35 Years of Degrassi: My top 10 All Time Favourite Degrassi Moments
What is your favourite moment in Degrassi history?
This is a question that gets asked a lot in the Degrassi fandom. With 35 years of history and 400+ episodes spanning multiple generations, there are a lot of moments to choose from. Within those 35 years, Degrassi has had moments that are funny, heart wrenching, awkward, uncomfortable, painful, joyous, empowering, relatable… the list goes on and on.
What I loved most about Degrassi when I was growing up was how connected I felt to some of the storylines. There were scenes that I would watch over and over and over again as a teenager, because it was a way for me to be able to articulate how I felt and know that other people out there were feeling it too.
I’ve always wanted to make a blog post about this, but the challenge of narrowing down 35 years of incredible Degrassi moments into a list of 10 seemed like an impossible task. However, with a little patience and perseverance I think I’ve finally done just that!
Disclaimer: This is a list of the top 10 Degrassi moments that mean the most to me personally. I’m not claiming that these are the “best” Degrassi moments of all time, as you will notice that there are a number of important Degrassi moments missing from this list (e.g. the school shooting, Spike’s pregnancy, Marco’s coming out storyline, etc.). This list is 100% subjective, and I’m sure if you asked 10 different Degrassi fans this exact question you would get 10 different answers.
Without further ado, here are my all-time favourite Degrassi moments…
#1: “You get to have a million guys in love with you and a perfect home, and I just wanted this one good thing. But you of all people ruined it for me.”
One of my favourite things to watch on Degrassi is when the writers gradually overtime show us why a character is hurting so badly instead of giving us all the information upfront. Perhaps that is why I love Tristan Milligan so much. He has so many different sides to his personality, and it was a few seasons before we were really able to get to know him. Tristan can fill so many different roles on Degrassi. Sometimes he’s the sidekick, sometimes he’s a stereotype. Sometimes he is a victim of bullying and other times he is the bully himself.
What I love about this scene in particular is that it perfectly encapsulated what it’s like to be out in high school in 2014. On the one hand, we know that a lot of progress has been made in the past 10 years. When I was in high school, same sex marriage was still a controversial topic up for debate. Now it is generally accepted as a normal part of Canadian society.
That being said, this particular Degrassi scene perfectly shows that while Tristan may be tolerated by his peers, being gay in high school is still a very lonely place to be. As I watch this scene, what strikes me most about it is Tristan’s loneliness. He typically doesn’t come across as a lonely person. He’s very outgoing and he’s not afraid to speak his mind. But it’s hard when all of your friends are dating and having their first romantic experiences, and you’re left watching from the sidelines. I think that this was one of the most truthful moments in recent Degrassi history, and for that reason I’ve included it in my top 10.
#2: “Fiona’s not my friend, she’s my girlfriend”
The storyline with Imogen and her parents was one of the highlights of season 12, and definitely contributed to season 12 becoming one of my favourite seasons of Degrassi ever. I loved this storyline.
I think that a lot of people can relate being angry at a parent following a separation or divorce for whatever reason. Imogen is still hurt by what happened with her parents, and she protects herself by putting this wall up. Like many of the moments on this list, this scene is brilliant in that it shows Imogen’s vulnerability.
I also kind of love how Imogen came out to her Mom in a moment that had absolutely nothing to do with her sexuality. This scene is far more about Imogen’s anger towards her mother than it is about who she happens to be dating. It was like she didn’t think that her Mom deserved some big emotional coming out moment. She told her Mom that Fiona was her girlfriend like it was nothing. I love the badass-ness (is that a word?) of it. Cristine is fantastic in this scene, and in my opinion this is her best moment on the show.
#3: “My stomach hurts a little”
When I was growing up, my favourite character on Degrassi was Liberty Van Zandt. The reason she was my favourite character was fairly simple – she was a female teenage character on television who wore glasses. And she didn’t just wear them sometimes when she wanted to look smart, she wore them all the time. And she wore them without any hint of insecurity or wanting to be pretty.
So imagine my excitement when, after 4 years, the girl that I felt was essentially the TV version of me, finally got the guy she always wanted.
This scene is perfect in every way, and it still makes me so happy everytime I watch it. I love how simple it is with the two of them just sitting alone in the classroom. I love how young and innocent and awkward Ryan and Sarah look in the scene. I love how Liberty says “I’ve crushed on your for 4 years,” acknowledging that sometimes good things do happen if you wait long enough. And I love how JT makes a random comment about his stomach hurting at the end. This seems completely irrelevant but somehow it’s still so precious and 100% JT Yorke.
This scene gave me hope as a teenager that if Liberty could get what she always wanted maybe I could too.
#4: “It’ll never happen again? Is that what you were going to say? Because that’s what you always say!”
Sometimes Degrassi has the power to reach through the TV screen straight into my chest and break my heart into a million pieces. This was one of those moments.
I think there is an argument to be made that the storyline with Craig and his father is the best storyline Degrassi has ever done. It felt real and honest, while at the same time it still had a high level of drama and intensity. Unlike some of the other big dramatic storylines on Degrassi, the believability factor for this one was very high. I completely understood both Craig and his father, and the pain behind what was really going on.
This is one of the best acted moments in Degrassi history. Jake Epstein was still just a teenager when he filmed these episodes, and his vulnerability coupled with his strength makes for a very heartfelt moment. You can really feel how angry Craig is, and how he finally reached his breaking point with his father. When Albert insults Joey – the one person that Craig feels like he can trust – Craig loses it and decides to cut his father out of his life for good. Add all of that with an amazing performance by veteran Canadian actor Hugh Dillion and you have a recipe for one of Degrassi’s best moments.
Sidenote: In my mind, this scene ranks only slightly above another great moment from this storyline – the scene in When Doves Cry when Craig tells Joey that his father hits him. I think that the scene from Tears Are Not Enough ranks slightly higher, but in all honesty there are so many great moments from these two episodes you could pick almost any scene and it would be outstanding.
#5: “We’re tired of being treated as 2nd class citizens in our own school”
I couldn’t get through this list without including at least one Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High moment. While the DJH/H characters were never part of my generation, I remember catching up on all of the old episodes when I got them on DVD for Christmas one year (thanks Mom). Body Politics was my favourite episode at the time, and it remains my favourite to this day.
This moment harkens back to a time when Degrassi characters actually used to word “feminist” to describe themselves (although this seems to be coming back with Next Class). Lucy Fernandez, perhaps Degrassi’s strongest feminist voice, is worried that guys won’t like her if they find out about her feminist beliefs. When Dale asks her to the dance, she tries to be the obedient, supportive girlfriend she thinks he wants. But when the boys basketball team push her to the limit (“nobody cares about girls volleyball!”), she can’t stop herself from standing up and making her voice heard.
I think a lot of girls can relate to the pressure to be a nice, quiet, well-behaved “good girl.” Lucy passionately believes in her feminism, but at the same time she wants to be liked. This was a relatable episode and a very empowering moment for the series.
#6: “I don’t want to date any more boys”
Sometimes a Degrassi scene won’t mean very much to me at the time when it originally airs, but years later when I go back and re-watch it suddenly means the world. This is one of those scenes.
On the surface, some people may not think that this scene can stack up to other Degrassi coming out moments. There was very little angst or heartbreak, and we didn’t sit through seasons of buildup in advance of it. In this scene, Fiona simply tells Holly J that she doesn’t want to date anymore boys, and that she likes girls. So why is it so important?
I like how Fiona still looks nervous in this scene. Even though she knows logically that Holly J will be accepting, she can’t help but still feel a little bit scared. Regardless of political or social beliefs, coming out is always going to be hard because you’re forcing yourself to talk about this private part of you that previously only existed in your head. I love how this scene showed that aspect of the coming out process. Similar to moment #1, this entire episode was a wonderful, modern coming out story.
#7: I don’t wanna be me
At the time when this episode aired, I didn’t even know what cutting was. It was happening, but nobody would ever talk about it. Today mental health is still a stigma of course, but sometimes I think we forget what things were like not that long ago. How many people watched this episode and for the first time in their lives were able to see that they weren’t alone? The answer is a lot, because I know many of them personally.
There are so many great scenes in this episode, but the montage scene is particularly heartbreaking for me. Degrassi doesn’t do montages very often, but they are very effective at showing a character’s long term pain in a short period of time. The song (which is fantastic by the way) was perfectly able to convey Ellie’s thoughts and feelings without her directly telling us in a scripted scene. I know there are a lot of people from my generation who fell in love with Degrassi after stumbling across this episode, and watching it again all these years later it’s easy to see why.
#8: “Pheonix, do you trust your tribe?”
Season 7 of Degrassi TNG will forever be remembered as Shenae Grimes’ breakout moment. This was also the time when the show finally proved that they could successfully give the new characters big storylines and keep their fans engaged at the same time.
I could go on forever about how brilliant Darcy’s storyline in season 7 was, but there was one moment in particular that I really connected to.
Darcy hits rock bottom when she has sex with Peter. This was the one thing that she promised herself that she wouldn’t do, and she only did it as an attempt to erase (or replace) the painful memories that were dragging her down into this horrible, dark pit of despair. When she finally confronts these feelings and is able to talk about them with Spirit Bear and the rest of the group, it hurts her, but it’s also a starting point to move on.
In this scene, Darcy has to once again do something that she never thought she’d be able to do. She has to trust the boys to not let her fall, and she has to trust herself to make it safely to the other side. Trust is something that is difficult to gain but very easy to lose. Darcy lost all her trust the night she was assaulted. The girl who once believed the best in people now could only see pain. Nevertheless, she does it, and it’s wonderful to see how proud she is of herself after.
This episode showed me that no matter how bad things get, there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. There is always hope that things will get better.
#9: “What a long face. A girl as pretty as you should never frown.”
There are few times on Degrassi when I directly relate to a storyline. I suppose this is a good thing. If my life was exactly like a character on Degrassi, it would be a very tragic and depressing life. Often I can understand how a character feels or I can relate to a topic in that I’ve heard about it happening, but in comparison to the characters on Degrassi, my life is fairly boring.
That being said, every so often Degrassi has a moment that could have been lifted directly from my own life. This scene with Ashley getting her school picture taken is one of those moments.
In this scene, Ashley has lost everything. She has no friends. She’s even lost the one friend she thought she would always be able to rely on (Terri). She is 100% alone. She’s lost her beauty, her popularity, her vivaciousness, her drive to succeed. She then has to go and get her picture taken; a picture that will then be in a yearbook that she will have to look back at for the rest of her life.
I’m not going to go on about a man trying to force “a girl as pretty as [her]” to smile, because it has been written about many times. But for me personally, I used to get told to “smile more” in high school, and I still do to this day on occasion. I’m quiet, and just because I’m not smiling doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m sad – it’s just that I’m not experiencing anything particularly thrilling in that moment.
I remember this one time in high school, it was the beginning of a new school year and my teacher was calling out everyone’s names on the attendance list. He called out mine and said, “I know you. You’re the girl that never smiles.” I was horrified. For the rest of the year I tried to force myself to smile more which just led to me constantly feeling uncomfortable and fake.
I’m rambling… I guess my point is that this moment is for me the most relatable moment in Degrassi history. I remember watching this scene was I was younger and thinking to myself that I was going to be okay. You’re not the only one who feels like she doesn’t have any friends. You’re not the only one who is terrified of being seen as a loner. You’re not the only one who feels sad sometimes. Thank you Degrassi for that.
#10: “Get ready, because I am coming after you this time. Not like Spinner or the mascot. For real.”
When I was a teenager, How Soon Is Now was my favourite episode of Degrassi and my default answer everytime someone asked me that question. People were always a little surprised when I told them that this episode was my favourite. Usually the most beloved Degrassi episodes are the big 2-parters such as Time Stands Still, Pride, or even Shout. All of these episodes are fantastic, but How Soon Is Now was the one that meant the most to me at the time.
I have fuzzy memories of casually watching this episode when it originally aired (In 2003 – I was 13 years old). When I really became obsessed with Degrassi circa 2004/2005, I went back and re-watched Season 2 and I remembered the image of JT in the mascot outfit attacking Dean. It’s a classic scene that’s hard to forget.
But my favourite moment from this episode is when Paige confronts Dean at the end and warns him that she is coming after him this time “for real.” As a teenage girl, this moment was so empowering to me.
Throughout season 2, we see Paige very fearful of Dean. In fact at the beginning of HSIN when she finds out that Dean is coming to Degrassi, she seriously considers staying home that day to avoid having to see him. The injustice of this in infuriating. Why should Paige be the one to miss school when a crime has been committed against her? Nonetheless, it’s easy to understand where Paige is coming from.
As more people at Degrassi find out what happened to Paige (Spinner, JT), they all get very angry. Both JT and Spinner go after Dean for what he did to their friend. When Spinner starts a fight with Dean, Paige interjects. She doesn’t need Spinner to fight for her or defend her, because she can defend herself. To this day I still feel so proud of Paige when she confronts Dean at the end. She went from someone who was very fearful to a person who has discovered her own power. The entire world should “get ready” for girls who stand up for themselves and for each other.
So… that’s it! Those are my top 10 favourite Degrassi moments of all time. Kudos to anyone who made it this far! What are the Degrassi moments that meant the most to you personally? I’d love to hear your stories. And I can’t wait to see what new moments will be added to the list in 2016.