Degrassi, a Canadian television franchise that explores the issues facing youth, has been around since 1979. Created by Linda Schuyler and Stephen Stohn, the Degrassi name has birthed several different series, portraying the lives of young people ranging from elementary school to high school (and occasionally university). The last three series—Degrassi High, Degrassi: The Next Generation and Degrassi: Next Class—focus on issues that affect teenagers in high school, such as mental illness, sexuality, sexual assault, bullying, popularity, relationships, and countless more.
Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered in 2001 and ran for 15 years with a whopping 14 seasons. The series was introduced as a Degrassi for “the technological age,” focusing on issues affecting teens as the previous series did, but for a newer generation. TNG is arguably the most beloved series of the franchise, beginning in season one with a set of characters and ending in season fourteen with an entirely different cast.
TNG did a slight revival in its tenth season by dropping “The Next Generation” from its title and writing out all of the original characters that still remained in the ninth season. While this revival did improve the overall appeal of the show by focusing on new characters and creating fan-favourite couples like “Eclare,” the hype only lasted about three seasons. By season thirteen, the quality and plausibility of the storylines were beginning to weaken, and by season fourteen, the show seemed to be desperately holding onto its viewership by prioritizing drama and shock value rather than relatability in its storylines. Both TeenNick and MTV dropped the series from its respective networks, and Degrassi was forced to start over. Then came Next Class.
Degrassi: Next Class premiered on Netflix and Family Channel in January 2016. While some of the younger characters from the previous series remained as a part of Next Class, several new characters were introduced. Next Class maintained the integrity of Degrassi by exploring issues that affect teenagers, but, like TNG initially did, adapted its approach to suit the current generation of high school students. The series incorporates social media heavily, with its characters using modern terminology that, while sometimes excessive, certainly grounds the show in Gen X territory.
While the series does explore issues that other Degrassi series have in the past—abortion, addiction, abuse, ’coming out’, depression, and so on—it discusses these issues in new and different ways that are more progressive and helpful to current teens. For example, one of the characters, Lola, discovers she’s pregnant and decides to get an abortion. She is not shown going through a tough decision-making process—rather, the show indicates she does not have to feel shame or regret for making this decision and going through with it.
Most significantly, though, is how Next Class explores current issues that have often never been portrayed on any other teen show: gender identity, white privilege, and xenophobia, to name a few. For instance, one of the characters, Yael, realizes that they identify as non-binary, meaning that they don’t identify as male nor female, but fall somewhere between on the gender spectrum. While this issue, along with some of the other more current issues on the show, might not necessarily be something new that teens struggle with, it is something that mainstream media has only recently begun to discuss. Next Class is conscientious in not only prioritizing the accuracy and diversity of the issues it explores, but also in considering the generation it is representing; while relating to teenagers, it is also educating.