(For the past three weeks, Lisa Marie has been in the process of reviewing 56 back to school films! She’s promised the rest of the TSL staff that this project will finally wrap up by the end of Monday, so that she can devote her time to helping to prepare the site for its annual October horror month! Will she make it or will she fail, lose her administrator privileges, and end up writing listicles for Buzzfeed? Keep reading the site to find out!)
Much as in the case of my reviews of School’s Out, Degrassi Goes Hollywood, and Degrassi Takes Manhattan, this review of 2015’s Degrassi: Don’t Look Back is probably not going to make much sense to you if you’re not a huge fan of Degrassi. Then again, it’s possible that it won’t make sense even if you’ve seen every episode of Degrassi.
Among the Degrassi fandom, there’s actually a very passionate debate as to whether or not Don’t Look Back should even be considered canonical. It premiered at the end of season 14, following the graduation episode. Season 14 was also the last season of Degrassi to be broadcast on TeenNick. (The series has subsquently moved to Netflix). Some people don’t consider Netflix Degrassi to be the same as TeenNick Degrassi and since Don’t Look Back is mostly concerned with laying the foundation for Netflix Degrassi, there’s a tendency among some to treat Don’t Look Back as almost being fan fiction.
Admittedly, Don’t Look Back does definitely feel different from the other Degrassi films. It’s much more light-hearted, with a good deal of the film’s 87 minute running time devoted to parodying different horror films. (It’s almost as if Don’t Look Back, which premiered in August, was actually conceived with an October premiere in mind.)
The film, which takes place during the summer, follows five storylines, four of which are pretty typical of what you’d expect to see on Degrassi. Rich girl Frankie Hollingsworth (Sara Waisglass) gets an internship at Toronto’s city hall and has to prove to her coworkers that she’s not just a spoiled brat while, at the same time, resisting the temptation to cheat on her boyfriend, Winston (Andre Kim). Zoe (Ana Golja) attends summer school and finds herself attracted to her classmate, the acerbic Grace (Nikki Gould). (As fans of Netflix Degrassi know, Zoe would eventually accept that she was a lesbian while Grace shocked everyone by revealing that she was both straight and seriously ill.) Tristan Milligan (Lyle Lettau) obsesses over both his dreams of internet stardom and his former boyfriend, Miles. Maya (Olivia Scriven) gets a job as a nanny for a rock star (Sonia Dhillon Tully) and Zig (Ricardo Hoyos) gets mad because he feels neglected.
But then, there’s the fifth subplot and here’s where things get controversial. A minor Degrassi character, Gloria Chin (Nicole Samantha Huff), vanishes and soon, everyone in Canada is searching for her. Fortunately, Grade 10 students of Degrassi Community School are able to use their amazing computer skills and deductive reasoning to figure out where Grace is being held. It’s one of those weird things that you expect to see in an episode of something like CSI or NCIS or some other show with initials for a title. It’s not really something you would expect to see on Degrassi. It feels definitely out-of-place as a part of a franchise that has always prided itself on realistically and honestly exploring teen issues.
But then again, after 14 seasons (and that’s not even including the two series that came before Degrassi: The Next Generation), both the format and tone of Degrassi have changed several times. That’s the way it’s always been. Seasons 1 & 2 of Degrassi have a completely different feel from seasons 3 & 4. And, ultimately, I guess the idea of a bunch of tenners solving a crime is not any stranger than Kevin Smith shooting Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh? at the school.
Anyway, if you’re a Degrassi fan, Don’t Look Back is entertaining enough. And yes, it is canonical. Even if they’ve never mentioned since that they solved the Canadian crime of the century (and does seem like something that would occasionally come up in conversation), apparently that’s what the students at Degrassi did during their summer vacation.
Good for them!