Sunday, July 9, 2017

Degrassi: Next Class provides fun and farewells in its best season yet

I always worry about a new season of Degrassi: Next Class, because I constantly wonder whether this will be the one where its streak of quality ends and it slides into teen soap mediocrity, but I was especially worried about season four going into it.  After all, this was going to be the last season for the seniors (or Grade 12s, to use Canadian parlance) -- the first time Next Class has had to send off graduating characters.  Is the show, in its current 10-episodes-per-season incarnation, capable of sustaining this kind of arc?  Will storylines for the non-graduating characters fall by the wayside in service of wrapping things up for those who are?  How will they lay the groundwork for the show's future after parting with half the cast?  These were the questions on my mind as I queued up the premiere episode.

Fortunately, season four of Next Class is mostly just business as usual, offering up its usual brand of Canadian teen slice-of-life with a dash of melodrama.  Though it does pay lip service to the seniors' impending graduation right from the very beginning, the balance of the season remains intact.  Things like prom and end of the year trips do loom over these ten episodes, but in the early stages they're used as jumping off points for more ordinary stories.  The show is always at its best when it gives space to the tiny moments that pepper teenage life -- from student council meetings to yearbook committees to even sending accidental junk pics to people.  Thankfully, it leans on that material for a large portion of the season.

One of the most lovable things about Next Class is that it's a show with a very optimistic view of teens, whereas The Next Generation sometimes felt cynical in its pursuit of being the show that "goes there."  Here, the characters frequently make mistakes but they generally mean well.  They hurt others mostly because of misunderstandings in perspective, but they often help out of pure kindness and solidarity.  Thus, the drama feels so much more organic.  Conflicts always come from an emotional or character-centric place, not because there needs to be something exciting in a given episode.

It's all in keeping with the show's general feeling of engagement with the real world, not just from its handling of woke subject material -- this season tackles a character who chooses not to conform with the gender binary -- but also in its awareness of the climate outside of the show's bubble.  Like the incorporation of the Syrian refugee crisis last semester, season four turns its eyes globally with a fictional terrorist attack on a train in Belgium.  At first, it seems like a bit of a silly story turn, but it manages to have different emotional ramifications for various characters, while also smartly tying back into the Syrian story of season three.  In general, the season-long arcing of this semester was very skillful, with many different characters' mini-arcs weaving into the larger arc of the season seamlessly.

If there is any flaw with season four, it's that it still doesn't feel like we're given enough time to say goodbye to the characters who are leaving.  In a way, the efforts to keep the season's natural rhythm becomes a hindering point.  That's the push and pull of the ten episode season: its tightness allows for higher overall quality and less filler, but it also doesn't allow the character development to marinate as much as longtime fans are used to.  In the first three seasons of Next Class, that sacrificing of time for quality felt worthy, but season four is the first time where it truly feels like the show needed 15-20 episodes to tell its story properly.  Then maybe we could have gotten more time with somebody like Zoe, a major departing character who gets a real short shrift this season.

But it's a testament to how much I've grown to love these characters that I will miss them and I wish I had more time with them.  Part of it is that some of them have been on Degrassi for so long (Maya and Zig have been on the two versions of the show for eight seasons) but it's also because Next Class has especially done right by these characters, making them feel like real, relatable, fun to watch teens.  I rarely felt this broken up about saying goodbye to the folks on The Next Generation aside from, of course, my beloved Holly J.  With half of the original cast gone, we're entering a new era or Degrassi: Next Class, with no idea how it will lean into this transition.  But based on the high quality content we've gotten so far, I welcome whatever is coming with open arms.

Character Power Rankings: Season Four
1. Zig
The guy had two girlfriends at the same time and then ended up with a completely different girl by the end of the season.  I don't really think I need to explain this placement any further.

2. Frankie
This argument could have been made earlier, but this season really solidified Frankie Hollingsworth as a first ballot entry in the Degrassi Hall of Fame.  She's such an entertaining and lovable character, to the point where she was able to survive being paired with Esme for most of the season.  (It can't be stressed enough just how weird the whole "Frankie/Esme/Zig in a three-way couple" storyline was.)  Also, to follow-up on a trend started in last year's power rankings, here's more of Sara Waisglass being an adorable goofball.

3. Lola
Lola is another first ballot hall of famer, and she got alot of good material this season, both from a joke standpoint and actual storylines.  Though she seems so aloof, she's actually one of the kinder characters on the show, evidenced by her being the only person to offer support to Saad.  Also, she should have been way more pissed at Shay for stealing from the tip jar.

4. Yael

5. Zoe
Zoe is one of my favorite characters, and she'd be a slot or two higher were it not for the fact that she doesn't really get much to do this season.  By this point, she had already reached her moment of self-actualization after coming to terms with her sexuality last season, so I get why the writers didn't have much else for her this season.  Still, there could have been more with her estrangement from her mom, since the stuff we did get near the end of the season was strong.

6. Saad
He got angry alot this season, which was very funny to watch.  He even threw a shirt in a trash can at one point.  #AllTragediesMatter

7. Grace
I've always found Grace compelling as a character for some reason, despite (or perhaps because of) the fact that she reminds me of Steve Buscemi pretending to be a high schooler in that one episode of 30 Rock.

8. Goldi
It's still very weird that her and Baaz are siblings but never interact with each other.

9. Maya
She played alot of her music this season, which I like to hear despite the fact that it sucks.  Also, she maybe got to open for Cokehead Craig.  What's up with her always getting paired up with Degrassi oldhead druggies (you'll recall she also made music with Meth-head Peter a few seasons ago too)?

10. Hunter
Nothing will ever top that shot of him getting a boner, but I liked the stuff with him and Yael this season.  Plus, his hair makes him look like he's auditioning for a Canadian Twilight remake.

11. Miles
Everybody told him that his wack play was good, even a school in London.  I'm still waiting for the reveal that this all a Truman Show-esque prank everyone is playing on him.  Also he got peed on this season.  Iconic.

12. Winston
He's come a long way from being the most annoying comic relief character ever in the last two seasons of The Next Generation.  The plotline about him accidentally sending him a picture of his junk to Goldi was actually funny in a goofy way.

13. Jonah
He reminded us that he's straight edge this season, and I'll never find it not funny that he's straight edge.

14. Shay
Shay is still very boring but this was by far her best season.  After all, she stole from a tip jar to pay for creatine, which is deeply funny.  Her P.E. teacher should be fired for even putting that idea in her head.

15. Tiny
I don't have any major beefs with Tiny as a character, he just never seemed to be anything more than "Zig's main bro" or "guy who can dance well."  Cool promposal though.

16. Baaz & Vijay
I still think Baaz is a hilarious douche, but him and Vijay receded to the background in a major way this season.  It says alot that I combined the two of them for one entry.

17. Rasha
Rasha was pretty useless this season, and she kept us from getting good Zoe material.  For that, I will never forgive her.

18. Tristan
Loved his performance with Eminem at the Grammys.

19. Esme
She left the show the same way she came: being the worst character in Degrassi history.  Every attempt they made to humanize her just failed miserably.  She never felt like anything resembling a real human being, especially this season.  Her character is just a pile of "crazy person" cliches that's just so annoying.  It was pretty funny when she came to prom waving around a dinner knife though.


  1. sorry bro, looks like Esme is here to stay, considering she didn't graduate with the others.

    Also, how would you rank the seasons from least to greatest and what is your favorite and least favorite episode of each season?

    1. Wow, I totally didn't realize that Esme would probably be coming back but you're right. Noooooooooooooooooo

      I think I would rank the Next Class seasons like this: 4, 2, 1, 3. I wish I could give my rankings of The Next Generation seasons too but it's been a while since I've seen the older ones. One of my favorite episodes is the one where the alumni return in Next Class season 2. No least favorite episodes immediately come to mind.