Degrassi prides itself on being a ‘realistic drama.’ Characters are played by actual teens, issues are mostly prevalent and while now a tad lax, Degrassi isn’t entirely “soapy.”
I love Degrassi for many reasons, but its strive for realism takes the cake. As a writer, it means a lot to me when media doesn’t take too many liberties to tell a story. It’s all in part why I would love to write for the show one day.
However, in recent seasons, Degrassi has begun a downwards spiral in terms of its writing.
The most glaring example, and the one that has me the most upset, is the treatment of character Zig Novak.
Zig is a fairly new character who was introduced in Season 11. From a writing perspective, Zig was the “hot boy” with a twist. Instead of simply being the boy the new girls lusted over, Zig had a personality. He was heart felt and a bit goofy.
For the first bulk of his appearances, Zig proved to be your average teenage boy: conflicted with liking two girls, trying to make it in a band, and so on. Further development revealed Zig to steal, only because his family was extremely poor and he struggled with how to tell his friends.
Zig became interested in Maya Matlin amidst all this. Skipping over some plot, the two ended up kissing when their feelings got the best of them. However, Zig was with Tori and Maya was “on a break” with Cam.
Before Zig’s reintroduction in Season 13, his last storyline revolved around Cam’s death.
Zig was the last to speak to Cam. When Cam gloated Maya and he were back together, Zig told Cam he was a psycho and Maya would be better off without him. This comment from Zig was the breaking point for Cam, who then committed suicide.
While Cam and Zig were “enemies” by the end, Zig did show remorse for what he had said and felt guilty. This and a few other episode appearances clearly showed Zig as a sympathetic young man.
When season 13 began, Zig was nowhere to be found. If memory serves me right, he wasn’t even mentioned by fellow characters. The beginning of the season saw many characters in Paris. Fans assumed Zig was not there because of his family being poor. It seemed like a plausible reason and fans were anxious to see his return.
Well. He did return. In episode “You Got Me”, the tenth episode of the season. And, something wasn’t right. Zig was now in a tight fitted leather jacket, sporting jet black hair, and a ‘bad boy’ attitude.
This look of danger was reinforced when his interaction with new character, Zoe, was over drugs…
“Are you the kind of guy that can get ‘things’ from um…” says Zoe.
“Well sure, I got lots of things,” torts Zig, giving Zoe a sexy smile.
Zig’s entire personality in this re-introduction was new. I could not believe what I was seeing. It is my opinion that this is an example of retroactive continuity. ‘Retcon’ for short, is a term given to works of fiction when a character is drastically changed for the sake of storytelling- previously established traits or ideals are thrown out the window.
Zig’s tough-guy attitude was purely out of left field. His rewrite is obviously to create tension between Maya and new character, Miles. Some fans stated they thought “the new Zig” was such because he hadn’t been seen in a long while. But, others wondered where the “cute” Zig had gone and if his new attitude would be explained.
Degrassi is famous for ‘retconning’ the timeline of its universe. Sometimes, the show would portray a season as a semester or sometimes an actual year. The timeline was behind reality and then the seniors of the real year 2012 became seniors of 2013. I know, complicated.
But, characters on the show had never been blatantly changed for storyline purposes, keeping true to Degrassi’s “realism.” While Zig is the most obvious example, one other character has suffered from the writer’s pen, and that was Owen Milligan.
Owen was a character introduced in season 10. Tall and built, he was your typical high school bully. His first major storyline involved homophobic beliefs toward a member on the football team. Owen’s homophobia story mixed with character Riley, who was in the closet, and also on the team. Owen was also trans-phobic, bullying character Adam, who was transgender.
But then, in the later half of season 11, it was revealed that character Tristan was actually Owen’s brother.
The two have a heart to heart in the gym, involving Tristan being teased as a child. The kicker? Tristan is gay, and is out and proud. Owen’s entire framework of being a bully and hating homosexuals was no more. Besides his new found support for gays, Owen gaining a sibling is also an example of retcon.
Now, I understand this is television. But, it’s the fact that Degrassi has built itself as being a realistic drama. Owen’s support of homosexuals or Zig’s bad boy attitude aren’t problems. The issue is the characters did not evolve into exhibiting these characteristics.
As a viewer, it’s frustrating, especially when you grow attached to a character and then within an instant, the character you knew is no more. I am talking of Zig’s change, of course.
You could argue that character Imogen has seen some elements of retcon, bouncing back in forth from being “quirky and manipulative” to just “quirky” then back again.
At the end of the day, Degrassi is just a television show. But, when a show that has shown tremendous writing begins to take shortcuts, your heart dies a little inside.