Just Like Old Times

The Drafthouse's 'Degrassi' marathon was almost as effed up as the show itself

Stefan Brogren (l) and Pat Mastroianni
Stefan Brogren (l) and Pat Mastroianni (Photo By John Anderson)

It's hour nine of the Degrassi Junior High marathon, and Snake and Joey have just been invited to a sex party. The funny thing is, this is reality: Snake (Stefan Brogren) and Joey (Pat Mastroianni) are smoking cigarettes outside of the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown, which they've renamed the Alamo Drunktank. Brogren refuses the invitation for the sake of his girlfriend. Mastroianni, in turn, quips, "Sorry, I've already been to three sex parties this week."

According to Brogren, this doesn't even compare to the weirder encounters he's had as a result of being on Degrassi, which aired on Canadian television from 1987 to 1992. The most bizarre is reenacted in a short film he's made called "Pizza Shop," which aired during a break between episodes. The actor and his girlfriend met a woman in a pizza shop who was crying hysterically because her boyfriend was planning on killing her. She said she didn't want to call the police because they were both on crack and holding. Then, through tears, she asked, "Are you Snake?" and proceeded to wax nostalgic about her favorite episodes, punctuating every other line with "He's going to fucking kill me!"

Yes, Degrassi has a weird effect on people. When I suggest that there's a strangely addictive quality to the show, Mastroianni says, "I think there's a rawness to it that people appreciate. It's the opposite of what Hollywood's done with 90210, The OC, Dawson's Creek. Not everybody drives a Porsche, not everyone can afford the best clothes. Sometimes simple is better." At the same time, Mastroianni concedes that Degrassi is "the epitome of melodrama." Brogren tries to think of a contemporary American show that pushed the same boundaries, but admits that he doesn't "think any other high school show has addressed issues in such a dark way." He points to the episode playing, in which the school bully, Dwayne, discovers he is HIV positive. "In 90210, it would never be Brandon that got AIDS, it would be his friend, who'd disappear after that episode, get sent to a farm or something."

While it's true that Degrassi was a groundbreaking show, using a pittance and 16-millimeter film to push envelopes that few contemporary shows pushed, there's no denying that its recent revival has something to do with the kitsch factor. "There's a kitsch value, a nostalgia," Brogren says, "and we dress really terribly."

There's been another significant spike in its popularity of late, due to the show's sequel, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which airs on digital cable's Noggin. Both Brogren and Mastroianni star as parents in the series, and despite their initial reluctance to participate, they agree that the show has, against all odds, met the expectations of its predecessor and even exceeded them. It has a lot to live up to: In one 14-hour marathon of the original series, we've witnessed a suicide, three teenage pregnancies (and two abortions), an acid-induced jump from a bridge, a near drowning, a car wreck, and a whole lot of cheating – academic and otherwise. How does the new series top that? Brogren doesn't want to spoil anything, but he alludes to an upcoming episode that's "full-on Columbine" and another wherein a main character starts giving blow jobs for bracelets. Yikes.

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