A couple of years ago Lisa suggested that I review the long running franchise known as Degrassi. I’m sure she was mainly referring to Degrassi: The Next Generation, but, the franchise goes back a lot further than that particular entry. In fact, it goes back to 1979 with a series called The Kids Of Degrassi Street. I feel we should start at the beginning.
I began watching this franchise sometime in the 2000s and fell in love with it. It came in and out of my life after that, but I believe I have seen it all. That being said, it has been a long time since I watched some of these shows. Even then, I saw them out of order and with years in between viewings. As such, it will be a journey of rediscovery for me.
The show began with what I believe was a pilot episode, or at the very least, it was decided at some point to be expanded into an entire series. It’s my guess that this was something along the lines of Panic At Malibu Pier (1989), which was filmed as a movie, but was also intended to be a pilot episode for Baywatch. That way in case the show wasn’t picked up, they could release it as a movie. Or it could have been even simpler and been a pitch pilot such as the one done for Baywatch which had their long running real-life lifeguard cast member, Michael Newman, doing lifeguard things for a few minutes. No matter what it was intended to be, it did end up being turned into a series.
So what shot opens up a franchise that off and on would last about 40 years? A shot of a “Do Not Litter!” sign.
As anti-climatic as that is, it does set the tone for the entire franchise: lessons for the audience to learn.
The show essentially began as a series of after school specials where each one would focus on a particular issue or issues. If you’ve seen any later entry in the franchise, then you know that they never stopped doing that kind of thing. The difference is that in later shows these lessons would end up being folded into a normal TV show with an ongoing narrative, regular characters, and actual seasons. Still, you can unpack them and find lesson after lesson that they were trying to get across to the audience as if it were still a series of after school specials for kids. There are some recurring characters on this show, but it’s not like a regular TV Show.
Something else worth noting is that unlike a show such as Beverly Hills, 90210; Degrassi, the school, or the street in this entry, and the kids that happen to pass through are what the shows are about. On Beverly Hills, 90210 we follow a set of characters through high school, college, and beyond. That’s not what Degrassi is really going for with their shows.
I bring this up because it ties back in with what I said about after school specials. The characters on Degrassi aren’t necessarily there for one episode and then tossed away, but the takeaway for the audience are the lessons that are learned by those characters during their time in school or on Degrassi St. Of course there are exceptions since no analogy is perfect and get on with it, I know.
The first episode starts by introducing us to our two main characters for this episode. We have Ida, who is played by Zoë Newman. She is pictured on the right of the title card. We also have her friend Cookie, played by Dawn Harrison. She is on the left. As the show goes on, they fade out as the filmmakers started to find the actors that would go on to be in the next entry, Degrassi Junior High.
This cat may be surrounded by litter, but it doesn’t know how good it has it. We’ll get to that in a later episode.
There is a bunch of garbage on the ground, and after Ida steps on a sandwich…
Cookie notices a sign for a film contest geared towards children.
Ida decides to do what the title of the episode says.
She starts hunting around for a camera in her attic among her dad’s old stuff. She finds one, but it’s broken.
who suggests that Ida simply go and get the camera fixed.
Cut directly to a guy at a camera store who tells us this was made in the 1970s without needing to say a word.
He tells her that it needs a new spring, some film, and the cost.
Is that a picture of James Garner behind her? Was he a spokesman for Kodak or something at the time?
Anyways, she is going to need some money to repair the camera and Mom isn’t going to help with that, so Ida is going to have to raise some money on her own.
Back home, we meet Ida’s brother Fred, played by someone they don’t list in the credits. Proper credits don’t show up until the next episode.
He suggests mowing lawns and Cookie suggests having a bake sale, but Ida doesn’t want to do the first and doesn’t know how to cook. Thankfully, Mom has some dialog that doesn’t make sense to give Ida an idea.
She says that if Ida doesn’t “find a place for that junk from the attic”, then she is going throw it out. I have no idea if that means Ida took a bunch of stuff out of the attic, which means she could simply put it back, or what. I just know that Ida decides that she should have a garage sale.
At the sale, Fred buys a military helmet from Ida. It’s important for the plot that he does this.
Ida raises enough money, and without even counting it, the guy at the store gives her the fixed camera.
No, there will never be anything about developing, editing, or any of the other things that go into making a movie. You just have to accept that it is fixed, and now Ida is off to make her movie. It’s going to be a movie about garbage of course.
This leads to a short “Who’s On First” routine with Mom before she leaves her, Cookie, and Fred to make the movie.
While Ida films, Cookie is supposed to dance around the garbage and they have timed the shooting to coincide with the arrival of a garbage truck. Fred is supposed to hand garbage to the garbageman. Fred “accidentally” grabs Cookie’s doll and puts it in with the trash…
which must mean that Cookie has two dolls, I think, since she is holding another one.
Now comes my favorite part out of this whole thing.
Despite the fact that Fred and Cookie fight over the doll in front of him…
and despite the fact that we can see and hear Cookie calling out in his direction that the doll is not trash…
he takes it and dumps it in the back of the truck anyways before hopping onto the truck to leave.
Good job, garbageman! Also it’s a little cruel on Ida’s part to keep filming while she knows her friend’s doll is being taken off with actual garbage. Oh, well.
Via a title card telling us that two weeks have past…
Ida receives a letter telling her that she is one of the finalists in the contest. The problem is that they thought it was about war instead of garbage, probably due to the fight over the doll and the helmet. I guess what the movie is supposed to be about wasn’t something that was to be included with the film when it was sent in.
What follows is some back and forth between Ida, Cookie, and Ida’s mom which amounts to the lesson that Ida should tell them that the movie is about garbage and not war because it’s a kind of lying otherwise.
That’s an interesting looking award.
Of course Ida wins. But then she tells the guy giving out the award, played by Elwy Yost, that the film isn’t about war. The guy then all but lets her walk offstage in embarrassment before bringing up that the award is given on merit, so she can have it. It ends right there.
That’s the beginning of Degrassi! An episode about not lying and not accepting something from someone in return for something the other person misinterpreted as something different than what you intended it to be. It also pushes a “Do It Yourself” ethic and you could make the case that garbage and war aren’t as different a subject as Ida thinks.
They do undercut the first two messages a little bit since she never tells the announcer that she added a “T” to the middle of her name to make it sound more impressive even though the episode reminds us several times that she did.
Also, I understand why they did and will continue to largely push the parents into the background, but it has side effects at times. Not so much with this entry, but it will in later episodes.
We have a long way to go, and actors to discover that will move onto Degrassi Junior High, and beyond.