Over the course of a few seasons, Glee has gone from a fun teen show with music to a jukebox show with plots and characters that make little to no sense. And while the long-running Degrassi franchise has hit some tough patches of its own over the years, they've managed to stick through it all (even adding occasional music), successfully entertaining and educating several generations teens since the mid-'80s. If Glee wants to last anywhere near that long (and God help us if it does), there's plenty that it could learn from our favorite neighbors to the north:
Know When to Get Rid of the Grown Ups
Watching Mr. Schue sing Rolling Stones songs with the teenage boys recently was more than a little bit creepy, and Sue Sylvester's schtick has worn thin. While Degrassi's latest incarnation initially started out with a big focus on now adult alums like Snake, Spike and Joey Jeremiah, they realized that a high school show should be about the teen drama -- no one (except those who had watched the original Degrassi Junior High) was really invested in the adults getting married, fighting or anything like that, and there are plenty of other shows that cover that same ground.
Give the Guy in a Wheelchair Some Swagger
Artie rapping on Glee is laughable. At best. Yet when Jimmy, Degrassi's wheelchair-bound character, performed his music, it seemed genuine (doesn't hurt that he was played by now hip hop superstar Drake). Also, instead of just having Santa bring him magical legs, they had some serious discussions about the pros and cons of a therapy that might help Jimmy walk again. You know, real stuff that people might be able to relate to.
Rotate in New Characters Early
While Glee is in panic mode about what to do now that key characters are graduating from high school, Degrassi learned a long time ago how to establish new students without the awkwardness of making any of them a leprechaun. Every two years, a group graduates and another group starts their freshman year, while the juniors take center stage. And by then those whiny little freshman that we didn't take an immediate liking to have grown into teens we care about. So while some may move on, there are others waiting in the wings to keep us sated.
What Happens in College, Stays in College
Degrassi has also tried to follow kids post-grad, and it never worked out that well. We only wanted to know what Marco and Ellie were doing, and cared less and less about the students still at Degrassi. They finally figured out the rotating system and now only allow the alums to come back for occasional visits and cameos. Much better that way. And since Glee is about a high school Glee club, watching Finn sling burgers at the mall next season isn't appealing.
Hire Kids Who Look Like Kids
The reason that the Degrassi High students are so relatable is because they are actually kids, not grown men who are barely younger than the guy playing their teacher. Degrassi hires young actors who actually have acne and braces, instead of finding pretty people and making them ugly. The Glee Project could be an opportunity for this kind of realistic casting instead its current role as a recruitment vehicle for insanely annoying bit players.
Keep Storylines Consistent With the Characters
One of the biggest problems we have with Glee is the way that it bounces around from plotline to plotline, constantly forgetting past stories. It keeps finding bizarre obstacles to stick in front of the characters and then changes them as the mood suits, making it seem like everyone one the show has multiple personality disorder. Degrassi tackles topical issues, but they all seem relevant to the characters involved.
Go There... in a Realistic Way
The issues on Glee are often contrived to fit the musical genre of the week, and it shows. On Degrassi, they've tackled coming out, school shootings, eating disorders, cutting, teen suicide and so many other topics. If Glee wants to have a chance at staying relevant once they are done swiping songs from the Top 40 charts, they need to create some emotional resonance with characters besides just Santana and, sometimes, Kurt.
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