WE’RE STALKING...RUPERT EVERETT

Teen TV that’s too cool for school

The kids of ’Degrassi' and ’Veronica Mars' make the dean's list, as ’The OC’ hipsters flunk out

SHANDA DEZIEL November 6 2006
WE’RE STALKING...RUPERT EVERETT

Teen TV that’s too cool for school

The kids of ’Degrassi' and ’Veronica Mars' make the dean's list, as ’The OC’ hipsters flunk out

SHANDA DEZIEL November 6 2006

Teen TV that’s too cool for school

tv

The kids of ’Degrassi' and ’Veronica Mars' make the dean's list, as ’The OC’ hipsters flunk out

SHANDA DEZIEL

What is Linda Schuyler thinking? Certainly, the creator of Degrassi Jr. High, Degrassi High and Degrassi: The Next Generation has heard of the university curse. And yet, this season, The Next Generation will follow three of its high school grads as they further their education. Few teen series have managed to keep audience interest after moving to college—Saved by the Bell, Beverly Hills 90210 and Dawson’s Creek being the prime examples. Even a solid show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer momentarily stumbled when its overriding metaphor—“high school is hell, literally”—no longer applied. “You just put your finger on some of the reasons why we thought we shouldn’t do this,” says Schuyler. “We gave it a lot of thought before we committed—we went into it with our eyes open.”

When CTV premieres the new season of Degrassi: The Next Generation in mid-November, two of its peers, Veronica Mars (on the CW), and The OC (CTV/Fox) will be treading the same territory. But the challenge for each is different. Degrassi will be trying not to screw up the thriving franchise. Teen detective series Veronica Mars must expand its audience to survive, and The OC, which has recently lost its sunny disposition, desperately wants to regain the glory of its magical first season. And all of them have to hope young audiences—partial to proms and pep

rallies—will respond to more mature, adult F

storylines.

The big decision for these shows is whether to send their grads to different parts of the country, or to keep everyone together at the local college. Dawson’s Creek went the first route and the key love story—between Joey and Dawson—was played out through longdistance phone calls. Beverly Hills 90210 and Buffy went the second way. But by high school graduation, 90210 had already begun to run out of steam, the actors were balding, and the whole thing turned into a kitschy joke that droned on for six more seasons. On Buffy, university just didn’t make sense for a girl whose idea of a pulling an all-nighter is trolling graveyards. In the final season, all is set straight when Buffy goes back to high school—albeit as a guidance counsellor.

This season, The OC is the only series that scatters its characters: Summer’s off at Brown University, Seth’s at home, and Ryan’s at loose ends. But The OC lives and dies by the chemistry of its attractive cast, and if they’re not playing off each other, there’s no point. On Veronica Mars, the whole gang’s moved from Neptune High to Hearst College—writers being smart enough to keep together the smartest and sassiest group of teens on TV.

When it comes to transitioning, no show has set itself up as well as Degrassi. For the past five seasons, the creators have been feeding new students into their fictional high school. So, even though the first wave of seniors have graduated, there are still lots of stories to follow back at Degrassi Community School. The formula will be two-thirds high school stories, one third graduates—aspiring writer Ellie attends a downtown Toronto university, snobby Paige is away at a school resembling Queen’s University, and Marco’s secretly living off-campus with his boyfriend.

As the season starts, the high school students are mired in a boring plot line about street racing, while the seemingly mundane university-life scenes feel fresh. A college party thrown by Marco, Paige and Ellie, for example, is broken up not by the cops but by Marco’s father, who drops off some of Marco’s stuff and throws his back out lifting furniture. “Don’t mind me, kids,” he says, splayed out on the couch, as the party limps to a close.

Degrassi gets the details right. It has the best wacky roommate as former-goth Ellie moves in with Amberley, a country-homedecorating, scrap-book-making keener. The student-ghetto house Marco and Dylan live in is note perfect, from the Canadian flag in the window to the mismatched Salvation Army couches, and the campus bar is suitably cave-like, with a black-painted floor to camouflage the beer stains.

Veronica Mars remains the best-written and sexiest of the genre, and though the university setting does offer new cases and clients for the amateur private eye, it may turn out that, like Buffy, she’s just too complicated for full-time studies—too cool for school perhaps. The OC, meanwhile, has only added to its gloom factor by making freshman Summer a wannabe activist hippie. Only Degrassi looks to be summa cum laude material—and, with enviable ratings in both Canada and the U.S., it’s likely to be the only show that makes it to graduation.