It may be the middle of summer, but Netflix is heading back to class. (I guess you can go back to high school again!) The newest season of Degrassi: Next Class has returned for another year of teen drama, romance and disasters that only high school can serve up. After its inaugural “first” season featuring new faces, a new name and a social media-themed style, the second season has a lot to live up to for surpassing the sophomore slump. Degrassi: Next Class’ first season got leeway for being a naïve freshman on a new platform, but the second is the chance to see how it’s growing up. Will it be top of the class or is it toeing the line to detention?
One of Degrassi’s key strengths is how it makes their cast of characters relatable yet unique. It’s one of the reasons this franchise, and by extension the Next Class series, has connected with people–these teenagers feel like real people with real struggles. Luckily, this character style still continues for the second season. While dealing with topics like sexuality and dating to name a few, the responses and portrayals in these situations feel genuine, especially since they’re being portrayed by teen actors in these roles.
You can feel the emotional pull to relate and sympathize (or debate, there are always various opinions on any subject) with these characters. And the season didn’t hold back with the polarizing issues! Zoe dealing with her confusing feelings about her sexuality, Tristan stuck in a relationship conundrum, Frankie reeling from the backlash of her racist prank and Shay being conflicted if she should forgive her friend or not are just some of the issues these characters face. The situations are more grounded and the shift in tone is quite noticeable.
As compared to the first season, Degrassi: Next Class season two reined in its characters and their motivations. Whereas EVERYTHING before was to an extreme, like Maya’s determination to get a record deal or the drug-filled destruction of Esme and Miles, the current season feels subtle by comparison. Maya still loves music, but it’s not clouding her every waking moment. The kids from the gamer club aren’t as vindictive or competitive as before. And Frankie, who is still depressed and heartbroken, isn’t reacting in a dramatic fashion; though, it does partly reflect her attitude in her storyline. The issues, which are serious and important, are handled in a more natural manner and don’t feel outrageous for the sake of drama. This shift in tone works for the big issues discussed.
Themes like the racism storyline, mental health and self-hate are matters that some people experience every day in their lives. Next Class was respectful (i.e. see point above about being dramatic without being outrageous) and presents both sides of the issues for a healthy debate without coming across as an “after school special” show. Degrassi is the type of series where this could happen if not executed correctly, but they successfully made it work.
With every good thing Next Class does in its second season, there were problems that still persisted. Many of the items I previously called out in their first season are never fully addressed or rectified in its sophomore year, with only a few tiny exceptions. The character of Yael is fleshed out a bit more by being involved in a love storyline with Hunter and her app ambition. And while the show briefly discusses Vijay’s internet singing career, he is mostly relegated to the background or has minor involvement. The same can be said to both Baaz and Esme–I still don’t know much about them except the former is girl crazy and the latter is boy crazy. If I had not watched the first season of Next Class, I wouldn’t have known the extent of Esme’s character; she is practically invisible if not competing/flirting with the other cast members. And what even happened to Goldi? She joins the volleyball team and barely has a full conversation all season.
The issue of only 10 episodes has reared its ugly head. With only a limited time to tell a few season arc stories, the writers have gone with the more recognizable and meatier characters to focus the season on. It’s a shame as we completely miss out on getting to know the others who are a part of the cast. And by the time the veteran students graduate, transfer, leave or get killed off the show, I don’t know if the emotional connection to these newer students will be there to follow their stories. Though, based on the major cliffhanger at the end of the season, we’ll find out if that plays a role in the (potential) next season.
Degrassi: Next Class has grown into a mature sophomore show. The teen drama is still plenty (the Degrassi school lives and breathes off the excess of teen angst), but the issues are topical and they’re handled with a more serious tone than the first season. It feels timely and with the style influenced from social media, this season is more in tuned to the vibe of what the show wants to be. But I can’t excuse the issues that have been completely ignored–some of these characters have regressed or essentially become background extras. And I can’t ignore the update we get about the Spinner/Emma relationship in the show’s 500th episode. The cliffhanger is one thing but that relationship… I. Can’t. Even. Degrassi: Next Class is finding its groove and it’s definitely getting there; it’s not perfect yet but I know this show can make it through.
Season 2 Rating: 7.5/10
Degrassi: Next Class is now streaming its second season on Netflix.