OG Degrassi Was Actually So Dark... and That's Why We Loved It

A Degrassi cast reunion?! YES. In honour of the original gang getting back together at Toronto ComiCon next weekend, we look back on some of the realest moments of the groundbreaking teen drama that was never afraid to go rill dark

Degrassi Junior High stars, including Joey, will reunite for the first time in 20 years at Toronto ComiCon

(Photo: Everett Collection)

For many Canadians, Degrassi was (and still is) a show that taught us pretty much all there is to know about the harsh realities of life. With topics ranging from eating disorders to vehicular manslaughter, Degrassi has always tackled super-serious issues in a sensitive manner that was ahead of its time. This week the Internet has been abuzz with news that the beloved gang from this groundbreaking series will be reuniting for a panel discussion  at Toronto’s ComiCon next weekend, just in time for the the 30th anniversary of Degrassi Junior High. While Neil Hope passed away a decade ago (RIP Wheels), Pat Mastroianni (Joey Jerimiah), Stefan Brogren (Snake), Dan Woods (Mr. Raditch), Stecie Mistysyn (Caitlin Ryan) and Kristen Bourne (Tessa Campanelli) will all be in attendance. So, in preparation for this totally rad reunion, let’s celebrate just how dark Degrassi—in its various iterationswas brave enough to go.

1. Single momhood is brave and badass

In one of the most legendary Degrassi plot lines, Christine “Spike” Nelson has unprotected sex with Shane at a school party and gets pregnant. After a heartfelt conversation with her adopted classmate Wheels about how thankful he is to be alive, Spike decides to keep the baby—who grows up to be Emma in Degrassi: The Next Generation (i.e. the reboot that featured one Aubrey Graham).

2. Slut-shaming starts early

In the episode “Kiss Me, Steph,” Stephanie Kaye shows up to junior high looking fly AF in a chic mini skirt/crop top combo. Although this outfit is pretty much the norm amongst teens today, this was v. v. scandalous back in the ’80s. Steph got a lot of pervy attention from her male peers and, unfortunately, lost her jealous BFF Voula as a result of her newfound attention, but parlayed the confidence gained from her chic new look into winning the class presidency. You do you, Steph! You. Do. You.

Similarly, in one of the most cringe-worthy episodes in Degrassi history (which says a lot), Joey assumed that because Liz was wearing a freaking tank top!!! she was totes ready to bang. Joey presumptuously buys condoms and asks Liz if she wants to sleep with him. Liz rightfully responds by telling Joey she hates him and kicks him out of her house. YAS QUEEN!

3. Getting rill wasted can have rill consequences

Remember when Stephanie went to the school dance with her crush Wheels? Well, she got waaaay too drunk on Lucy’s parents’ liquor beforehand and could barely walk. Then, when her classmates asked her to make a speech as the class president, she was too busy throwing up in the school bathroom. Stephanie not only lost Wheels as a result, but her BFF Voula was mad because she had to go up and do the speech for her. Yikes.

4. Sexual assault can happen anywhere—and not all survivors choose to report it

In an important episode that tackled the complexities of power dynamics in sexual assault cases, substitute teacher Mr. Colby inappropriately touches one of his students, Lucy. Understandably confused and shocked by what had happened, Lucy decides not to report Mr. Colby to the police. Mr. Colby returns at the end of the season and does the same thing to her classmate Susie.

5. Don’t drink and drive

Wheels gets drunk at a summer party and decides to drive Lucy to the nearest convenience store to buy chips. Wheels ends up colliding with another vehicle, temporarily blinding Lucy and killing a child in the other car. Watch his heartbreaking apology to Lucy:

6. Anyone can get HIV/AIDS

The episode “Bad Blood” was the first teen drama to challenge the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the late ’80s. After cis straight male Dwayne sleeps with cis straight female Penny, he gets a call saying she is HIV-positive. Skip to 0:44 to hear Penny tell Dwayne he needs to be tested.

7. Depression is super common

When Claude reads a dark poem he’s written about death at a school talent show audition, his peers tell him he didn’t make the cut and ignore his cry for help. Claude shows up to school the next day and shoots himself in the head in the boy’s bathroom. Degrassi famously tackled mental health and gun violence again in The Next Generation, when Rick shoots Jimmy (Draaaaake!) after years of being bullied by his classmates.

8. Any of your friends could be in an abusive relationship

The chilling episode “Nobody’s Perfect” tackles the terrifying experience of intimate partner abuse when Scott physically and mentally abuses his girlfriend Kathleen and then manipulates her into staying with him by buying her flowers and telling her he loves her.

9. Love is love

In the episode “Black and White,” Michelle’s parents tell her she can’t go to the school dance with B.L.T because he’s black. Michelle defies her parents wishes (you go, girl) and goes to the dance with him, anyways.

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