If you watched Degrassi: The Next Generation, you will know how riveting it was. And on top of all that, it was also ever so controversial. Where most teen shows played it safe, Degrassi: The Next Generation threw 'safe' out of the window with practically every single episode. It wasn't scared of surprising people, and then doing it again and again. This is what made the show so popular. Characters literally grew with the show too, so you had young people on the screen who were most likely going through a lot of the stuff that their characters were.
With a show that was almost designed to surprise, picking out 25 items from both on-screen and behind-the-scenes was no mean feat. However, the show was incredibly successful, and the acting was fantastic. Beyond all the relationship stuff that happens to all teens, Degrassi: The Next Generation also managed to help viewers feel the insecurities and the pressures that young people do every day. Some of the stuff that follows is truly surprising (especially if you never watched the show) and we think that this is the only show that managed to touch the truly raw nerves that it did.
Here's some stuff that we were completely blown away from, and you likely will be too.
21 Motivated By Self-Hate
Shane Kippel, who played Spinner on the show, was a bit portly (though not overly heavy) on the first season of the show. Obviously, this is totally normal, and nothing to be worried about as he wasn't overly heavy. But after watching the show, Kippel reportedly got embarrassed and didn't like the way he looked. This motivated him to make a real-life change, and between the first and the second season he ended up losing somewhere around 50 pounds. He looked great and felt even better. In true Degrassi style, they worked this into his storyline a bit. His character had previously been the manager for the basketball team, but with his newfound physique, his character became an athlete himself. He ended up playing for several sports teams throughout the show.
20 Too Much For America To Handle
The two-part episode "Accidents Will Happen" covered some pretty heavy subject material, even for Degrassi. Keep in mind that this aired in 2004, originally, and the show was only in its third season. The episode dealt with Manny realizing she's pregnant with Craig's baby, and all the repercussions that followed.
That proved to be too much for viewers in the United States, at least according to television executives. As such, the episode was essentially banned from airing there for several years. Why is it that Canadian kids could handle it and Americans couldn't? The episode was finally allowed to air in 2006 when The N decided that viewers could actually handle the show. They paid it during their "Cast Picks" marathon, where Cassie Steele choose it as her pick.
19 A Change In Direction
Let's fast forward a bit to season 5. Degrassi had changed a bit by then, and new cast members had started to be added to the show. This makes sense, of course, when you remember that this is a show about a high school. People don't stay in high school for forever!
One of the new characters added was Peter Stone, who was the son of the former principal of the school. He was a bit of a villain and later matured into someone more responsible and normal. His character was known for having several girlfriends on the show. What a lot of people don't know, however, is that he was originally supposed to be bi. The writers felt, for whatever reason, that this wasn't appropriate for his character, and changed him to straight. We can't imagine how different the show could have been...
18 Where'd You Go?
Sometimes things change behind the scenes, with no explanations left for the viewers. This happened in the cases of two characters, Kendra Mason and Derek Haig. Mason was the adopted sister of Spinner Mason, and later Emma's sister-in-law. Considering all of her family is pretty important to the show, it was strange that they just decided to drop her with no warning. Maybe Katie Lai, who played her, just wanted to do something different... but she's not given any explanation as to where she goes. She just disappears.
The same thing happens to Haig. He's also adopted (maybe Degrassi has something against adopted kids?) and is in the show starting in season 5. He has quite a few storylines with many of the important characters on the show, so it's quite strange that he disappeared without a trace.
17 Fool Me Once...
Towerz was a character that appeared in a few episodes in season 3. He was friends with a few major characters, like Sean Cameron and Jay Hogart, and even dated Liberty for a bit. Despite the fact that he was in a few episodes and heavily implied to be a bad boy, he never actually got to say anything on screen. Wait, what?
He was kind of waved away in season 4, with Liberty just saying that they broke up. This was further explained on the Degrassi website, where it was implied that he was cheating on her. Why was this never shown on screen? Well, according to Miriam McDonald, he was just late to set way too often. The execs didn't look kindly on this, and instead of giving him one more chance, they told him not to bother to come back at all.
16 The Good Stuff
We all know Aubrey "Drake" Graham. Even before he came the award-winning and much-loved rapper we know today, many were fans of his for his portrayal of Jimmy on Degrassi. Jimmy was a great, complex character. He had several really important story arcs on the show, and most fans will remember the episode where he was shot and subsequently ended up in a wheelchair.
What you might not know, however, was that Drake was a bit of a bad boy even then. He's admitted in interviews that he showed up to his audition for the part... well... a little bit out of it. Somehow, they didn't care that Drake had been having too much of a good time before the audition. Maybe they didn't notice? Either way, he got the part, and Drake started his journey to becoming a household name.
15 Playing The Part
Remember Spinner from the show? He was one of the main characters for a really long time and was involved in lots of important moments. He was partially responsible for Drake's character being in a wheelchair, struggled with ADHD, and ends up married to Emma.
Well, in season 5, he gets invited to join The Friendship Club (which is really just a religious club) by Darcy. After this, he becomes a born-again Christian and ends up in a relationship with her. Shane Kippel, who played Spinner, has admitted in the past that this was a very difficult part for him to play. As a Jewish actor, he said that it was "awkward" to play a Christian, and detailed how he struggled with it.
14 Just A Little Gay
Anyone who watched the show will remember Marco, a gay character. Marco struggled with his orientation for a very long time, and had a really long (and complicated) relationship with Ellie, as a result. It's the perfect example of a character done right, and we all felt for Marco and understood the struggle he was going through, as much as we could. Possibly surprising to some, Adamo Ruggiero, who played Marco, later came out as well.
At the time that he had come out, there were very few out celebrities in Hollywood. He used this as a platform to raise awareness and support initiatives like The Trevor Project. Often in TV and movies we'll see gay characters played by straight people, but in this case, art imitates life!
13 The Continuing Royalties
You may feel a little conflicted after you read this entry. We all know who Drake is. He's a hot artist and has made millions from his unique blend of rap and whatever else he does for a living. But he does make millions, and he's doing very well for himself, thank you very much.
And he was on Degrassi: The Next Generation too. Yep, and that's why he's here. Basically, even though Drake is worth millions and just keeps making money like he's trying to reach some kind of twisted high score for it, he still receives money from the Degrassi show. That's right, Mr. Hotline Bling is still getting paid for Degrassi: The Next Generation. And he's loving it.
12 How He Really Feels Inside
This is when Degrassi: The Next Generation covered trans issues. Adam is transgender and is working through the issues surrounding that while studying at Degrassi. Happily, his family is totally behind him (apart from his mum, who wants him to be 'Gracie' for his grandmother's visit). Adam experienced a lot of hardship, including being forcefully outed. He eventually died from surgery complications after being in a car accident.
This was actually the first scripted trans teen character ever seen on television. That's really impressive! Jordan Todosey, who portrayed Adam, was actually a girl. She always pushed for him to have a storyline that didn't revolve around him being trans. It's kind of a shame that an actual trans character didn't play him, but hey, progress is progress.
11 The Ballad Of Craig
Never one to shy away from painful subjects, the show took a major left turn here. It showed a character come close to ending it all. It was simply not pleasant in any way to watch the character, Craig, experience the worst. To see him seriously consider taking his own life was uncomfortable, especially since so many of us had grown to love the character.
He is pushed out of the way of an approaching train just before things could have become seriously nasty. And that's when everyone breathed a sigh of relief. The episode was so powerful, though, that at least one major TV network literally deleted the scene from the episode before broadcast. It was tough stuff, and this is not one of the issues that we see covered on TV too much.
10 The Loss Of A Fan-Favorite
Violence can be unexpected and it can be catastrophic, with massive consequences. The show knew this and wanted to portray what happens when young people walk into dangerous situations. That said, this particular act of violence was very sudden and cold-blooded. Again, hardly any shows since this have shown such a tragic event in such a way. J.T.'s passing affected pretty much every character on the show, and he was the first major cast member to pass away.
Contrary to popular belief, it was not Ryan Cooley's decision to leave the show. He was actually as surprised as anyone! The writers just decided to end J.T.'s storyline right there. It did benefit Cooley in the end, though, as it allowed him to go to college, which was something he'd been thinking about doing for a while.
9 Poking Holes
Shane Kippel, who played Spinner, was a fan of having piercings. He had several, including a tongue piercing. These were incorporated into his character, as he didn't want to remove them just for filming. Kippel had to get special permission from the producers of Degrassi before getting a new piercing, just to ensure that it was okay for the character. His tongue piercing was the most problematic, though, and he had to prove to them that he'd still be able to talk normally after getting it. Had he had any kind of a lisp or anything, he would have had to remove it for good!
Surprisingly, the other character who's known for having lots of piercings, Ellie, didn't actually have them. They're fake. We guess that she just didn't like them the same way that he did!
8 Living A Sheltered Life
While some of the actors went through plots similar to the show, like Adamo Ruggiero coming out, for the most part the teen actors were actually very sheltered. Andrea Lewis, who played Hazel for several years, says that the majority of the cast grew up in Toronto in fairly affluent communities. They all had pretty supportive parents, for the most part.
To deal with this, the writers and producers would often have to sit the cast down and have long conversations about the subject matter of the show. Part of this was to make sure that they were acting the characters out properly, but part of it was to make sure that they knew the severity of the issues they were dealing with.
7 Sometimes, Life Gets Too Heavy
Darryl Armstrong was known on Degrassi for being Tom, Dylan Michalchuk's ex-boyfriend. As one of the openly gay characters on the show, Armstrong was only on the show for a short time, but became part of the Degrassi family forever, as all who appear on the show do. He also had small roles in Mean Girls and on Queer as Folk.
Unfortunately, sometimes life just becomes too much for a person, and that's what happened to Armstrong. In 2005 at the age of 23, he unfortunately passed away. Cast members and friends expressed how sad they were at his passing. Degrassi had dealt with that topic on the show before, and it's sad to see how close to home it really hits.
6 Taking Its Toll
Because of the heavy nature of the show, and how little the cast really knew about the kind of stuff they were portraying on screen, it's not much of a surprise that it affected some of them in a negative way. Shenae Grimes, who played Darcy, said in 2007 that the show was emotionally draining for her, that she felt like she was on a rollercoaster.
These sentiments are shared by many of the other cast members. Grimes in particular said that she'd "go home and be an emotional wreck. Those are not fake tears all the time." It's upsetting to see that the cast struggled so much with the show at times. Though, considering the kind of subject material they dealt with, it shouldn't be that surprising.
5 Losing Drake
When Jimmy left the show suddenly, many fans were left frustrated and sad about it. It turns out that this wasn't the end that the character was supposed to have; rather, Drake was fired from the show.
What could he have done that would be bad enough to fire him? Well, in an interview in 2015, he said that he was just spending too much time on his music, and the producers didn't like it. He was spending long days on set, and then forgoing sleep to instead record music. When they realized that he was doing both things and not putting his all into the show, they asked him to make a choice. We all know how that went.
4 Making A Tough Decision
The new Degrassi show, Degrassi: Next Class, is a Netflix exclusive. While part of that decision was made for creative reasons (they can show more on Netflix, since the rules for streaming content are different than network television), that's not the only reason why the switch was made.
As it turns out, Degrassi just wasn't getting the same viewership as it was used to. Part of this is due to the shift in how young people are consuming media, but that's not the only reason. The show was actually offered to Nickelodeon, who passed on it. The show, as a result, experienced a sort of purge. Longtime actors were kicked off the show, and a new crop of kids was brought in in hopes to better reach Generation Z.
3 The Arranged Marriage
Sav is at Degrassi and he's a committed Muslim. He breaks a few of the rules that Islam places upon him, but is generally a good guy who is liked by almost everyone in the school. But his faith does present some major hurdles, and it wasn't too long before it dominated the character's life. For example, he dated Anya, but didn't tell his parents about this. Anya offered to become a Muslim at one point too.
Because he never told his parents about Anya, it all comes to a head when Anya stumbles upon the arranged marriage future bride. In between all of this rather depressing turn of events, he is involved in a pregnancy controversy. When Anya tells Sav that she is pregnant, he breaks up with her. Arranged marriage is a tough subject, so naturally Degrassi decided to make it even more difficult by including an unwanted baby storyline.
2 Eating Disorder Stuff
Watch any show at the moment and at some point they will cover eating disorders. However, it is still an issue that shows seem to think only affects women and girls. It doesn't, as we all know, and Degrassi: The Next Generation made that clear with an episode that focuses on Toby. Toby has an eating disorder, and he's a boy.
This was cool in many ways, but the best thing about it is the fact that eating disorders aren't really focused on boys on TV. It's arguable that it's one of the most ground-breaking aspects of the show, and even now boys aren't covered on this topic that much. It's a real landmark episode. If you're interested, Toby takes laxatives to reduce his weight.
1 The Episode That Broke Us All
We still can't get this episode out of our heads. Jimmy (played by Drake, the huge star) was a basketball hero at Degrassi. He was popular, and humble (even though his family was apparently wealthy). He had it all. Then he got shot by another student and was left in a wheelchair. Not a happy ending for Jimmy.
Shootings are never easy subjects, and praise goes to the Degrassi production team for braving it. When Rick hits Jimmy, it's horrible. There's no denying that. But what makes the whole story arc so unforgettable is that Rick was bullied at school. This gives the whole story more bite. If you watched it first time around you'll know what we mean. It's Degrassi going where no other show dared to go.