Five years after the series finale of Degrassi: Next Class — the fifth iteration of the popular Canadian teen franchise — HBO Max announced that it would be reviving the series. The thought of heading back to the mess of famed Degrassi Street thrilled many fans while also filling some of us with dread at the prospect of yet another throwback story being rebooted. If you’re one of the people physically recoiling at the thought of Degrassi and other childhood classics being revisited, I have some news for you fellow millennials: we’re not exactly the target audience anymore, and that’s perfectly okay.
Life as a teenager in 2022 is nothing like it was back in our day (can you hear my bones creaking?) because our current reality is far more apocalyptic. Sure, the youth look a lot better than many of us did — early 2000s me in my dresses-over-jeans fashion and bumped ends could never — but they are not alright. Just look at the times we’re in. The world is in the third year of a global pandemic that has killed millions with no end in sight. Local and federal governments are stalling societal progress through regressive public policy. Our last president was a reality TV star. Climate change has the planet on its last leg. And on top of dealing with all of that, teenagers still have to find a way to make it through each day.
These nuances could be explored through various cinematic lenses, but the current trend of teen content skews towards a level of drama that can feel formulaic at times. Hard drugs, hard sex, hard trauma, wash, rinse, repeat. HBO Max has mastered this particular genre, with offerings like Euphoria, Generation, and Gossip Girl 2.0 focusing on the darker side of teenagedom. I am still watching all of these shows at my big age, but rather than simply identifying with the characters, I’m now concerned about them, wishing that the adults in the room would do something, anything.
I clutched my pearls when I watched Rue (Zendaya) continuously fall off the wagon during the first season of Euphoria. I wished that someone would have told To All the Boys I Loved Before’s Lara Jean (Lana Condor) that John Ambrose (Jordan Fisher), not Peter Kavinsky (Noah Centineo), was actually her perfect match and that high school romances rarely last past freshman year of college. I needed a stiff drink, a nap, and an emergency session with my therapist after binge watching the full season of Netflix’s Grand Army. And I knew I was really down bad when I actually found myself empathizing with the exhausted teachers of the Gossip Girl reboot’s prestigious Constance Billard early on. (Before the raggedy ethics violations and gross abuses of power, that is.)
Modern teenagedom is hard, but even though it looks quite different from what we experienced, we’ve all dealt with the overwhelming uncertainty and anxiety that growing up brings. Some of us wanted to fit in and be part of something bigger than ourselves. Others preferred to break away from the mold, to make our own name in the world. Those challenges — made only more complicated by the different intersections of our identities, our families, and our friendships, and our unique positions in society — are juicy and interesting. That’s why teen shows still have the culture in a chokehold.
When we were teenagers trying our best to span life out, we needed our beloved films and TV shows to aid us in our complicated, often emotionally-taxing coming-of-age process.
But puberty doesn’t last forever. Your teenage years ultimately give way to adulthood, introducing new issues to work through. While there are some recurring concepts that will always show up regardless of age (like identity, community, love, purpose), the way that we think about them evolves the longer we live. With time and experience, our perspectives shift, and without even realizing it, we become the adults in the room.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially for millennials, knowing that we’re no longer the center of the universe (or the target of marketing efforts) and coming to terms with the fact that there will be some things that we just can’t relate to anymore. That’s why announcements of reboots of beloved titles like Degrassi and The Fresh Prince tend to spark a visceral reaction across the board. Each new remake leads to kicking and screaming, with many pushing back against any insinuation that the things we loved are now out of touch. After all, the lessons that we learned through the originals still feel as relevant as they were the first time we encountered them. Bring It On provided many of us with our first universally understood reference of cultural appropriation. Easy A depicted the pervasiveness and impact of slut shaming. Moesha reminded us that Black girls could indeed have main character energy. Remember the Titans preached the importance of solidarity across racial and class lines. 10 Things I Hate About You and O made Shakespeare digestible. And Degrassi, in all of its seasons, taught us…well, everything. So why would these classics need to be remade over and over again?
Still, when we were teenagers trying our best to figure life out, we needed our beloved films and TV shows to aid us in our complicated, often emotionally-taxing coming-of-age process. The same goes for the generations of teenagers that came before us and those that are up next. If teen angst or the inescapable trauma of Euphoria isn’t up your alley, you might just have to change the channel (or switch streaming services, whatever the kids are calling it these days). These high school stories aren’t going anywhere because the kids will always need them.
Maybe it’s time to admit that teen business isn’t our business anymore. And that's just fine.