Toronto Star -- SU2
ENTERTAINMENT Sunday, November 5, 1989 C1
Degrassi High could give lessons
By Antonia Zerbisias Toronto Star
SUBJECT: television review
The next few nights will be rich in TV shows for the entire family.
Pray For Me Paul Henderson, a movie about bright and competitive teenagers, airs tomorrow night on CBC's Family Hour.
A new version of Great Expectations comes to pay TV's Family Channel tomorow night.
And Degrassi High, the series sequel about Canada's favorite and award-winning kids, premieres on CBC Monday night.
The Star's TV critics review all three in this issue.
Pity today's teens.
It's bad enough their faces are erupting, their hormones are raging, and quadratic equations are still on the curriculum.
It's even worse they must contend with social and sexual pressures we older folks only think we understand.
But it's downright criminal they get little solace from their long-time friend, companion, and surrogate parent - television.
In TV teenland, kids always say the funniest things. Their hair does exactly what they want it to. And they never have to wear the same outfit twice.
And if they cheat on exams, dabble in drugs, think they're pregnant, or get into any kind of trouble, there's always always a laugh track to reassure viewers that a happy ending is coming up after the third commercial break.
So, let us be grateful for Degrassi High, which debuts tomorrow night on CBC Channels 3, 5 and 12 at 8.30.
The Kids Of Degrassi Street have graduated from Degrassi Junior High into the adolescent big time, grades 9 and 10. And though the legions of Degrassi devotees may find it hard to believe, there are still hours of untapped teen issues to be mined.
So far, we've seen Spike (Amanda Stepto) grapple with unwed motherhood, Caitlin (Gemini-nominee Stacie Mistysyn) deal with latent homosexuality, Lucy (Anais Granofsky) fend off the unwanted sexual attentions of a teacher and Kathleen (Rebecca Haines) cope with her alcoholic mother.
Whatever else can there be?
Plenty, it seems: date rape, drugs, parental divorce. You name it, if Degrassi Junior High didn't tackle it, then Degrassi High will.
On the first day, in a special one-hour opener, we not only get freshman jitters, we also get - hang on to your hair crimpers, kids - abortion.
It's a gutsy show, particularly in the light of the current political and emotional climate. But scriptwriter Yan Moore and director Kit Hood don't back down.
Degrassi High tells it exactly as it is in schools across the country.
Erica (Angela Deiseach) spent a great summer at camp where she had her first real romance. She used a condom "mostly." And, on the first morning of high school, instead of being worried sick about what to wear, she's just worried - and sick.
Now, if this were a U.S. network prime-time show, the whole thing would turn out to be a hilarious mix-up. We'd have lots of eye-rolling, sophomoric one-liners about burgeoning bellies and then ooops! Turns out the smart alec kid brother merely murdered the bunny for a school science project.
Or something equally sensitive and intelligent.
But that's not how Toronto's Playing For Time production company plays its show.
Which is why Degrassi Junior High has won dozens of awards here and abroad for its performers, production, scripting and contribution to the enrichment of a largely intellectually bankrupt medium. Degrassi is seen in 40 countries, including on the American PBS network.
No, the treatment of Erica's pregnancy is to American situation comedy capers as Karl Marx is to Harpo Marx. It's so real the producers even knew to hide the home pregnancy kit under the bed.
Every point of view is explored, from unwavering Pro-Life to steadfast Pro-Choice. But the arguments are not presented in a now-it's-your-turn, now- it's-my-turn contrived dialogue but naturally, as part of the drama.
Two scenes involving Pro-Life demonstrators are upsetting. So much so that PBS has cut the second one out. It's the final sequence in the show.
And while the cut made by PBS doesn't really change the story, it affects the tone, and perhaps even the balance, of the program. In protest, Hood has removed his director's credit from the show.
CBC, which is bravely airing the episode intact, might well suffer the slings and arrows of angry mail. And so it should. If programming isn't provocative, then it's mind-numbingly dull. Look what fear of viewer and advertiser boycotts did for the new U.S. season's offerings - shows so bland you can sink your gums into them. Degrassi High always gives viewers something to chew on.
color photo (Janet Webb): Pat Mastroianni and Lynda Speciale in scene from Degrassi High
Copyright © 1989 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.
DOC. #: 891105TS75922