Seven things you missed at Comicon’s Degrassi cast reunion
This past weekend, five original cast members from Degrassi Junior High reunited at Toronto ComiCon. It was the first get-together in what’s being billed as a cross-country tour spearheaded by Pat Mastroianni, better known to Canadians of a certain age as silver-tongued, fedora-topped rapscallion and Zit Remedy frontman Joey Jeremiah. Joining him onstage were Stefan Brogren (bandmate Archibald “Snake” Simpson, who still stars on the current incarnation), Dan Woods (no-nonsense teacher and principal Mr. Raditch), Kirsten Bourne (boyfriend-stealing Tessa Campanelli) and Stacie Mistysyn (aloof heartbreaker Caitlin Ryan). Here, the most memorable moments and trivia tidbits from the broomheads’ delight.
Nostalgia ain’t what it used to be
The cast was quick to shoot down the idea of a TV reunion, even though it’s actually happened a few times already: on the infamous 1999 Jonovision episode, and later in several episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation. Brogren, now a producer and director on Degrassi: Next Class, lamented the passing of Neil Hope. “It would be tough to do without Wheels,” he said. He added that if you mention “old Degrassi,” most kids think you are talking about the 2001-era Next Generation episodes with Drake or Shenae Grimes.
They started from the bottom
The actors discussed their disparate paths to getting on the show. Mastroianni recalled a casting announcement on his school’s P.A., which his classmate mocked because it came from the CBC. Before becoming Caitlin Ryan, Mistysyn had a role in the show’s precursor, Kids of Degrassi Street, as a background character called Amanda. And Bourne was already a huge Degrassi fan—she attended a cast autograph session at the Science Centre and was offered a role by producers on the spot.
The F-bomb heard around the world
The finale of Degrassi High—1992’s feature-length School’s Out!—has achieved mythical status over the last 25 years, largely thanks to Brogren’s use of the F-word: “Joey Jeremiah spends his summer dating Caitlin and fucking Tessa.” It was the first time anyone had dropped the F-bomb on Canadian-produced prime-time television. Nowadays, the episode seems memorable not for its profanity but for its grim conclusion, which featured death, drunk driving, an abortion and lives mostly in tatters. When Mistysyn hazily recalled dancing to Gowan with Mastroianni in another memorable scene from the episode, some diehards fans clarified it had actually been Harem Scarem.
Topics were always hot
When asked which topics the series covered most successfully, Brogren spoke about the way the series’ gay-centric stories have mirrored the seismic change in LGBTQ portrayals on television over the last 30 years. Back in 1988, it was pushing the envelope to have even one episode about Snake’s gay older brother, who was not a regular character on the show. Compare that to Degrassi: The Next Generation’s ongoing story about Marco (Adam Ruggiero) coming out over the course of several seasons, or Degrassi: Next Class, where there have been openly gay characters from the outset.
Art imitated life
Observant Degrassi writers kept close tabs on the actors and tried to incorporate events from their real lives into the show: the real-life divorce of Mistysyn’s parents inspired a storyline where Caitlin’s parents split up; Wheels’ adopted parents died after Neil Hope’s father passed away; and the classic episode where Joey, Snake and Wheels go for a joy ride in Snake’s parents car was based on an incident when Mastroianni took some of the actors for a drive in the production shuttle bus.
Actors on Degrassi: Next Class now show up with agents and dreams of fame, but back in the ’80s, it was much more bush-league. Brogren claimed the cast never thought the show would catch on, so they concentrated on having fun and trying not to think about business. Since Degrassi Junior High was a non-union show, hair and make-up was limited, and much of the show was shot on location as opposed to on a set. Ironically, these flaws are what made Degrassi Junior High resonate with its core constituency—it was acne-scarred TV vérité that looked nothing like the airbrushed world of American imports.
Preserving the Degrassi DNA
Just before a rousing (if inevitable) group sing-a-long to the Zit Remedy anthem “Everybody Wants Something,” Brogren said the series’ legacy is in good hands. On top of his involvement (and that of original Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler) in every new episode of Next Class, the current writers know every classic episode inside out and try to adhere to the series’ original DNA. A recent episode about a girl learning to use a vibrator brought back memories of Yick Yu and his wet dreams, for example. Before the panel ended, Dan Woods leaned into the microphone to give fans a final Mr. Raditch–style delivery: “Class dismissed!”