Since Degrassi Next Class ended in 2017, the teen drama genre has changed dramatically. Traditional TV networks are under increasing competition from streaming giants. And many of the players have shifted their focus to older demographics that are more appealing to advertisers. However, as North American teen shows become more and more rare (especially on network television), we have seen a rise in popularity for teen shows in languages other than English set and filmed outside of North America. While these series typically do not make a ton of money or get a lot of views, they have passionate and loyal fanbases on social media. When Degrassi does return, the producers will need to think about where Degrassi fits in with this modern teen drama landscape. Here are 5 superb international teen dramas that I think Degrassi can learn from when deciding on a new direction for the franchise.
Created by Norway’s public broadcaster following the monstrous success of Skam, Lovleg is similar to Skam but aimed at a slightly younger audience (think 14-16 year olds vs Skam’s 16-19 demo). The series follows a 15 year old girl name Gunnhild who is dealing with anxiety, bullying and loneliness. In order to be able to start fresh, her parents decide to allow her to move away from home to start at a new school. Similar to Skam, Lovleg aired in real time meaning that clips were posted as they happened and then pieced together into a full length episode at the end of each week. What was so special about Lovleg was the friendship between the main characters. While romantic relationships did factor in to the storytelling, Lovleg really is a friendship love story about a shy, awkward girl trying to find people who will love her. When Degrassi does return, I would like to see them focus more on friend relationships as making friends is one of the hardest but also most joyful aspects of being a teenager.
Netflix’s teen drama thriller series Elite has become one of the most popular Spanish TV shows outside of Spain. In direct contrast to Lovleg which is more realistic and slower paced, Elite takes its inspiration from the glossy American teen dramas of the 90s and 00s. It focuses on students at a prestigious private school who seem primed to be the ‘leaders of tomorrow.’ In such a high-pressure environment, conflict is not hard to find and the show routinely deals with themes like drugs, non-monogamy, crime, and even murder. This is definitely a ‘guilty pleasure’ type of show. With its educational roots, I don’t think that Degrassi will ever become anything like Elite (nor do I think it should). But I do think that Elite has proven that if a show is entertaining and accessible, it can become popular all around the world despite differences in culture and language.
The Swedish series Eagles has the most Canadian-sounding premise ever. It’s about a junior hockey team in a Swedish town (the main characters are either on the team or close with someone on the team). Many of the characters have dreams of playing in the NHL one day, and the show follows their lives as they try to make that dream a reality. What I find fascinating about Eagles is that it’s basically like any American teen drama, but football is substituted for hockey. The creators were definitely inspired by teen dramas of the past, but then put their own spin on them by figuring out what this concept would look like in Sweden. For Degrassi, I think it will be important for them to stick to their roots like Eagles does, and specifically focus on what it’s like being a teenager living in Toronto even though there will be people watching from all around the world.
The German web series Druck is one of the longest lasting Skam remakes and also one of the most popular. Even after 6 seasons, it regularly appears on Tumblr’s list of trending television series. In my opinion, it is the finest teen drama in the world today. Like Skam, every season of Druck focuses on a different main character. And diversity is very important to the show, with many LGBTQ+ and BIPOC characters in leading and/or supporting roles. To me, Druck is basically a German version of Degrassi; it’s just a little more focused than Degrassi was (e.g. focusing on one character/issue per season, instead of multiple). This allows Druck to really delve deep into the issues that it explores even with only 10 20-30 minute episodes per season. I think that what Druck does really well is how it finds emotion in seemingly small moments. Unlike other teen shows which rely on big drama to drive the emotion of the series (e.g. school shootings, addiction, and other ‘go there’ storylines), Druck is able to pull the audience in with storylines that are less dramatic but no less emotional. For that reason, Druck is one of the most relatable teen shows today. And when Degrassi comes back, I would love to take Druck’s lead with finding emotional moments that are small but engaging.
The Danish web series Centrum, which was co-created with teenagers, has used this extreme moment in time to make a series about what it’s like to be a teenager living through a global pandemic. It focuses on 3 16-year-olds living in a suburb of Copenhagen. Centrum is a no-budget production, which essentially means that almost everyone working on the show is doing it for free. Input for the stories comes from young viewers themselves which the creator then pieces together to dramatically structure their ideas. And the production team is small with only around 10 people on set at any given time (required in order to follow COVID-19 social distancing guidelines). While Centrum isn’t hugely successful (most episodes have around 100k views on YouTube), it’s a great example of how you can make a quality teen drama without a big budget. A higher budget show may be more polished, but the beauty of Centrum is in its authenticity and documentary style. It’s almost like Degrassi Junior High, in that it gives off the vibe that someone just randomly set up a camera and started filming what was really in front of them. I would love to see Degrassi return to its roots one day, and I think shows like Centrum prove that a Degrassi Junior High style can still work in the 2020’s.