Posted by Jesse August 18th, 2009 at 12:02pm In Degrassi
I’m afraid I have to call myself out a bit. I’ve sorted my lack of Tifaux posts since the end of the SNL season under the heading “there’s nothing on this summer especially for someone who doesn’t watch Mad Men.” But that’s not entirely true. While I ran out of Pushing Daisies leftovers in June and haven’t been watching those last three Terminator installments idling on my DVR, I have been watching fresh episodes of one of my very favorite shows: Degrassi: The Next Generation. Degrassi airs on a pretty normal fall-to-spring schedule in its native Canada, but when it’s imported to the U.S. via cable channel The N (soon to be rebranded as Teen Nick), they break it up into smaller runs of eight or ten episodes at a time. This summer’s batch rounded out the show’s eighth season, and then chased it with what The N promoted as a full-length Degrassi movie, albeit of a made-for-TV stock: Degrassi Goes Hollywood (it’s unclear to me whether this aired as a full movie in Canada or a four-part episode).
It’s difficult for me to process the enjoyment I got out of Degrassi Goes Hollywood, which expands the show’s usual mix of improbability and surprisingly hard-hitting drama (or, in the various parlances of the N’s promo department, going there, getting real, or reaching an intensity level of one hundred percent). The current Degrassi: The Next Generation is actually more like Degrassi: Deep Space Nine, since most of the familiar Next Gen characters have moved on; the show occasionally follows selected earlier cast members in college or, in Spinner’s case, right down the street from high school, but for the most part, turnover has been achieved. Goes Hollywood mostly serves as a check-up on those older characters we haven’t seen in awhile; it turns out that Paige, for example, is working as the assistant of a reality star in Los Angeles. When she lucks into a leading role in a movie written and directed by friend-of-Degrassi Jason Mewes, fellow alums Ellie and Marco pay a visit. Ellie has her own, go therier story about her ducking some familial responsibilities out of fear (via more flirting with her old buddy Craig); Marco doesn’t have much to do because he’s already had like six coming-out episodes and, frankly, doesn’t do a whole lot else.
There are also a bunch of celebrity cameos. Kevin Smith pops up several times, while Mewes has a bona fide supporting role (and one of the most delightful leaps of logic taken by the show is the idea that a major studio would be desperate to finance an autobiographical Jason Mewes musical — called “Mewesical High,” natch). Pete Wentz and Perez Hilton also appear, forming an efficient conglomerate of people whose faces make me want to punch them. Also, Pete Wentz is an awful, awful actor. It may seem silly to say that after a three-line cameo, but I’ve seen better acting from athletes on SNL.
Anyway, the whole thing reminds me a bit of The Muppet Movie, and not just because Paige looks and acts a little like Miss Piggy (sorry, hon). Manny Santos, she of the topless video and acting aspirations and abortion, not in that order, covets the lead in that Mewes movie; Mewes has to cast Paige on the orders of the producer, the only producer in history who has ever fought passionate to cast an older, fatter starlet. So she hitches a ride, in an extremely Muppet-y fashion, on a busted-ass schoolbus, which has been entrusted for reasons entirely unclear to her semi-criminal, semi-mechanic ex-boyfriend Jay. The new-class Degrassi characters who semi-inexplicably tag along are sort of like the Electric Mayhem: they play in a band, they don’t have a lot of lines, and they are sort of hilarious and invaluable. Mia, for example, who’s about to abscond from Greater Toronto for The Vampire Diaries on The CW (hilariously bad pilot what what!), somehow is the one to actually fix the bus in a clutch, even though Jay makes his feeble living as a professional mechanic and Mia makes hers as a teen model (there’s been a modeling void at Degrassi ever since Terri split). Even better, Sav, who has previously been mostly kind of a douchebag, keeps saying awesome, weirdly enthusiastic stuff on the edges of scenes. Like when they’re afraid the bus has been stolen, Sav exclaims, apropos of nothing as far as we know, “my stickers!” Basically, he’s just a step or two away from that “I brought the paper towels” line from The Great Muppet Caper.
I think the idea behind this movie is to sort of wrap up some of the older characters’ stories, but leave the door open to revisit them in a year or two with another movie, in what I’m assuming is some kind of actor-assistance program from the Canadian government. To this end, the one who actually has interesting stuff going is Ellie, the poor girl who never, ever gets the fun storyline about cavorting in Hollywood or auditioning for Kevin Smith. Her subplot isn’t one hundred percent resolved, but that’s how they do things up north: for all of its melodrama and fantastical conceits regarding the number of high school students able to score acting gigs and/or record contracts, Degrassi: The Next Generation has a decent track record of leaving its characters hanging in a vaguely lifelike sort of way.
By the way, this sleepy mid-August week has just been declared Degrassi week. They may not be showing new episodes anymore, but they’re broadcasting the crap out of the movie and assorted episodes. Up soon: my countdowns of the best and worst Degrassi: TNG characters.