4:22pm PT by Natalie Jarvey
'Degrassi: Next Class' Team Talk Female Masturbation Storyline, Adding a Muslim Character
Canadian teen drama Degrassi has aired in some form or another for most of the last four decades, so how are producers keeping the franchise fresh for Netflix’s new series, Degrassi: Next Class?
Creator Linda Schuyler said the key is learning how to tell stories with similar themes through new characters. “The great thing about having an ensemble cast and watching it evolve over the ages, it allows us to look at a topic and look at it through the prism of a different character’s eyes at a different time in history.”
That’s what Schuyler is doing with Next Class, which premiered Jan. 15 on the streaming service. The series, which airs in Canada on the Family channel, consists of two 10-episode seasons that follow an entirely new group of teens from the recently ended Degrassi: The Next Generation. Schuyler, who has presided over Degrassi since 1979, said that at first she was nervous to graduate characters on Next Generation but soon realized that “the star of the show wasn’t necessarily the individual characters, but the school itself.”
That school is getting a fresh coat of paint thanks to Netflix, which agreed to reboot the franchise after Next Generation was canceled last year. Executive producer Stephen Stohn said that over the last few years, network executives had pressured the show to “play it a little bit safer,” but not Netflix. “This year, we can tell stories about female masturbation,” he added. “We can go wherever the stories are. Our motto really is: 'If they’re talking about it in the hallways in the schools around the nation, we need to be talking about it on the air.' And now we’re able to get back to it.”
But that doesn’t mean Next Class will be any darker than the Degrassi that audiences grew up with. “We’re telling the stories that are happening in high schools today,” said writer and executive producer Sarah Glinski. “Many of the stories are very similar, we’re just talking about them in the way that teenagers are talking about things today.”
Put differently by executive producer Stefan Brogren: “The drugs have changed but the problems are still the same.”
One of the things that the Next Class team has placed an emphasis on with the new series is continuing to portray characters that people can relate to. One of these new characters is Goldi, a Muslim teen who wears a hijab. “We can already see from the social media response that people are seeing themselves for the first time again,” said Glinski. “People are freaking out about her because she’s never been seen on TV before.”
Degrassi also had to learn how to embrace technology, and this season devices will play an expanded role. “We really consider the devices a character in the show, because that’s how we think teens feel about them,” says Glinski, adding that viewers can expect to see a lot of close-ups of phones and computer screens.