Viagra, Murder, and Other Problems Teens Only Faced on Degrassi

Teens had very different problems in 2007, at least according to teen bible Degrassi.

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Apr 26 2017, 4:25pm

Photo via Instagram user itsdesdifabz

This Week in 2007 is a weekly column looking back on Lindsay Lohan, the first iPhone, George W. Bush, and everything else we loved about the year 2007.

My dad has long said that you know a child has entered puberty once they start watching Degrassi. And he's got a good point. Since 1976, teens have watched the franchise chronicling students of the fictional Degrassi High School in Toronto, Canada. It's spawned a total of four spin-offs that have all functioned as a Venn diagram between PBS and CW teen dramas, with each episode turning a social justice issue, like school shootings, into soap opera melodrama.

No Degrassi series developed this mix better than the most popular and longest running incarnation, Degrassi: The Next Generation, which The N (now known as TeenNick) ran from 2001 to 2015. Only on Degrassi: The Next Generation could one student catch Gonorrhea and earn the nickname "prude princess."

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The show reached its soap opera peak in 2007, when the sixth season followed the aftermath of student Rick Murray shooting Jimmy Brooks, played by Aubrey Graham who is now known as Drake. The violence rattles Degrassi High, but most of season six's early episodes revolve around controversies that teens (especially these ones in Toronto) would rarely, if ever, experience.

Season six reaches its stride in episode four when the camera returns to Jimmy, who survived the bullet but is now paralyzed and in a wheelchair. Thanks to paralysis, Jimmy struggles to sprout an erection. Enraged, he throws a basketball and yells at his male friend Spinner. At a physical therapy session, Jimmy is surprised to get a spontaneous boner. But later, when he and his girlfriend Ashley try to have sex, his dick remains soft.

Ashley argues, "We can live without... you know," but Jimmy breaks down and snaps, "We cannot live without you know!" So he makes a doctor's appointment, where he describes his problem like "waiting for the bus"—his boners come and go, but never on time. The doctor prescribes him Viagra. That too fails, and Jimmy and Ashley never consummate their relationship. She comforts him, but Jimmy is in male teenage hell: "Do you know what it's like to know your epitaph is going to read Jimmy Brooks, crippled virgin?" he asks.

Most male teenagers, of course, experience the opposite of Jimmy's plight: They can't keep one down.

As Degrassi: the Next Generation progressed into later seasons, writers increasingly tackled unrealistic and borderline absurd plotlines, like gang violence in Toronto. Although gangs exist in Toronto, only 84 people died in homicide cases in Toronto in 2007. Los Angeles, on the other hand, saw 933 people murdered in the same year.

Almost as unbelievable as a gang in Toronto is the Degrassi High hero picked to be the victim of gang violence: JT Yorke. He's a tall skinny boy who wears Hawaiian shirts. He resembles Leonardo Dicaprio in Romeo + Juliet with greasy skin and possesses a goofy charisma. (I probably would have dated him when I was 16.)

JT's journey towards death develops in season four when he starts dating goody goody Liberty Van Zandt. The pair bond over having to perform in a crappy school play together. When the other students refuse to participate in their plot to sing a song making fun of Principal Raditch, JT says, "We'll be rebels," sounding less like a Degrassi character and more like a teenage actor imitating Ewan McGregor in Moulin Rouge.

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JT and Liberty later fall in love, and he impregnates her, infuriating members of Johnny's gang, a group of boys from Degrassi's rival school that Liberty once attended. Two boys, Johnny DiMarco and Drake Lempkey, target the couple. When JT catches the twosome pissing on his car, Drake stabs him. After Liberty finds JT's body, she cries over him as Miley Cyrus's song about her dead grandpa, "I Miss You," starts playing. At the hospital, a doctor reveals that Drake hit JT's vital artery.

He dies, but the season goes on to bring even more over-the-top teen social issues. Ellie Nash struggles to place her anonymous personal essay about her annoying roommate in the school newspaper and Darcy Edwards posts semi-nude photos for cash on a social media site called "MyRoom." Alex Nuñez starts stripping for money and tells her girlfriend Paige Michalchuk, who immediately wonders how her parents will handle their daughter dating a lesbian stripper. "I am supposed to give them grandkids one day!" Paige screams.

Paige and Emma's romance doesn't encompass the relatable elements of being a teenager, but neither does Viagra or gang violence in Toronto. Teens had very different problems in 2007, at least according to Degrassi.