White Wedding

11:04 AM Posted In , , , , Edit This 0 Comments »
I’ve talked about Degrassi way, way too much in here lately, but I will say that I’ve been rewatching the earlier seasons of the new series (you could call it V1.0 of The Next Generation, we’re now in V2.0) and have been working on a drinking game to accompany my original series drinking game. If you google ‘Degrassi Drinking Game’ the majority, if not all drinking games, are dedicated to the new series. I haven’t looked at any of them in eons (last time was when I was trying to find an original series game), so my list is as original as I can be based on my own observations. I plan to update this list in future posts as I continue to spot patterns on the show.

So my friends, take a sip, or a shot, every time:

- There’s a confrontation in the bathroom (a bizarre replacement for ‘confrontation in the stairwell’ of the original series)
- Characters talk about one another using their full first and last names
- Emma protests something
- Kid Elrick is mentioned
- A teacher is totally incompetent at catching a misbehaving student
- An original series cast member makes a guest appearance (this excludes regular cast members like Snake, Mr. Raditch, and Joey, but includes Emma’s mom Spike / Christine when not credited as a regular)
- Paige says ‘hun’
- Somebody gets stuffed into or slammed against a locker
- Downtown Sasquatch or Studz plays
- Whenever someone brings up Heather Sinclair
- Sean talks about being poor
- Anytime there is a reference to Bollywood
- Someone brings up how something didn't happen on school property
- A dance is held
- Someone makes a joke about how slutty / skanky Manny is
- Emma talks about the environment
- A Degrassi couple breaks up
- Paige & Spinner call each other Honey Bee
- Spinner gets a new hairstyle
- Anytime Marco or someone else talks about Marco being gay
- Terri has a storyline or scene regarding her weight
- A new character with speaking lines shows up
- Ellie does something related to journalism
- Jimmy develops a new talent
- Holly J has a clipboard in her hands

In other news, my other random summer fixation is a pretty terrible one. I’ve become addicted to TLC’s “Say Yes To The Dress”. Although I find the show mostly horrifying – capped off most recently by a Jersey bride buying a HIDEOUS $27,000 dress – it does make me want to go wedding dress shopping. Just not at New York’s Kleinfeld’s.

I tend to like the Atlanta incarnation a little better. Although the two main stars of the show, Monte and Laurie (?), keep on using the same phrases, primarily “Jack Her Up” (to describe when they throw on a veil and some gems to give people a glimpse of the bride to be), I generally find the people that work at Laurie’s place a little more relatable. Also the prices are far more reasonable – most of the people come in with budgets of $1000 to $2000, while only a handful have spent closer to $5000, and nothing over that (again, unlike some of the horrifying episodes I’ve watched of the original series).

This isn’t the place to get into it, but I’m pretty ambivalent about the wedding hoopla that exists out there these days. I feel like its become such an ‘industry’ and that you only do all these crazy things because there’s this expectation that it’s ‘what’s done’. I went from wanting to be a wedding planner as a kid to recoiling at the thought of being a bridesmaid at least 2 or 3 more times in my life. Other than shopping for a pretty dress, getting married to my boyfriend, and having some hot damn photos, I’m not really excited about the whole wedding thing. I’ll admit though, of all the wedding concepts TLC has tried to float over the last decade (remember that terrible “do your wedding on $5,000! And your friends will plan it for you!” one?), Say Yes To The Dress is the only one that makes me the tiniest bit excited, if simultaneously repulsed. At least their staff is probably paid pretty damn well.

- Britt’s On

Degrassi Talks

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The title of this post is a reference to the supreme cheese documentary segments the original Degrassi series ran in the 80s, featuring Caitlin Ryan (Stacey Mistysyn) singing the theme song. "Degrassi taaaaalks!". Anyway it's summertime, so there isn't much to talk about. Summer movies are balls this year (I've written about the only two worth seeing - Toy Story 3 & Inception), and the only other good shows worth talking about - Mad Men and Friday Night Lights - were covered in my last post.

But really, I have to give kudos to Degrassi for the best week to date of this summer's jam-packed soap opera style scheduling (and oh god do I wish the show were always on four times a week). Or perhaps, just the two best episodes to date. The nice thing about the series this season is they aren't just giving a storyline two episodes and letting the after-effects sort of flutter along. Instead, they're allowing a story to percolate across several episodes, and you get the sense that things aren't really over when the show indicates they might be.

For example, Fiona's abuse storyline earlier this season led into her trying to buy Holly J's friendship which led to Holly J not liking Declan trying to buy her affections which led to Holly J and Sav's illicit affair which was played out to nice effect in last night's episode. And oh yeah, Fiona's abuse storyline is still going to come back later this season. Noice!

I have to say though, I'm pretty impressed at how they've handled this transgender storyline that was the big to-do about the summer series. For the first few weeks when Adam was on screen, they didn't really explain his situation, although I was well aware of it from the online promos / blogs I've read. It helps that the actress that plays the character is named Jordan. I asked my boyfriend if he would have realized if Adam was a girl had I not told him and he said it was pretty close.

Anyway here's the thing. I'm not part of the LGBT community, so I'm sure there will be some dissenters out there who will complain about Degrassi's oversimplification of the issues at hand or not like the treatment of the storyline in one way or another, but to be perfectly honest, I think the show did a fantastic job of enlightening me about the struggles of transgender people, especially young ones.

I never realized how complicated the whole situation was - that you are mentally one gender but born into the opposite body. Adam's mom's struggle to accept that her daughter was long gone, the whole-hearted acceptance from his jock strap brother, changing his identity to appear as a girl to make his grandma and classmates more comfortable, using the special needs bathroom, the self-mutilation that occurred when Adam tried on his Gracie identity again - just everything made me go Wow. That is seriously tough. I sympathized with everyone involved, but also respected the way the actress played the role as someone who managed to be both 100% confident and comfortable with themselves, but also 100% aware of how many people weren't. I fully believed in Jordon Todosey's performance, especially during the scenes when Adam looked fully uncomfortable dressed up in girls clothing. I believed in and understood Adam over Gracie, and that is pretty impressive for a half-hours serial to do.

I hope this relatively groundbreaking plotline is embraced by the LGBT community out there, and I hope Degrassi doesn't drop the ball on this in future episodes. Kudos to them for tackling an entirely new, complex situation with such grace, empathy, and honesty.

Other quick points: Anya finally getting a non-Sav storyline was a refreshing change of pace. The scene when she finally cracked down after Holly J's not-so-big confession felt very honest and one of the actress' best moments on the show to date.

Also, Eli has quickly become one of my fave characters on the show. There is something entrancing about the actor that plays him (he's not nearly as creepy as the previews for the season made him out to be, but there is something enigmatic about his performance) and I look forward to every season with him. Double kudos for the vast improvements to Clare's character this season. I've always liked the actress that plays her, and now she's finally got a developing personality of her own. The natural chemistry between her and Eli has been a highlight this season, and their involvement with Adam this season has been fantastic. Love!

- Britt's On

The Best Damn Thing

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It's funny that two of the best shows on television right now air in the summer, at least on network television for one of them (some might argue True Blood also stands strong as another summer entry, although Emmy voters may disagree). I'm talking about two programs that are inherently, dramatically different, yet find ties in their collective strengths.

The first just ended over the weekend, DirecTV's / NBC's brilliant Friday Night Lights. To be fair, the show is the more flawed of the two, often sacrificing realism for my most hated plot technique, 'slate wiping', but it's still one of the best things on the small screen these days. I honestly don't get why it doesn't have more of a following, particularly in the US of A - it's a show about football with plenty of hot dudes and dudettes to drool over! Regardless, FNL remains one of my most-looked-forward to programs on a weekly basis, and this last season still delivered with another tally in the 'W' column.

The other show is the much more publicly lauded Mad Men, which airs on AMC in the summertime and fall. Set in the 1960s world of advertising, the show plays out like a film, sometimes at an oppressively tedious and dense pace, although it still manages to provide plenty of watercooler chat every Monday. I've found the people that are the most fervent supporters of the show are the ones that watched early on - I caught up with Season 1 in a very short period of time so I could start watching Season 2 immediately. I've noticed many of the people who joined up for Season 3 (or afterwards, due to the hysteria around it) are less enthusiastic about Matthew Weiner's attention to minutiae, and how the show is really about more than just some pretty faces acting out dramatic scenes.

There are flaws to both shows to be sure, but they are ultimately two of the best written, best paced shows on television (I only wish they had a few more episodes each per season). But what does a show about present-day small town Americana have to do with a show that is diligently obsessed with 1960s culture set in the Big Apple? Plenty:

Ensemble Casting - this is a 21st century trend, to be sure. Over the last decade we've seen a plethora of shows flourish with the stream of thought that there is safety in numbers, a big turnaround from the earlier decades where stars named shows after themselves (translation: if a show aired called The Mel Gibon Hour, you probably wouldn't watch it). A few of the more famous examples include Degrassi: The Next Generation (a format they piloted in the 80s), Gilmore Girls, and Lost, and the failed drama FlashForward that was cited as 'too broad' of an ensemble. Both FNL & MM have thoroughly embraced the ensemble cast, or in the case of Gilmore Girls, the 'community' cast wonderfully.

On FNL, we have a core couple - Coach Taylor and his wife Tami Taylor - played with brilliance by Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, both finally earning Emmy nods this year. From there the tendrils spiral outwards: football players on Coach Taylor's multiple teams and their families and their girlfriends and their friends, members of the cheerleading squad, pushy booster club members, school administrators, and even the city's mayor are all part of the narrative here, even if they don't all have major storylines. The show does an excellent job at providing you with a familiar cast of faces that populate the town of Dillon beyond a core cast, and make it seem more wholly realized (something Gilmore Girls 'Stars Hollow' did perfectly).

On Mad Men, we have the natural office setting for a range of core, mid-level, and fringe characters. Although Bert Cooper (one of the founders of the show's agency) has never had a standalone storyline, the show wouldn't make sense without him. Beyond the office we also get glimpses into the personal lives of the office workers (and even further beyond that through the eyes of leading female Betty Draper's relationships with friends, family, and various men). Matthew Weiner is smart though, as the majority of his storylines outside of the office still tie into what's going on in the office: Don Draper's constructed lifestyle is enabled by the very fact he is in advertising. Weiner demands you remember characters that may have only appeared once in the last few seasons when they randomly pop up again years later (as Anna, Don's pseudo-wife / sister did in this last episode).

Either way, both shows are fantastic at creating a pyramid of characters that don't hog the spotlight - they each get their times to shine while quietly developing their major moments with small moments episode to episode. FNL this past season struggled a little with letting their increasingly diverse cast have equal playing time, but overall I still felt a connection with the new characters while satisfied with the resolution of the old ones.

Moving Forward, Moving On - Another major hallmark of both of these series is their ability to let characters move on with their lives (and leave the narrow nexus of the show's focus).

Friday Night Lights stumbled with this a bit by having some of their early regulars stick around a year or two past when they should have presumably graduated high school, but for the most part, when you leave Dillon, they give you a nice swan song and goodbye. It's very much like real life - there are reasons why someone might come back to their small hometown, just as there are reasons we might not have seen the last of Smash, Jason, Lyla, Julie, Tyra, Matt, Tim, and Landry (the original cast of teens that have since moved on). Although the show strained against letting go of its stars early on, I give it kudos for working hard this transitional year to introduce new faces while saying a long goodbye to old favourites.

Mad Men is perhaps a more jarring version of this rarely seen phenomenon. When Sterling Cooper dissolved itself into Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, a slew of beloved second-tier characters were caught in the crossfires. Smug accounts man Kenny Cosgrove, second-rate creative guy Paul Kinsey, and closeted graphic designer Sal (among a few even more minor characters) were on the chopping block. In some ways, it's been a creative coup for Weiner - instead of chipping away and stringing out Sal's homosexuality, he was able to write him off the show with ease and relative legitimacy, while still providing a bookend to his primary storyline. Rather than ride out the tensions between an increasingly bitter Pete and chockful of goodness Kenny, the writers sagely let Pete prevail...for a day or two anyway.

Going back to my earlier point about Mad Men's community cast, some might argue it has a smaller cast of leads than FNL, and I would agree to a certain point - at the end of the day Don Draper takes way more prevalence over anyone else (unlike Coach Taylor, who is always present, but doesn't always have a lot to do). Weiner will let his regulars lapse (see: Joan in Season 3, who, as expected of her, quit her job when she got married only to find she really actually needed the money and disappeared for about half the season) for episodes at a time, because the real true focus is Don, and to a degree Betty, but even she can disappear, as she has so far in this season. The amount we see a character largely has to do with their orbit around Don Draper.

I could go on and on about the strengths and similarities between these two seemingly different shows - great casting, fantastic writing, authenticity - but at the end of the day, the two reasons above are what makes each show really special. They are willing to break the television rules - and while I doubt we'll ever see Don Draper leave and the show continue on (ahem, The Office), or that Tim Riggins will be a non-entity on next year's FNL, I don't doubt the creators will continue to entertain us by making surprising, sometimes hard choices and deftly deleting people from the lives of our stars...just like in real life.

Orbiting around,

- Britt's On

The Non-Darkness of Degrassi

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I know I’ve talked about it a few times on here already, but I am an admitted Degrassi fan. I watched the original series after school in the 90s (during its first set of reruns) on CBC, and was eager for the reboot at the turn of the Millennium. I lost touch with the show around season 6, but after a chance viewing of ‘Degrassi Goes Hollywood’ last summer I scooped up all of the original and new series, and caught up with TNG just in time for Season 9.

Some people have complained the show isn’t as fresh as it used to be, but I’ve enjoyed the majority of the new characters and felt like they have broached some new topics, while taking different approaches on others they may have tackled in the past. This summer’s daily dose of Degrassi has been a welcome treat as I sit down for a bite-sized portion of Canadian teenage drama, and I like the gradual introduction of the new characters, who so far have only played second fiddle to our (also relatively new) main stars.

In the last week in particular we’ve been introduced to a new villain in town, Drew Torres, a transfer student that came to Degrassi with hopes of snagging the QB1 spot on their supposedly awesome team (the fact they are the Degrassi Panthers cast an ironic light on the lack of football or its importance on the show in comparison to the Dillon Panthers on Friday Night Lights).

In his first week, Drew blackmailed his fellow teammate with a secret about his sexuality in order to (more or less) take over as QB1. He also established himself as the school’s new resident eye candy as various extras fawned over him, and supremely shallow sophomore Alli threw herself at him with a game of strip ‘Would You Rather?’, and was rewarded with a post-school booty call.

I kind of hope Degrassi will keep Drew a villain. Because here’s the thing. Every character EVER on the show that has been introduced as a villain, or even a slightly offbeat dark house, eventually evolves to become a downright likable, interesting, ‘lite’ version of their badass former selves. In fact the show is more successful when it lets its straight edge kiddies dip into the dark side (Sean, Ashley, Spinner, Craig) versus having someone come onto the scene, guns-a-blazin (not literally) and stay that way.

My one quasi-exception to this phenomenon is Ellie Nash, introduced early on as the punky alternative playmate for outcast former prepster Ashley Kerwin. Although Ashley’s edginess lost its teeth, Ellie always remained slightly offbeat (albeit with better hair and less Hot Topic accessories) and dark in the social schema that was Degrassi. Although...much like Jane of the second next generation, she got a bit of a glamover / personality upgrade by the end of her time on the show. As for everyone else? Let’s review.

Jay Hogart was sort of the proto-Degrassi villain. He led a band of misfits that appropriately looked too old to be in high school (they always do!), got into fights, bullied people, stole things, and coerced our cleaner, greener students to behave badly. He also spread an STD throughout the school, in a truly inspired villainous move. The show let Jay have his moments of redemption – the odd one-liner, his acceptance of Alex’s sexuality – while also continually using him as the fallback bad boy totem whenever they wanted a character to do something ‘wrong’ with an enabler by their side.

Then came Manny in Season 7. By this point Manny was one of the alpha females, which automatically meant her relationship would get a lot of airtime. To my surprise and delight, they paired Jay and Manny together in an unlikely sham of a relationship that blossomed into something genuinely sweet. In fact by the time I got to ‘Degrassi Goes Hollywood’ when Jay and Manny finally got their sh*t together, I was desperate to find out what had made Jay become the ultimate ragamuffin with a heart of gold, and their storyline over seasons 7 and 8 was one of my favourites. After that, Jay’s appearances were mainly to facilitate the Jay and Manny show, and to give Spinner someone to talk to.

And thus, Jay Hogart the villain was more or less destroyed. To the show’s credit, they’ve never let Jay do a complete turnaround (as per Spinner’s brief stint as a Christian born again virgin), as per one of the main reasons for his split with his major split with Manny had to do with theft, but his persona certainly softened from ‘ravine guy that gives out STDs’ to ‘Manny’s true love’.

While we’re talking about Jay, one of his top cronies, the female Jay and his early-on h-core girlfriend, Alex, also got the soft and sweet treatment. This was developed through her seemingly random but partially honest lady friend relationship with alpha girl Paige, but also in the episode where former bully Alex was bullied by younger kids when she came back to Degrassi to upgrade her marks for college. Suddenly we had the bully getting pelted with carrot sticks, and we were meant to felt bad for her. Again, to the show’s credit, Alex always maintained her tough girl streak, but she was also a big melodramatic softie when it came to Paige.

So those are the original ‘bad kids’, and how they evolved. Their second ‘next’ generation counterparts were kids from the merger between Degrassi and some other randomly named high school that possibly involved the words east, side, woods, or river. When Johnny DiMarco and his buddy Bruce were introduced, they were sort of Jay and co 2.0, in fact there is a great, misleading promo of Johnny doing a voiceover about taking over Degrassi. Well, that didn’t happen. Johnny wasn’t ever quite the enabler that Jay was (perhaps too easy for the show), and his conflicts with others were mostly reserved to menacing glares and snide comments. His most compelling, realistic storyline was his relationship with Alli and what it meant for his hard-edged persona. Unlike Jay, he never quite opened up and showed his inner muffin to the world (or did, and broke up with his girlfriend when it happened), but the fact his biggest storylines were about dating should tell you how much of a non-badass he was. Bruce in comparison was there for comic muscle relief.

Technically speaking, Jane was originally introduced to fill the gaping void Ellie and h-core Alex had left (although she was never mean). If you watch Season 7 when she is first introduced, it’s stunning how transformed she became as the seasons went on. Gone are the ugly dreads, boy-ish clothing (now reserved for transgender characters like Adam), and off-putting makeup. In its place we gifted with the alternative to the popular alpha girl, a bright, strong female character – although one whose controversy often stemmed from her facing her weaknesses over having some sort of badass reputation. Jane was one of my fave newer characters though, so I won’t complain too much.

Now, in comparison to the above, the prototype for Drew is pretty different. We’re talking preppy jock a-hole. The closest comparison we’ve got can be found in the charmingly awkward Peter, who appeared around season 6 in a memorable episode where he convinced Manny to strip for a video that was then broadcast on the internet. During that season Peter was persona non grata, causing him and Emma to have a clandestine relationship. Peter to me is one of the most interesting characters on the show because he has filled so many random roles. It’s like the writers never really knew what to do with him, and thus Peter had many an identity (and girlfriend) crisis. He was more of an example of a socially awkward menace that burned a few bridges over an actual villain. Drew in comparison to Peter has given us someone who is much more confident in following through with his arrogance, although he hasn’t exactly made any friends yet that will help him overcome the awkward social situations to come once his initial antagonism phase is over.

There are other people I could mention here. For the girls, think about Ashley Kerwin, the original mean girl, was taken down many a peg by the end of Season 1 and was given a slightly whiny but mostly sympathetic character during the rest of her tenure. Ditto to Paige, whose early rape storyline made it hard to ever see her as much as a villain as the show sometimes liked to paint her as. Even Holly J, who started out as a brownnosing snot but has become one of the show’s most dynamic characters has revealed a heart of gold under that ambitious shell.

For the guys, obviously there is Rick, he of the school shooting. Rick wasn’t introduced as a villain however, and it was mostly (aside from his accidental abuse of Terri) through his final act that he has been remembered as one, but even then, moreso as a troubled, bullied student. Declan was somewhat of a cocky villain (in the same vein as Drew) when he was first introduced last season, however these days he sits around pining for Holly J and avoiding twincest. Derek, the curly-headed pal of Danny’s in the middle years of the series, was sort of a jerk through and through, but not exactly a villain.

I get that Degrassi is trying to show multiple sides to each character, and I appreciate that they don’t let the kids who have a badass introduction completely transform to become one of the ‘good’ kids (although Jane is a notable exception here, based on how she was portrayed at first). Holly J and Paige still have their mean streaks, Jay was still an enabler to his last days as a regular on the series, and Peter was still ruining friendships last year…but ultimately every person that is introduced on the show as a villain softens once their initial antagonistic plot point is resolved. I wouldn’t mind seeing Drew go on a testosterone-fuelled rampage of antics on the football team and with the ladies, although I suspect his relationship with ‘Adam Torres’ (the transgender character I can only presume is Drew’s sibling) will give him his entry into the softer, sweeter side of Degrassi.

Finally for the record, Degrassi is by far not the only show where this phenomenon occurs. As one of TV's longest running youth-oriented programs, it just happens to be the most obvious one. Think of Luke, the hyper-aggressive Drew-esque villain of Season 1 on the OC, and how he became almost comically sad by the end of that season when his dad turned out to be gay and he sat around trying to strum a guitar backstage at a Rooney concert. Or for that matter, one of TV's most realistic shows, Friday Night Lights, where Tim Riggins has been continually toed the line between saintly and sad, a far cry from his Season 1 womanizing and extreme boozing antics. It's natural for a show to want to make their characters sympathetic, and taking them out of their villainous comfort zones seems to be the only way they can think to do it. I guess there are two sides to every archetype.

Ah well,

Britt’s On

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