I recall that several decades ago – probably at some point in the late 1980s, I came across one of the Degrassi series’ on PBS and found it to be an interesting look into a world that I was not yet familiar with. It was a “teen” thing, albeit with a serious tone when compared to what I was used to seeing, I being on the cusp of my own teen years at the time. Distinctly Canadian in its look, it felt like peering into an alternate world, and perhaps that’s part of the appeal that’s kept the franchise going since 1979. It is an alternate world – one that real kids are living in, and one that grown-ups often become detached from – a mirror reflection of society at the time, with each iteration of Degrassi tackling some tough topics that other series’ and networks would be afraid to approach, doing so in a frank, and sometimes unsettling manner. For the latest evolution of the franchise, DEGRASSI: NEXT CLASS has come to Netflix, the first class to truly address what’s being called “Generation Z” – the always-connected, social media-obsessed teens that are navigating life in 2016. As a parent, some of the content is terrifying – particularly because we have daughters that are less than a decade from their own teen years, and… things just seem different now, and who knows what they’ll be then?
I had the opportunity to take part in a private panel with Degrassi co-creator Linda Schuyler, and Stefan Brogren, Director/Producer of Next Class, who also holds the distinction of acting in every season of the main franchise, his character growing up on television from classmate to teacher to principal. What was very clear is that the entire Degrassi team takes their work very seriously – providing a real look at what’s happening with each generation, and carefully looking at relevant topics that should be dealt with on the show. Brogren notes that being on Netflix allows the crew “to be more honest with the storytelling,” and it shows.
The actors on the show are the same age as the characters they’re portraying, further adding to the realism. For the first season of Desgrassi: Next Class, the hashtagged titles run parallel to the twitterverse, and certain episodes are found to be treading familiar water with a new spin. I shudder to think about my girls and “teen sex,” yet watching #YesMeansYes placed those thoughts firmly in my mind – the current take on what used to be “No Means No.” Perhaps the rules of consent have changed, but as my wife and I already see our six year old and her friends chasing each other with kisses and talk of being “in love” (and “grabbing butts”), I wonder not only if we did that at that young age, but also what in the Hell is coming when the teen years arrive for the next generation?
For parents who have teens in 2016, I highly recommend settling in to check out the 10 episode first season of Degrassi: Next Class – especially if there’s any doubt about what your kids might be experiencing in school and in their social circles. It could perhaps be the ice breaker for some important conversations about issues you might not know how to approach. As Schuyler points out, the makers of Degrassi seek “not to sensationalize, nor trivialize” the issues, but “to be fearless in terms of subject matter,” and “to be an authentic voice for teens.” With the move to Netflix, the results can be eye opening.
All 10 Episodes are streaming now.
THE ROCK FATHER is a member of the Netflix Stream Team, bringing you news and features on great streaming content on a regular basis.