This is Grading Degrassi, the column wherein I rewatch and rank all the episodes of every Degrassi series ever, whatever it takes. This month I’m ranking, from worst to best, all 22 episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation Season 4! This season of Degrassi: TNG first aired in Canada on September 7, 2004. This was a season of highs, lows and Kevin Smith.
Note: This season’s main themes include gun violence and sexual assault; as such, they are mentioned abundantly in the article.
“Modern Love” (S04E18)
Reasoning: I do not think Degrassi: The Next Generation took seriously enough the fact that Mr. Matt Oleander is Paige’s teacher. I don’t care that he’s a student teacher or only a couple of years older than her. This isn’t a “star-crossed lovers” situation; this is a person in a position of power taking advantage.
“Bark at the Moon” (S04E13)
Recap: Spinner (Shane Kipple) and Manny (Cassie Steele) are finally dating, but Manny might have eyes on someone else — the new kid, Chester (Philip Nozuka). Also, Mr. Matt Oleander begins to show Paige interest back.
Reasoning: Again, Mr. O’s and Paige’s relationship is gross.
“Neutron Dance” (S04E10)
Recap: Paige meets Mr. Matt Oleander when she and Hazel (Andrea Lewis) take a yoga class. Elsewhere, Craig (Jake Epstein) and his bandmates, Marco (Adamo Ruggiero) and Spinner, get into a tiff when Craig brings Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) back to their band.
Reasoning: I’ll bypass the obvious and skip to the Downtown Sasquatch of it all. While the tension of “Eww, you brought your girlfriend” isn’t unrealistic, it was unnecessarily immature.
“King of Pain” (S04E03)
Recap: Dylan (John Bregar) threatens to break up with Marco because the latter is not ready to come out. This is compounded by the fact that Alex (Deanna Casaluce) threatens to out Marco during the school election assembly. In the B plot, Liberty (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer) has a crush on Chris (Daniel Morrison), much to Emma’s dismay.
Reasoning: I was a senior in high school when this season was airing, so I know the answers to the questions I am about to ask, but I wish Degrassi: The Next Generation could have shown things as they should be. Why isn’t there a safe space/person for Marco to go to when he’s about to be outed? And why doesn’t Degrassi realize Dylan is being a jerk? Plus, does the show not see the racist undertones of Emma’s embarrassment-jealousy.
“Anywhere I Lay My Head” (S04E05)
Recap: Ellie (Stacey Farber) can’t handle living at home and playing the parental role. After her mom (Kirsten Kieferle) almost burns down their house, Ellie moves in with Sean (Daniel Clark). Meanwhile, Manny and Spinner get closer, which causes drama.
Reasoning: I like the Ellie storyline but take issue with the Manny/Spinner storyline. Craig and Paige get upset about the previous pair hugging, which is something that friends do. But the show presents Craig and Paige as reasonable, especially since Manny and Spinner get together.
“Islands in the Stream” (S04E06)
Reasoning: Gosh, as I’m writing this article, I realize this season was much grosser and creepier than I realized while rewatching it last week. Toby and Rick betting each other on how many kisses they can get from random girls just skeeves me out.
“Queen of Hearts” (S04E17)
Recap: Blah blah blah, some Paige and Mr. Matt Oleander nonsense. Meanwhile, Ellie’s late on rent, so she and Alex host Dylan’s hockey team for cards. Even though Ellie wins her rent and more, she still decides to move back in with her mom.
Reasoning: Ellie isn’t wrong for being wary of her mom’s recovery. Plus, RIP Bueller.
“Eye of the Tiger” (S04E16)
Recap: Jimmy (Drake) is finally back at school after the shooting, but not everyone’s thrilled to see him. Danny (Dalmar Abuzeid) isn’t thrilled that his sister, Liberty, is dating J.T. (Ryan Cooley) because he doesn’t think he’s good enough for her.
Reasoning: At this point, we’re used to Spinner making everything about him, and this time, he’s correct in a way. But the secondary storyline? I really am so tired of overprotective brothers gatekeeping their sisters’ relationships.
“West End Girls” (S04E20)
Recap: Manny and Paige duke it out at prom. And Kevin Smith is making a movie at Degrassi, eh?
Reasoning: This episode contains the infamous line, “You made me look like a full-fat spaz,” which is ableist, fatphobic and makes no sense. Girls fighting over boys is always exhausting, and this episode is no exception. As much as I love Kevin Smith (I wrote a research paper about the man!), I don’t love that he enters Degrassi: The Next Generation as a home wrecker.
“Goin’ Down the Road” (S04E21 & S04E22)
Recap: The kids at Degrassi get cast in Kevin Smith’s movie, which causes a bunch of drama. Kevin and Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn) smooch, which leads to her breaking up with Joey (Pat Mastroianni). Through all that, Ashley decides to go to England for the summer, which sets Craig on an episode: He flushes his meds and runs away.
Reasoning: While the Craig storyline is fantastic, I cannot let go that Degrassi: The Next Generation plays off (the fictionalized) Jason Mewes‘s sexual harassment of teenage girls as funny.
“Mercy Street” (S04E04)
Recap: Rick returns to school, and no one wants him there, so most people start bullying him. Elsewhere, J.T. buys a penis pump to impress Manny.
Reasoning: This is a complex issue, right? Bullying people is never OK, but I totally understand why the students and friends of Terri (Christina Schmidt) wouldn’t want her abuser to be at school with them.
“Time Stands Still” (S04E07 & S04E08)
Recap: Principal Raditch (Dan Woods) doesn’t listen when Rick reaches out for help, and the bullying situation reaches a breaking point: He brings a gun to school. Tragedy ensues.
Reasoning: This episode was clearly for the US Americans. Per Wikipedia, there have only been eight school shootings in Canada, only four of those in high schools, two of which were in the 1970s. This isn’t their epidemic. Thanks?
“Back in Black” (S04E09)
Recap: Sean is still reeling from having (maybe?) killed Rick. He’s no hero, especially since he moved to Degrassi after having injured a kid. He goes back to Wasaga to stay with his parents. Manny, Toby and J.T. go to Rick’s funeral.
Reasoning: I like the examination of the aftereffects of the school shooting on Sean (and the other kids). So often, with these sorts of shows, effects don’t last as long as they would in real life, but they’ve done a good job here.
“Secret” (S04E14 & S04E15)
Recap: Jay (Mike Lobel) gives Emma “a social disease”! (aka gonorrhea) when she goes down on him in the ravine. Elsewhere, Ashley pulls a big nope by (secretly) sending Craig to Ellie’s mental health support group. In lighter news, Craig and Marco break Jimmy out of the hospital so they can go to a concert.
Reasoning: Speaking of the lasting effects of trauma … Emma was also present for the shooting … Rick had pointed the gun at her, and now she’s dealing (or not). Also, Ashley’s not doing great with her reaction to Craig’s bipolar diagnosis, but it’s realistic and understandable, and dare I say, nuanced?
“Voices Carry” (S04E11 & S04E12)
Recap: Craig spirals at Ashley’s dad’s wedding, and he finally gets a diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Meanwhile, Liberty and J.T. start to get a little flirty.
Reasoning: Degrassi‘s depiction of bipolar disorder is still better than so many depictions of mental illness and mood disorders I’ve seen, even two decades later. However, I cannot give this the top spot because it perpetuates the stigma of the mentally ill being violent. It’s not that it doesn’t happen — it’s that it’s every one of us in the media. In “Goin’ Down the Road,” which I rated lower for sexual harassment, Craig is a victim of violence, which is way more common.
“Ghost in the Machine” (S04E01 & S04E02)
Recap: Paige finally has her day in court against her rapist, Dean (Shawn Roberts); unfortunately, he is acquitted. She doesn’t know what to do after and gets drunk at a party and smashes Spinner’s car into Dean’s.
Reasoning: This is some of Lauren Collins’ best acting on Degrassi. Her just losing it and slamming into Dean’s car because the system failed her is heartbreaking and well done.
“Moonlight Desires” (S04E19)
Recap: Marco organizes a blood drive at school but isn’t allowed to donate because he’s had sex with his boyfriend, Dylan. Meanwhile, said boyfriend wants them to open up their relationship, which doesn’t work for Marco. Mean-meanwhile, Spinner and Jay break into Degrassi to get back at the school for expelling them?
Reasoning: “Moonlight Desires” is Degrassi at its best. It takes a real-world issue (men who have sex with men not being allowed to donate blood) and matches it with soapy melodrama. Then, you’ve got Spinner, who realizes he just wants to be able to finish high school. 🧑🍳💋 (Note that these blood donation laws have relaxed slightly, but not entirely, in recent years.)
Ahhh, Season 4 of Degrassi: The Next Generation was weird. In some ways, this is the first season I’ve rewatched where I see the show evolving into current-day sensibilities. Unfortunately, there were too many missteps concerning sexual politics and harassment.
Final grade for Season 4 of Degrassi: The Next Generation: C+
Season MVP: The noise that J.T.’s pump makes.