Top 20 Times Degrassi Tackled Serious Issues
VOICE OVER: Rebecca Brayton
WRITTEN BY: Beca Dalimonte
"Degrassi" reguarly tackled serious issues. For this list, we'll be looking at the most significant times when “Degrassi: the Next Generation” showcased difficult, real-world issues people face. Our countdown includes Adam's transition, Alex's job, the attack, and more!
Top 20 Times Degrassi Tackled Serious Issues
Welcome to MsMojo, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 20 Times Degrassi Tackled Serious Issues.
For this list, we’ll be looking at the most significant times when “Degrassi: the Next Generation” showcased difficult, real-world issues people face. Plot points will be discussed, so consider this your spoiler alert!
What did you learn from watching “Degrassi”? Let us know in the comments!
#20: Adam’s Transition
“My Body Is a Cage, Part One” & “My Body Is a Cage, Part Two”
Shortly after Chaz Bono made headlines for his transition, “Degrassi” decided to highlight the plight of everyday trans men in their show. The representation was pretty revolutionary for a mainstream series at the time, even though it did uncritically show some dangerous practices. In the two-part episode “My Body is a Cage,” “Degrassi” addressed Adam’s insecurities about his body and continued menstruation. The series also directly deals with different kinds of real world transphobia, showing physical altercations with classmates as well as private misgendering from family members. These events are shown to take a toll on Adam, and help audiences understand how important it is to accept and uplift trans people in their real lives.
#19: Emma Is Catfished
"Mother and Child Reunion Part One" & "Mother and Child Reunion, Part Two"
“Degrassi: the Next Generation” doesn’t waste any time, jumping head first into a story about predatory catfishing in its premiere episodes. Unbeknownst to her mother, Emma has been emailing with a boy online. Her friends are wary of the internet romance, but she ignores their concerns and decides to meet up with the boy in person. And every parent’s worst nightmare comes true when she follows an adult man up to his hotel room. Thankfully Emma’s friends mobilize, and her mother and Snake are able to find and save her before anything too bad happens. Still, the lesson is clear. Kids should never meet up with strangers they’ve met online!
#18: Emma’s Eating Disorder
"Our Lips Are Sealed: Part One" & "Our Lips Are Sealed: Part Two”
In “Degrassi”s fifth season, Emma’s home life is on the rocks. Her mother and Snake are broken up, and she’s been left with more chores and more stress. This stress is doubled when she becomes obsessed with her body. She begins extreme dieting with Manny, convincing her friend to eat less, exercise more, and even purge with her. Manny eventually leaves the so-called diet behind, but Emma continues – and her habits worsen. She even faints at school. It all culminates in her loved ones staging an intervention that sends her into a panic. At the hospital, she finally vows to change her habits before it’s too late. It’s a serious look at how serious – and dangerous – eating disorders truly are.
#17: Hazel Denies Being Muslim
"Don't Believe the Hype"
In the years following 9/11, anti-Muslim sentiment was on the rise in many places, including Canada. “Degrassi” deals directly with this xenophobia in its second season. In the episode focusing on the school’s International Day, Hazel is more of a mean girl than usual, “arresting” fellow student Fareeza for wearing a hijab. This behavior lands her in the principal’s office when Fareeza’s project is destroyed in a deeply offensive manner. Although Hazel isn’t the perpetrator, it’s revealed that her attitude was the result of her own insecurity. She’s also Muslim, and has been lying about being Jamaican. The episode ends with her opening up and finally revealing her true self to the school.
#16: Liberty Puts Her Baby Up for Adoption
Before “Juno” or “Sixteen and Pregnant,” “Degrassi” boldly tackled the controversial subject of teen pregnancy and its repercussions. This was done through the perspective of once-model student, Liberty Van Zandt, whose baby would be the first carried to term by a teen in “The Next Generation.” Although Liberty and the father, J.T., debate keeping the child, they eventually settle on adoption. This proves difficult for Liberty, who regrets her choice after giving birth. With papers already signed, she ends up drowning her depression in alcohol. It looks bleak, until an adopted classmate suggests she make a memory box for the child to reconnect with her when he gets older. Addressing such a multi-faceted topic isn’t easy, but “Degrassi” doesn’t shy away from a challenge.
#15: Marco Is Jumped
"Pride: Part One" & "Pride: Part Two"
Many “Degrassi” episodes helped viewers come to terms with the world around them. This season three one helped one of the show’s actors understand himself. “Pride” focuses on Marco, whose girlfriend Ellie is growing tired of being his beard. She pressures him to come out, even though he isn’t sure he’s ready. His fears seem to be founded as he’s mistreated by Spinner and even attacked by a group of guys. It’s horrifying, to say the least. Fortunately, Jimmy reaches out a helping hand, implying hope for the future. This landmark episode was played with shocking authenticity by Adamo Ruggiero, who was coming to terms with his own sexuality at the same time as his character.
#14: Craig’s Hotel Breakdown & Bipolar Diagnosis
"Voices Carry: Part One" & "Voices Carry: Part Two"
Craig has been through a lot, dealing with a father who mistreats him. Fortunately, he’s saved from his horrific home life when Joey, his stepfather, offers to take him in. Things seem to be going well until the night before his girlfriend Ashley’s dad’s wedding. Rejected, he lashes out and trashes his hotel room. When he gets back home, he’s confronted by Joey, whom he physically fights. This act of violence is the final straw that gets him sent to a hospital - where it is revealed that his erratic behavior was a manic episode. His diagnosis marks an important instance of mental health being addressed on “Degrassi” – something which wasn’t too common in 2005.
#13: Predatory Basketball Coach
“Heart Like Mine, Part One” & “Heart Like Mine, Part Two”
While “Pretty Little Liars” uncritically featured a prominent student-teacher relationship throughout its seasons, “Degrassi” showcased the inherently predatory nature of such dynamics. In “Heart Like Mine,” K.C. begins getting dating advice from his basketball coach, Coach Carson. It initially appears innocent, and K.C. is thankful for the help. But things get weird when Carson invites the student over to watch explicit videos and drink. The situation escalates when the coach reveals he owns a weapon, and orders an escort. Finally realizing the adult is crossing a line, K.C. leaves - and reports his former mentor. Carson is promptly dismissed and arrested, as all teachers who act inappropriately with their students should be!
#12: Alex’s Job
"Don't You Want Me?, Part One" & "Don't You Want Me?, Part Two"
Season six of “Degrassi” follows some of its characters out of high school and into the real world, exploring the financial – and familial – realities many face. In “Don’t You Want Me?,” Alex learns that she and her mom will soon be evicted, as the latter’s boyfriend has left them in debt. She makes the difficult decision to begin stripping for money. She tries to convince herself it will help, but feels guilty lying to her closest friends. Unfortunately, she returns home one night to find that her mother has spent all of the cash she earned getting her boyfriend out of prison. Thankfully, Alex takes a stand and leaves, moving in with Paige and friends while she finds a place of her own.
#11: Spinner Is Diagnosed with Cancer
"Death or Glory, Part One" & "Death or Glory, Part Two"
It can be difficult for teens to accept similarities they have with their parents. This is especially true for Spinner, who learns he may have cancer …just like his late father. Although he initially tries to deny it, the pain he’s in is overwhelming, and he becomes increasingly afraid of what the doctors will tell him. When it’s confirmed that he does have testicular cancer, it’s absolutely devastating - both for him, and the audience. “Next Generation” had dealt with the illness before, when Snake was diagnosed with leukemia, but there was something uniquely shocking about seeing a student deal with such a deadly disease. Thankfully, he eventually beat it, and his arc taught viewers the importance of early detection.
#10: Manny’s Abortion
"Accidents Will Happen, Part One" & "Accidents Will Happen, Part Two"
“Degrassi” certainly blazed a trail with this plotline. In “Accidents Will Happen,” Manny realizes she’s pregnant and immediately worries about what it’ll mean for her future. She babysits with her would-be baby daddy Craig, and has serious discussions with adults about her options, before coming to the conclusion that abortion is right for her. Abortion was already a hot topic for adults, so to feature such a realistic depiction in a teen show was a bold move. The episode was temporarily banned from airing in the United States. It wasn’t until two years later, when Manny’s actress Cassie Steele chose the two-part episode for a “Cast Picks” marathon, that it would finally be shown to American viewers.
#9: Ellie’s Mental Health
"Whisper to a Scream"
Being the child of a colonel in the army is hard enough. It’s even harder when your alcoholic mother becomes neglectful when he’s deployed. This is the reality for Ellie Nash, who resorts to self-harm as she struggles to cope with her stress. When her classmate, Paige, walks in on her bleeding in the bathroom she realizes what has happened and implores her to stop and get help. It takes some convincing, but Ellie eventually opens up to her, and agrees to talk about her problems instead of hurting herself. In a single episode, “Degrassi” succinctly portrays why self-harm is not a solution, while also making sure to treat its teenage character with kindness and understanding.
#8: Clare Loses Her Baby
"Get It Together" & "Give Me One Reason"
When Drew and Clare learn that they’re expecting a baby boy, they are both happy and excited. Told that the pregnancy is a healthy one, Clare continues to devote herself to preparations for his arrival. Sadly, the baby meets a similar fate to his late namesake when Clare is told that he has died in the womb. The plot was far from the first “Degrassi” pregnancy story, but it was the first to end in a miscarriage. This unprecedented tragedy was worsened by the fact that Clare had just beaten cancer, and wasn’t sure if she would ever have another chance to have her own child.
#7: Adam’s Death
“Cannonball” & “Honey”
When “Degrassi” started, mobile phones were still pretty rudimentary. Almost a decade later, the show was still airing, and the writers had to come up with episodes about the tech that was now integral to their new audience’s lives. In “Cannonball,” Adam is desperate to send a text message to his ex-girlfriend, Becky. Without cell service, he goes for a drive - and is delighted to see his phone light up with a message as he’s driving. He answers immediately, but soon realizes he’s going to crash into another car. Trying to avoid it, he hits a tree instead. He passes away in the hospital, serving as a grim reminder that life is always more important than a text.
#6: Rick Puts Terri In a Coma
"Don't Dream It's Over"
When it comes to media depictions of domestic violence, it’s relatively common for the victim to emerge victorious. There’s often a big, powerful scene where they tell off their abuser and finally leave them. Unfortunately, real life isn’t always as cinematic. “Degrassi” portrays this inconvenient reality with Terri and Rick’s relationship. Though she sees the warning signs, Terri returns to Rick after he hurts her in the hopes that he’ll change. Their argument ends horrifically, with his actions putting her in a coma. Unfortunately this unique portrayal is undermined by the fact that “Degrassi” completely drops the character’s plot afterwards. Terri moves, and is never heard from again.
#5: Paige Loses Her Trial
"Ghost in the Machine"
For Paige Michalchuk, one schoolgirl crush turns into a horrific nightmare. The fourteen year old cool girl has eyes for rival school soccer player, Dean Walton. But she isn’t ready to get intimate with him. He ignores her lack of consent, leaving her shaken and confused. Her best friend Hazel eventually convinces her that what he did was wrong, and she reports the assault to the authorities. What follows is an infuriatingly hard to watch trial in which Dean is found not guilty in spite of Paige’s harrowing first-hand testimony. The reason for the verdict is cited to be a lack of proof, which is all too common in these kinds of cases.
#4: The Attack
“Time Stands Still, Part One” & “Time Stands Still, Part Two”
Thanks to a prominent role played by “Degrassi”'s most famous alumni – rapper Drake – “Time Stands Still” is probably one of the most well-known episodes of “Next Generation.” For those unfamiliar, the two-parter portrays a kid bringing a weapon to school, and the events that lead up to it. Even if you know what’s going to happen, it still remains genuinely tense and occasionally shocking. It shows viewers how devastating these extreme acts of violence are. The perpetrator Rick Murray’s victim Jimmy is shown to be paralyzed for the rest of his life. It’s a lasting reminder of one of the show’s most intense – and relevant – moments.
#3: J.T. Is Stabbed
“Rock This Town”
In the early days of “Degrassi,” you could always count on J.T. for comic relief. So it was shocking when the show began developing his character outside of his usual archetype. He gets Liberty pregnant, gets involved with illicit substances, and gets into a fight with a group of guys from a rival school. That fight would ultimately lead to his demise, with two Lakehurst students stabbing him outside a party. Liberty is able to get JT to a hospital, but it’s too late. The students of Degrassi, and viewers at home, were stunned. His unexpected death became one of the show’s most tragic moments, spotlighting how quickly and prematurely a young life can end.
#2: Cam’s Death
"Bitter Sweet Symphony, Part Two"
“Degrassi” is no stranger to death, but it still comes as a deeply saddening surprise when Cam takes his own life. He’s found on school grounds afterwards, and the heartbreaking news sends shockwaves through the school. His peers feel a range of complex emotions, including guilt over his passing, thinking that if they had behaved differently, he would still be alive. These are all normal feelings to have following the death of a loved one at their own hands. The show’s honest and nuanced depiction of the difficult issue certainly made teens going through similar situations feel seen, and helped them process their grief.
#1: Jane’s Mistreatment
"Jane Says: Part 1" & "Jane Says: Part 2"
“Jane Says” is undeniably one of “Degrassi”s darkest episodes. The two-parter deals with its titular character unearthing her past trauma. The plot kicks off with Jane’s father coming back to town. She can’t shake an unexplainable uneasy feeling she has about him, and seeing him in person brings it all rushing back. She realizes that he abused her in the past, something she had since blocked out. Thankfully, when she works up the courage to tell her mom and brother about it, she’s believed, and her dad is ostracized from the family. They attend counseling to work through their feelings. Needless to say, the storyline shines a spotlight on the realities of such terrible mistreatment, serving as an important reminder to support survivors.