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…)