … yunno, when he’s not flirting with Caitlin).  His grandmother is concerned and he is not just stand-offish to her, but downright hostile and wishes that he could be anywhere but home and school.  Then, the possibility presents itself when his birth father, Mike, sends him a postcard from a town called Port Hope, which is where his band has a standing gig for the next couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, most of the DJH crew is going to the Gourmet Scum concert that Saturday night (love the band’s name, btw), including Luke and Shane, who buy acid and then drop it before going inside.  What’ll happen is that Shane will disappear and the police will spend the better part of the two-parter looking for him, even asking Luke if the boy was under the influence (and paranoid Luke will lie his ass off).  He is eventually found underneath a bridge, having fallen off, and at the end of the second part is comatose, leaving Emma completely without a father (something that is explored in both Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation).

But that’s really a subplot and it’s Wheels who takes center stage as he hitchhikes through Ontario and at one point winds up getting picked up by a guy who seems okay at first–in fact, he kind of looks like Sam Waterson–and that guy tries to molest him.  But he makes it to Port Hope to see Mike, and his hopes for a happy reunion are dashed when Mike more or less wants very little to do with him (in fact, he’s got a pregnant fiancee) and his grandmother ultimately tracks him down. (more…)