“Teenage Dreams” by Emily Landau | The Walrus | September 2012
Oh dear. I’m old.
“Authenticity” might be a cloaked euphemism for Degrassi ‘s low-grade aesthetic. The show had a grainy, ramshackle quality, with stilted dialogue and a cast of untrained teens who sported the same bad hair, braces, and gawkiness of average fourteen-year-olds. In the early episodes, they stare into the camera, moon faced and terrified, stiffly reciting their lines, often with nation-shaming hoser accents. Nevertheless, the cheap production values didn’t diminish the series’ achievement in creating a synecdochic reflection of how kids really lived.
For teen audiences, it was comforting to see kids go through the same awkward, and sometimes devastating, experiences. In the pre-Internet days, Degrassi was a rare place where they could find empathy without censure. Parents and teachers preached, peers judged, and educational materials came across as naive, but the program spoke to teenagers on their own level. It made adolescence — an age when you feel as if no one understands you — less alienating. Its integrity and candour established a kinship between the characters and the audience, an intimacy that glossier teen soaps cannot replicate. Degrassi was the prototype, as well as a complete anomaly in television history.