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<i>Degrassi</i>: Revisiting the Recycled Storylines

The Degrassi series has been tackling teen issues since the '80s with Degrassi Junior High and later Degrassi High. When Degrassi: The Next Generation premiered in 2001, viewers watched as a new Canadian class dealt with the ups and downs of being a teenager. Since Degrassi is a school that has some really bad karma -- there hasn't been a single dance that didn't end with a fire, crime scene, or prom queen wardrobe malfunction -- it's not surprising that so many of the kids dealt with intense problems during their time as students. This summer season we've already seen Ali stress over a pregnancy scare (the girl can literally split the atom but doesn't understand the necessity of a condom), Katie have a psychological breakdown, Clare deflect the advances of her sketchy older boss and newbie Ice Hound Cam deal with his social anxiety. While we're waiting for everyone on this season to pull themselves together, let's take a look back on some of the other issues that the students at Degrassi faced.

Abortion
First Seen: Erica Farrell, Degrassi Junior High
After spending a summer away at camp, Erica came back to Degrassi no longer a virgin -- and pregnant. While her completely-unsupportive twin sister Heather did finally accept Erica's choice, her classmate Liz didn't, and set out on an "Erica-is-A-Baby-Murderer" campaign, leading to a heated fight during school.
Later Seen: Manny Santos, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 3
Weeks after having unprotected sex with the then-girlfriend-having Craig Manning, Manny realized that she was pregnant -- something that her strict Filipino parents would definitely not be cool with. Craig, on the other hand, was weirdly thrilled with the prospect of becoming a new dad. When Craig went a little baby crazy and started planning their future together with baby Maude, Manny realized that there was no way she could be forever tied to Craig (and the name Maude). After a discussion with her surprisingly supportive mom, Manny chose to have an abortion.
Best Portrayal: Erica
Manny's storyline loses major points for not acknowledging Manny's abortion outside the initial two episodes. In addition to not being aired in the United States until years after the episode was scheduled, Manny's episode was totally self-contained, with Manny's abortion never directly mentioned in any subsequent episodes.

Abusive Boyfriends
First Seen: Kathleen Mead, Degrassi High
Though Kathleen had problems that would only be rivaled later by those of DTNG's Craig Manning, she also had a seriously terrible personality, and that made it difficult to care about her buckets of issues. When she began dating the popular football player Scott Smith, Kathleen finally felt like her life was coming together... until Scott became possessive and physically abusive. Kathleen was able to leave Scott for good once the police get involved, and while we'd like to say that things got better for Kathleen after all that, nothing ever really gets better for Kathleen.
Later Seen: Terri McGregor, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 3
Terri McGregor relationship with theater loving romantic Rick Murray started when he left red roses and love poems in her locker, actions that Terri found charming and not at all frightening. Soon, Rick was invading her girl-time with Hazel (like that was so fun anyway, right?), acting creepily jealous of her friendship with Jimmy, and hitting her during their arguments -- all huge red flags -- but it all came to a head during their last-fight-ever, when Rick pushed Terri onto the ground, causing her to hit her head and develop a brain injury. That was the last we saw of Terri, while Rick went on to be the person put Drake in that wheelchair.
Best Portrayal: Terri
Unlike Scott, who was a physically intimidating jock, Rick's seemingly sweet demeanor made it easy to hide his abusive nature. This storyline gets points for not painting Rick as a total villain -- after the incident with Terri, Rick is severely bullied by her friends and classmates (some who didn't even know the initial reasoning behind the bullying, or care) which led to disastrous consequences that illustrated the dangers of participating in the cycle of violence.

Bi-Polar Boys
First Seen: Craig Manning, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 4
When Craig Manning came to school at the beginning of DTNG's Season 2, it was obvious that this kid was going to have a long, hard road ahead of him. After his mom died, Craig was left with his unstable and physically abusive father, before finally moving in with his step-dad, Joey Jeremiah (yes, that Joey Jeremiah). Though Craig was prone to acting erratically at times, it wasn't until Season 4 that his behavior raised red flags -- somewhere between Craig proposing to sixteen-year-old Ashley at her dad's wedding, trashing his hotel room and beating up Joey, Craig's family and friends realized that he needed some serious help.
Later Seen: Eli Goldsworthy, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 10
Eli Goldsworthy always marched to the beat of his own drum -- riding around in a hearse is not typical teenage behavior outside of a My Chemical Romance music video -- so hardly anyone noticed when his behavior started getting a tad bit erratic. Then, Eli purposefully drove that hearse into a wall, which, weirdly, didn't get ex-girlfriend Clare to love him again. After a much-needed psychological evaluation, Eli got medicated and began a healthy lifestyle to keep his bi-polar disorder in check.
Best Portrayal: Craig
Though Craig's bi-polar wasn't mentioned until much later, it was hinted at from the very first episode Craig appeared on in the series -- jumping in front of a moving train, lashing out at friends and sort of kidnapping his half-sister all screamed "emotionally unstable" -- but it was really the inclusion of Craig's abusive father that indicated that Craig could be prone to similar health issues.

Eating Disorders
First Seen:Kathleen Mead, Degrassi Junior High
Kathleen, queen of the defense mechanisms, developed anorexia when her family life felt too out of control; instead of dealing with her mother's alcoholism, Kathleen found it easier to focus on calorie counting. Best frenemy Melanie eventually got her help, but not before she had a serious meltdown at the science fair after she, ironically, lost top prize to an eating disorder project.
Later Seen: Emma Nelson, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 5
Like Emma, we were also completely disturbed by the make-out session between Snake and Ms. Hatzilokos, and when her parents' relationship began to disintegrate because of Snake's cheating, Emma decided that she needed to regain control. Emma displayed many of the red flags for anorexia -- wearing baggy clothes, keeping food diaries, hiding tater tots in pockets for "later" ("I'm like a cute little squirrel!" -- Emma, the weirdest liar in the world) -- and eventually landed in the hospital after having a panic attack brought on by her self starvation.
Best Portrayal: Emma
Yes, most of Emma's recovery process was shown through therapeutic knitting, which is definitely a thing, but it was nice to see a fan favorite dealing with such a serious issue and coming out happier and healthier on the other side. It's also very hard to be less likeable than Kathleen.

Suicide
First Seen: Claude Tanner, Degrassi High
After a breakup with Caitlin Ryan, the troubled student brought a gun into Degrassi and shot himself in a bathroom stall. Claude's suicide was a tragic shock to the school, and so many students were left with unanswered questions and mixed emotions. Claude Tanner was never a major character on the series, but his storyline probably had the most impact on any Degrassi class.
Later Seen: J.T. Yorke, Degrassi: The Next Generation, Season 5
Class clown J.T. got girlfriend and general good-girl Liberty pregnant, and began to steal painkillers from the pharmacy he worked for in order to pay for their future baby. Of course, things did not go as planned, and Liberty furiously dumped J.T. for being a complete idiot. He headed over to the ravine (where half of all terrible things on Degrassi occur) and took a fistful of painkillers in a suicide attempt. He survived his attempt and got healthy... you know, until he was murdered by a gang member from Lakehurt, which was somehow totally separate from his venture into the world of drug dealing.
Best Portrayal: Claude
This episode brought serious issues out into the open, and it didn't leave the audience with any easy answers -- important when dealing with this heavy of a topic. The storyline widened its perspective to show how several characters, both directly and indirectly affected by the suicide, dealt with the situation, and the entire storyline rang emotionally true.

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