In addition to my review of Degrassi: The Next Generation: Season One which was posted today, I also got a chance to look at a couple of episodes from Funimation’s Degrassi: The Next Generation: Season Two set, released on June 21.
One of the great things about Degrassi: The Next Generation’s large cast is that it allows for characters to come and go without critically affecting the overall appeal of the show. With the first season a moderate success in Canada, show creators Linda Schuyler and Yan Moore deftly merged Degrassi Community School with a neighboring high school to keep all their old characters and introduce a slew of new ones, including Joey’s emotionally troubled stepson Craig (Jake Epstein), alternative student Ellie (Stacey Farber) and Marco (Adamo Ruggiero), a teen struggling with his sexuality.
This set presents all 21 episodes of the second season, of which I was sent precisely two:
* Don’t Believe the Hype 8/10
Just before International Day at the school, Hazel (Andrea Lewis) is teasing Fareeza, a Muslim student about her headdress. While Paige (Lauren Collins) prepares her presentation on her Ukrainian heritage, she wonders why Hazel never invites her over to her house, and why she’s not interested in International Day. At the last minute, Hazel throws together a presentation on Jamaica, but the event itself is a disaster—someone has defaced Fareeza’s display on Iraq, calling her a terrorist. Based on her former comments, Hazel is called into the office, where she reveals that she’s not Jamaican at all—she’s from Somalia, and like Fareeza, a Muslim. This nicely-scripted episode is timely and deliberate, and it works quite well. There are lots of teen shows that deal with racism, but few look beyond the simple fact that it is wrong. That the show exposes Hazel’s shame at her own heritage as a source of her insults makes “Don’t Believe the Hype” stand out from its peers.
* How Soon Is Now? 7/10
In the first season, Paige (Lauren Collins) was one of the characters who wasn’t really explored very much. She was a cheerleader, a manipulator, and a poor friend to Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) and Terri (Christina Schmidt), but on meeting Degrassi's rival star basketball player Dean earlier in the second season, she got her own personal issue to deal with—she was raped. This episode takes place six months after the fact, when Paige learns that Dean and his team are coming to Degrassj for a game. Ditching her cheerleading duties, Paige reveals to J.T., Spinner and Jimmy what happened, and all three go after Dean. Whereas “Don’t Believe the Hype” offered a slightly different spin on that teen show touchstone, racism, “How Soon Is Now?” is straight-up melodrama played exactly as you might expect. There is a much better subplot that has Ellie pretending to be Marco’s boyfriend while he discovers his sexuality, but it’s overshadowed by the theatrics of Paige’s life.
Quality is pretty much the same as the first set of Degrassi: The Next Generation, both with sound and video. There are better episodes in this season than the two I received, but regardless, I have no doubt that fans of the show are definitely going to want to pick this release up along with Season One.