School’s Out, a 1992 film that was made for Canadian television, is historically important for two reasons.
First off, it featured not only the first use of the F-word on Canadian broadcast television but the second as well! The first actor to say the word was Stefan Brogren who, in the role of frustrated lifeguard Snake Simpson, complained, “Joey Jeremiah spends his summer dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa!” About a minute later, Stacie Mistysyn (in the role of Caitlin), yelled, “You were fucking Tessa Campanelli!?”
I’m not sure what exactly went on behind-the-scenes before School’s Out broke the F-word barrier. Help me out, Canadian readers. Was this a big deal in your country? Was this controversial? Did you get weeks of warning or was everyone taken by surprise? And was happened afterwards? Does the F-word now show up regularly on Canadian television? I’m sincerely curious and I guess I’ll find out for myself when, after the presidential election, I move to Toronto.
Still, regardless of whether there was any drama behind-the-scenes, it’s interesting that, in 1992, Canada had already progressed beyond America, as far as censorship and broadcast standards concerned. 24 years later, actors on American network television are still not allowed to say what Stefan Brogren said during School’s Out.
Of course, if you’re a fan of Degrassi, you can probably appreciate the irony of Stefan Brogren being the one to break the Fuck Barrier. Brogren plays Archie “Snake” Simpson. When Degrassi: The Next Generation began in 2001, Archie was a teacher at Degrassi Community School. Over the course of the series, Archie married, became Emma Nelson’s stepfather, and was eventually appointed principal. Through it all, Archie has been a well-meaning but somewhat dorky authority figure. Simpson has always been the guy who you can depend on to explain why condoms are important and stalkers are bad but he’s also always been the guy who inevitably says something unintentionally humorous and then wonders why everyone is laughing at him.
But before Degrassi: The Next Generation, there was Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. These two shows aired in the 80s and featured Brogren (and Snake Simpson) as just another student, worrying about getting a girlfriend and occasionally dealing with an issue-of-the-week.
That brings us to the other reason why School’s Out is historically important. School’s Out was meant to serve as the finale of Degrassi High, a chance for the show’s fans to get one last chance to hang out with Snake, Caitlin, Wheels (the tragic Neil Hope), and Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni, with hair!) and perhaps get a glimpse of what the future held in store for them.
Though the producers may not have realized it at the time, School’s Out also perfectly lay the foundation for Degrassi: The Next Generation. I have to admit that, as much as I love Degrassi, I haven’t seen many episodes of Degrassi Junior High or Degrassi High. Fortunately, that didn’t make it difficult for me to follow School’s Out. In fact, many of the things that happened in School’s Out would regularly be referred to in Degrassi: The Next Generation.
The film opens with the senior class of Degrassi High graduating and preparing for their final summer before university and responsibility. Joey Jeremiah plans to ask his longtime girlfriend, Caitlin, to marry him. However, when Joey proposes to Caitlin, she turns him down. She’s not ready for that type of commitment, not when she’s about to leave town to go to college. (For his part, Joey failed a grade during Degrassi Junior High and, as a result, he’ll finally be starting his senior year while all of his friends are getting on with their lives. While Caitlin is studying journalism at university, Joey will presumably still be trying to pass Mr. Raditch’s history class.) Hurt over being turned down by Caitlin, Joey ends up sleeping with Tessa Campanelli (Kirsten Bourne). Soon, he is — as Snake memorably puts it — dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa.
What amazed me, as I watched School’s Out, was just how much of asshole Joey Jeremiah was truly portrayed as being. If, like me, you previously only knew him from Degrassi, then you know Joey as being a widowed used care salesman, a loving father, and an all-around good guy. So, it’s strange and a little bit jarring to see him here as a remorseless cheater who brags about betraying Caitlin and who cruelly teases Snake for being a virgin.
(Then again, seeing School’s Out adds an interesting shading to Joey’s character. Watching the film, I suddenly understood why Joey often seemed so overprotective of his stepson, Craig. During the third season of Degrassi, Craig made many of the same bad decisions that Joey previously made in School’s Out. Much as Joey was “dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa,” Craig was dating Ashley and fucking Manny. Watching School’s Out, I finally understood that, during seasons 3 and 4 of Degrassi, Joey was often looking at Craig and seeing himself.)
Of course, it wouldn’t be Degrassi if there weren’t a few other subplot going on at the same time as the Joey/Caitlin/Tessa love triangle. Seriously, hardly anyone gets a positive ending in School’s Out. Not only does Joey cheat and Snake curse but there’s also an unplanned pregnancy. There’s a party that leads to a major character driving drunk, killing a child, and blinding a classmate. Yes, the film does end with a wedding but we barely know the people getting married. Nobody, it seems, gets a truly happy ending.
Seriously, Canadian readers, how traumatizing was School’s Out when it was originally broadcast!?
Fortunately, I was able to watch School’s Out with the knowledge that, as bad as the summer was, Joey would eventually find love and Snake would get a job. As for Caitlin, she would not only end up hosting a public affairs show called Ryan’s Planet but, at the end of the 4th season of Degrassi, she would have a brief flirtation with director Kevin Smith.
(Both Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes were in Canada, filming Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, eh? It’s a long story.)
Anyway, I’m very happy that I finally watched School’s Out. I may even go back and watch Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. They’re all available on YouTube now!
On a final note — LOVE YOU, CANADA!