After all these years growing up watching television, I can confidently say this: I love Degrassi. There is a special place in my heart for the nostalgia it brings–and years later, Degrassi: Next Class reminded me of this. It was my second elementary school, middle school and high school (or whatever variation works for you). And now as a 20-something living in Canada, I can look back at the show as one of those programs growing up you watched occasionally for the teen drama and life lessons. At some point you stopped watching, but the lessons always stuck, so it was a shame to hear Degrassi was ending.
That is, until Netflix (and Family Channel in Canada) teamed up to bring the show back for another season. Degrassi: Next Class is the next standalone series in the franchise. Featuring many returning cast members from Degrassi (and some new faces as well), the show returns to the halls of Degrassi Community School for a 10-episode “first season” run.
For the purpose of continuity, Next Class is considered a reboot but still a continuation of the last 14-year TV series. New viewers may feel a little out of place at first jumping into the Degrassi: Next Class story, especially if they don’t know about the characters’ backstories and histories with each other. However, the first few half hour episodes quickly resolves this to get viewers updated with the most important details about these teenagers. This is a children/teen show; there isn’t much exposition to delve into for a long complicated history. High school drama is still just high school, after all.
Bullying, romance, cheating, drugs and so much more — the halls of Degrassi: Next Class are ripe with drama for the sophomores and juniors who make up the main cast. The show is trying to grow up since leaving the TV screen and heading to Netflix, and it’s quite noticeable with its editing. For anyone who has transitioned from the Degrassi TV show, the changes made to the episode plots and structures are outright. Instead of a “topic of the week” episode style where the episode would focus on just one main character and THEIR issue (maybe two occasionally), Next Class follows more of a teen soap opera method. A majority of the characters are featured each episode and their stories interconnect to follow a story arc all season. It’s similar to any other TV series, but as compared to what has been done in the past, it covers more ground to connect everything in its 10-episode run. And there is a lot to cover in Degrassi: Next Class.
Like any teen show (and the characters that live in it), the story is in a world where the drama could be at its extreme or at its lowest. However, in this case since rebooting, the show has been injected with a serious dose of heightened drama. From the pace to the drama to the characters themselves, everything is heightened. Maya doesn’t just like music, she LOVES it and wants to go after her music career. Tristan doesn’t just like boys, he’s rebounding hard by being boy crazy and angry at his manipulative ex. Frankie isn’t simply upset about her breakup, she’s lost and doesn’t know how to live. And let’s not forget Zoe and Miles, they’re just…well, drama is as drama does.
These characters are all so unique, and it’s one of Degrassi’s biggest strengths — you can almost relate to the drama and struggles the students go through. These are supposed to feel like real teenagers living a real life with real(ish) issues. Even with the heightened drama, the characters are still grounded in reality, for the most part.
With any show that features an ensemble cast, certain plots and characters get pushed to the front. Not every storyline or character gets the same amount of love and unfortunately, the new characters suffer from this. Dropping down from 22-25 episodes to just 10 for a season has its flaws and characters no longer have their “spotlight” episode. Even after watching all 10 episodes, the new characters are still practically strangers to me. I could sum up the five new additions with one word each based on what I’ve learned about them:
Baaz & Yael: Who?!
Another big noticeable drawback is that certain characters don’t interact with each other throughout the season. Characters who should be “best friends” and who hung out in the previous series never share a scene together. The flow feels a tad disjointed, almost as if these characters are in separate worlds that just happen to look like the same high school. In the case of class ranks (sophomores vs. juniors) or cliques (rebels vs. gamers), it’s understandable why they might not share a scene together but past relationships were almost nonexistent. If I had not followed Degrassi before, I would have never known.
Degrassi: Next Class is still the same show you liked before, even with its shiny new opening and title. The cast has changed slightly and the episode count has decreased, but the drama will pull you back in with its story and relatable teen issues. However, if you tend to cringe at the sight of teen drama and “high school” shows, you may not enjoy the nostalgia factor of Degrassi — it’s all very high school and teen. The show is trying to grow up and mature to pull in new viewers, as well as past viewers, and it’s taking a good first step. You’re never too old to go back to school.
Season 1 Rating: 7/10
Degrassi: Next Class is now streaming its first season on Netflix.