To conclude Degrassi week, here are two definitive lists of the best and worst the Degrassiverse has to offer.
The Five Best Characters on Degrassi: The Next Generation
1. Ellie. At its best, you can watch characters on Degrassi grow and change the way real kids do throughout middle school, high school, and college. Granted, sometimes Degrassi puts them through changes at a whiplash-inducing pace, but sometimes it’s more gradual. Look at Ellie, who started out as sort of a baby goth. We eventually found out about her mom’s alcoholism and her own self-mutilation issues; she dabbled in music and art, and eventually turned to serious journalism in college. She’s also unlucky in love in classic Degrassi fashion: let’s see, she liked Marco before he came out to everyone (seemingly one at a time); she lived with Sean for awhile before he returned to his parents; she liked Jimmy and turned him on to art, but he didn’t feel the same way; she liked Craig, so many times, always at the wrong moment, like when he was really into Manny and/or cocaine. She even fooled around with Marco after he came out to everyone! Girl cannot catch a break. Which sort of makes sense; how many kids meet their soulmate when they’re sixteen? You can always count on an Ellie plotline to fall more on the serious, smart end of the Degrassi ludicrousness spectrum. And I’m not just saying this because she’d be the one I’d have a crush on if I went to Degrassi.
2. Craig. Craig was probably Degrassi’s one shot at a male heartthrob; the other candidates rock that unfortunate combination of troubled and brooding yet Canadian that renders their sex appeal a little muddled (or so I would imagine). But Craig’s got the soulful-troubled-nerd thing going on, which better fits the Canadian teen show profile. Did you see the ones where Craig confronted his bipolar disorder by trashing a hotel and beating the living shit out of his stepfather? That. Was. Intense. Did you see the one where he tells Manny “it’s not the locker I don’t like… it’s you.” Even. Better. Also, no matter how hard the poor bastard tries, no matter what kind of English he’d like to put into it or sophisticated funk or plaintive singer-songwriter angst he’d like to spin on it, his music still sounds like Jason Mraz.
3. Manny. Manny represents Degrassi’s soapier side, as she’s swung through many of the show’s soapiest operas: she was the other woman who came between Craig and Ashley; she had Craig’s abortion (now who’s worse than a locker, Craig? Huh?!); she is somehow, in the show’s universe, on her way to international superstardom entirely from an only slightly unwholesome friendship with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes. The Emma-Manny relationship has been a backbone of the series from the earliest days, and unlike fellow founding young’ns JT and Toby, no one in that friendship was stabbed to death. Manny gets the spot over Emma because she whines less, and because that abortion episode went there so hard that The N didn’t air it in the U.S. for like a year. Also, she’s like ice cream, but, like, hot.
4. Spinner. One of the most fun things about a Degrassi marathon is tracking the horribleness of Spinner’s hair on a scale ranging from somewhat horrible to unspeakably horrible.
Spinner began as a young man of primitive tastes (favorite film franchise: the Clown Academy series!) and now stands tall and proud as, uh, the manager of a greasy-spoon eatery that is, by most estimates, no more than fifteen feet from the high school he barely graduated from. And a part-time drummer. But like an unkillable strain of part-time-drumming bacteria, Spinner survives, and his resilience has become weirdly heroic. Give him ball cancer, shoot him in the shoulder, call him “honeybee,” whatevs: Spinner flourishes, by which I mean, gets absolutely no better at drumming. Also, no mention of Spinner is complete without a link to Boycott the Caf, the only Spinner-loving Degrassi fansite you’ll ever need.
5. Holly J. One of the most awesome things about Holly J. Sinclair is her genesis: for the first bunch of seasons of Degrassi: TNG, there was a running gag about the unseen Heather Sinclair, usually mentioned by Paige (“I saw better dancing at Heather Sinclair’s grade three sock hop”) and implied to be sort of like Paige, but even meaner. Heather Sinclair is sort of the Tino of this show, though because the show has lasted far longer than My So-Called Life, they’ve had more pointed references to Heather’s almost Keyser Soze-like existence. To wit, this “Degrassi Mini” from a few years back:
Anyway, Holly J. Sinclair was introduced as Heather’s younger sister, and equally popular slash mean. At first she mainly just bossed around her underlings, but over the past few seasons she’s had the most interesting story arc of the new kids: getting exiled for her nasty behavior, losing status when her family became poor, and now working at the Dot under the tutelage of one Mr. Spinner Mason. She’s somehow become one of the show’s most likable characters, sort of like Paige but less of a mess.
Don’t forget the worst!
The Five Worst Characters on Degrassi: The Next Generation
I could probably stack this whole list with adult characters on the show, mostly the crew from the original Degrassi who stuck around to usher in their next-gen counterparts. But none of their tedium compares to journalist Caitlin, whose on-again, off-again, never-cared relationship with Joey Jeremiah (stepfather to Craig) dragged on for what felt like centuries of screentime, which we could’ve been spending with, I don’t know, Toby.
Remember Hazel pretended to be Jamaican because she was ashamed of her Muslim heritage? No? Remember being vaguely disinterested in
any aspect of Hazel’s life? That feels more familiar, huh? Hazel never really busted out of her role as Paige’s sidekick. She dated Jimmy for awhile, but Jimmy didn’t really seem to notice. She’s not super-smart or super-mean and I have no idea which fake Canadian college she wound up attending. Pretty much her best moment was making out with Toby on a dare during the obligatory Breakfast Club episode. That was Hazel, right?
Obviously Degrassi would want to introduce a new gay character now that Marco is pretty much out of the picture, but rather than introduce a gay kid who’s actually, hey, relatively comfortable with his sexuality and going from there, we have another closeted kid, the difference being that he’s a bit of a jock and doesn’t wear those hats that Marco loves. So far, Riley hasn’t been remotely interesting and I can only assume we’re due for another half-dozen episodes where he comes out to all of his friends and family one by one. I’m sure these stories are helpful on some level, but Riley hasn’t show much personality, which I think is key, you know, a character on a television show.
One of the grimmest spectacles of the early seasons is watching the child actors improve as the show progresses while Spike gets no better, and possibly worse. Also, by the time Emma goes to college, Spike is bearing an eerie resemblance to Anne Hathaway’s character during the last half-hour of Brokeback Mountain (not the awesome part with the boobs).
5. Dirtbag Johnny
They’ve tried to give this dude some depth since he was bussed in from Lakehurst, a neighboring school that, I forget, I think it burned down or something. Judging from the Lakehurst population, it was located deep in the bowels of Canada and run by goblins. Anyway, Dirtbag Johnny started out as a dead-eyed bully but now has this semi-inappropriate relationship with Alli but he’s still pretty firmly a dirtbag. Now, Jay Hogart: there was a dirtbag you could set your watch to.