After its triumphant debut on Netflix earlier this year, Degrassi: Next Class is back with not only a landmark for the franchise, but also one of its most topical ‘it goes there’ moments yet.
It’s no secret that Degrassi is taking on Black Lives Matter this season, although it was somewhat drowned out by the buzz around the reunion episode. Don’t worry, we’ll talk about that in a bit. Much like how social media and feminism dominated the first season, racism and Black Lives Matter take up a large chunk of the main plot in the second.
There’s a danger in taking on such a hot button issue. It’s one thing to tackle snapchat nudes, it’s another to deal with anything related to race. Degrassi has had a somewhat spotty history when it comes to dealing with race, especially when it hasn’t always been the most inclusive. Let us never forget how Hazel pretty much did nothing her entire run on the show. Sure, Degrassi is more inclusive then most shows on TV, but it has tended to favor white characters in a lot of cases.
Thankfully, Degrassi succeeds in its look at Black Lives Matter. This is accomplished through not just Shay and Tiny, who thankfully both have more focus this season, but also Frankie. While some may balk at giving a white character so much focus in a race related storyline, it works surprisingly well. You get to see Frankie discover her own inherent racism, which you know a large segment of the audience could use.
Shay herself is given a lot to tackle and doesn’t fade into the background like she did last season. This girl is front and center and kills it.
Activism is heavily featured, with some surprise characters getting in on the action and some wanting to sit out. Much like some of Degrassi’s best entries, it provides a lot of good discussion points for the audience without giving them easy answers. Racism isn’t cured by the end of the season, but the characters do gain a slightly better understanding of it. The only weakness in this plot is that certain characters like Goldi are present for quite a few of the major events of this storyline but don’t get to participate in a major way.
As is always the case with Degrassi, we’ve got some subplots; most of them dealing with the fallout of Hunter bringing a gun to the dance at the end of season one. Spencer MacPherson knocks it out of the park this season and delivers one of the greatest performances in the history of the Degrassi franchise. His portrayal of Hunter struggling with a serious mental health issue is seen in every moment with Yael. He wants his friend back so badly but he doesn’t know how to control himself properly. It’s heartbreaking to watch in that juicy Degrassi drama kind of way.
And hey, shout out to Jamie Bloch who plays Yael. Out of the five new characters introduced last season, she’s being given the most character development and thankfully it isn’t all totally related to liking Hunter! Good job, Degrassi writers. Now just confirm on screen the character is Jewish and we’ll be talking.
As much as Hunter and Yael are huge standouts for this season, I’ve got to giving the crowning award for best character to Lola. I’ve been a big fan of her since she was a background character and I’m glad the writers finally gave her the spotlight she deserves. This actress is a comedic force of nature.
I hope Amanda Arcuri has a long career in comedy after Degrassi because boy, she dominates. Even in the more serious moments dealing with Black Lives Matter, she’s able to bring a light touch that defuses what could be depressingly bleak. I could honestly go on just quoting all her flawless lines, but I’ll save that for the spoiler filled review.
As has become the norm, sexuality is touched on this season but they frustratingly refuse to use the word bisexual once again. Come on, Degrassi. You’re better than that. Do the writers honestly not know the word? Can they not say it on Canadian TV? This has been a problem not just with Degrassi but many other mainstream dramas, including Orange is the New Black.
There’s a ton of other plots and pretty much everyone gets a small time to shine, even if it’s in a supporting role. With the decreased episode count since the move to Netflix, just managing this is a major victory.
And finally, the reunion. Honestly, every site reporting this is blowing it way out of proportion. It isn’t the ‘reunion of your dreams’. I get that they want to seize on the marketing opportunity, but the reunion isn’t much to write home about. It’s fun and you get to see brief glimpses of some past characters, but that’s all they really are. Glimpses. Most of them are at best extended cameos. Weirdly, the one who gets the most focus is Peter who makes multiple appearances throughout the season.
One can hope the main plot will hook returning fans back into the franchise, but if you’re just coming to see Paige, Spinner, Craig, and Marco again? You’ll be let down. I do appreciate they didn’t stop the main plot of Next Class to feature these returning characters, but you wish they’d been given an extra episode to make better use of them.
Also, for an episode that’s celebrating five hundred episodes of the Degrassi franchise, you think we could have seen the return of a Degrassi Junior High or Degrassi High character alongside Snake. I understand Degrassi: TNG is the longest entry in the franchise, but where’s the love for the original series? Can we find out if LD ever finally died from cancer? What about Michelle? BLT? Simon and Alexa? Lucy?! Seriously, how is Lucy not a major recurring character in this franchise?
While season two is mostly solid, it does lack a huge element that helped the first season be such a success. The various plots aren’t tied together enough. In season one, everything came together in the final episode with the dance. All the built up tension was paid off brilliantly. Here, the individual plots stand well enough on their own, but they don’t culminate to anything major.
Despite this, Degrassi: Next Class season two is still a strong entry in the franchise. The stand out performances from Hunter, Yael, Shay, and especially Lola make for a fun watch that also makes you think about some of the big social movements that are going on in the world right now.
And oh yeah, they do mention the Spinner/Emma marriage. Are they still together? Did they finally right this perplexing decision? You’ll have to watch to find out.
Degrassi: Next Class Season 2 premieres Friday, July 22nd on Netflix.
Need to catch up on season one? No problem, Snake can help with that.
Real talk though, what happened to Ms. Badger? We need more puns! Follow him on Twitter!