Wednesday, April 1, 2009

S01 E02 - The Big Dance

We start with a shot of the Degrassi Digest – the actual one, the school newsletter, and not this blog, because that would just be weird. I'm briefly confused by how ugly it is, because nothing today is this crappily designed, until I remember that it's 1987, Word has only existed for a couple of years, and using a computer to put together a school newsletter is a ludicrous indulgence available only to the five richest kings of Europe.

We pan out to see that the newsletter is being perused by Joseph Stalin, very much alive and apparently hiding out in Canada, waiting until the time is right for a Communist resurgence. While he waits, he's started a family: Voula is in the corner, wearing a hideous apron and doing some kind of kitcheny housework, because ethnic families are old-fashioned. Write that down. She explains to him that she's the editor of the newsletter, and he says he's proud of her (a foothold in the media will help him to spread the revolutionary gospel later on). His Eastern European accent is almost as subtle and understated as Chico Marx's Italian accent.

But his pride is short-lived. He flips past the editorial page (entitled "The voice of Voula!") to find an ad for a dance this Saturday, offering "Fun!" and "Music!". It's worrying that the dance organisers didn't think that fun and music were standard, indispensable components of a dance, and actually felt a need to specify that they were planning on sourcing some fun and music for this dance specifically, and then emphasise this fact with exclamation marks. Unfortunately, Papa Stalin doesn't approve of fun or music. "Vat's thees, a dance? You're too young to go to dance!" he declares. "I don't vant my little girl dancing with boy who got only one thing on mind." "Papa, please!" wails Voula. His response: "Life is like a flower. Let it unfold." That is such a non-answer.

So, ethnic dads, they are old-fashioned. Everybody got that? Good, on to the opening credits.

After the credits, we're back at school. We see a poster declaring that "Only a broomhead would miss this dance!" Oh dear lord, it's one thing to use the word in speech, but committing it to paper is extra hopeless. A bunch of kids walk past, tunelessly tooting on assorted brass instruments, and it reminds me of the random brass bands, naval platoons, and crowds of models who used to wander unremarked around the Great Northern Hotel on Twin Peaks. Maybe David Lynch is secretly a Degrassi fan?

Lucy's talking to the twins, who by the way are now in Grade 8 and called Heather and Erica. Continuity be damned! They're coming over to her place before the dance. "Will your parents mind?" asks a twin (I'll be honest, I can't tell the difference unless they're both saying something very in-character and one of them then addresses the other by name). "No!" says Lucy. "They're loose." This is pretty much Lucy's catchphrase, and is actually a cover-up for the fact that they're neglectful deadbeats, but more on that in a couple of episodes.

Lucy heads off to the toilet, and Voula comes up to the twins. They ask her if she's going to the dance, but before she has to admit to being ethnic, Steph appears and tries to say hello. Voula wildly overreacts, with a blisteringly sarcastic "Oh, the school president is talking to me!!!" Steph looks embarrassed; the twins look like they're trying not to laugh. "Can't we ever be friends?" asks Steph. "Not in a hundred million years!" says Voula, and flounces off. Steph yells that she's being immature, and I can't argue.

Steph goes into the bathroom to change into her hideous skankwear (the fishing net again, draped over what looks like a mutilated polo shirt, and a green suede miniskirt). Lucy comes out of a cubicle (where she was reading the newspaper… nice) and asks her why she doesn't just dress like a hooker at home. Steph, unfastening the tablecloth she was wearing as a skirt, explains that her mom would ground her. "What a hick town," mutters Lucy. "All the parents are like fascists." Well, some kind of totalitarian regime of the mid-20th century, anyway.

Steph, for some reason, doesn't mind being called a hick, and is just amazed that Lucy's parents let her go around "like that". Lucy, for the record, is wearing a huge pink sweatshirt, a below-the-knee gypsy skirt over white leggings, some star earrings I'm kind of envying, a big bandana/scarf thing around her neck, and another one tied around her head. I mean, the sweatshirt is very outmoded now, and two scarves is a bit odd, but no parent aside from Richard Spier could object to this outfit. Your grandmother probably wishes you dressed like this. I have no idea why Steph thinks Lucy's folks would have a problem with it. "I can do whatever I like," says Lucy. "I can go where I want, dress how I want – " and at this point she apparently forgets how that line was supposed to end, because she just turns and leaves the room.

Steph is understandably thrown for a second, but apparently the show's budget won't cover another take, so she just soldiers on with the scene and calls Lucy back. "Have you ever asked a boy out?" "Sure!" says Lucy. "Lots of times!" "And they don't laugh?" "Of course not. Please, Stephanie, this is the '80s!" says Lucy, finally escaping from the bathroom. Heartened by this, Steph starts applying the six pounds of blusher that was de rigeur for the empowered girl of the '80s.

Out in the corridor, Michelle is apparently wearing a pyjama top; Spike is wearing what looks like a home-made Smiths T-shirt, which is a cute touch. Joey appears and goes over to Wheels. Remember Joey's best friend, Hank, from last episode? Hank is gone. You will never see Hank again. Try to forget Hank. Joey has actually just come over to brag to Wheels that he's going to the dance with Steph. "She lusts for my body!" he claims, on little to no evidence; even as he speaks, Steph is turning the terrifying power of her Flirting Grin on Wheels. Joey doesn't even notice that Wheels is smiling back at Steph, over Joey's shoulder. This isn't going to end well.

The girls go into the classroom. "He's SEW sexy!" says Steph. "What, Wheels?" asks one twin. "Well, he is better than some of the others," groans the other twin. "That's not saying much," the first twin admits, which I think is kind of rude considering that Snake and Shane are right behind them, about to sit down at their desks. Snake is wearing knee-length bright yellow shorts and a yellow shirt; his fashion choices are unusually car-crashy for a guy.

Steph, by the way, is wearing the most bizarre piece of jewellery: it resembles a bolo tie, only with fake pearls instead of a string, and ending a couple of inches below the… fasteny bit. Look, I'm sorry if my knowledge of bolo-tie terminology is deficient, ok?

OMG! Snake and Shane have super-powers! There's certainly no other explanation for how they are now suddenly back outside the classroom, walking towards it again. I mean, sure the scene might just have been lazily stage-managed, with nobody bothering to check basic issues of continuity, but… nah. Teleportation it is. Oh, also there's some kind of dialogue going on between Joey and Wheels in the foreground? Joey admits that he hasn't actually asked Steph to the dance yet, but he definitely will. Wheels looks perturbed.

Joey comes into the classroom and attempts a bit of flirting with Steph. She and the twins listen with not-at-all-concealed scorn; but if the best he can come up with is "When Jeremiah hits the floor, they always ask for more", I don't know what he was expecting. Mid-flirt, Wheels comes in and sits down at his desk. Steph ogles him like an ogly thing.

In comes Ms Avery, wearing some new Native American beadwork. Still left-wing, huh? Hilariously, the class greets her in unison as "Miss Avery", meaning that her lecture from last episode has been completely ignored. Voula gets up to speak to the class. She explains that Degrassi Junior High is planning to sponsor a foster child (at which the kids cheer with completely unrealistic enthusiasm, except for Steph, who's ostentatiously ignoring Voula). Unfortunately, nobody's actually thought how they're supposed to raise money for the sponsorship (I would have thought this was kind of a basic consideration?) so she asks for ideas.

Lucy suggests charging a dollar's admission to the dance and giving the money to the foster child. Everyone's wildly excited by this for some reason; Steph and Wheels take advantage of the diversion and ogle each other. Lucy also suggests that Voula should present the cheque at the end of the night, but Voula flails and says Steph should do it, as the school president. Steph icily agrees. Fade out to the sound of Ms Avery telling the class that sponsoring a foster child is great and it's important to help people less fortunate blah blah blah LEFT-WING.

All very nice, but "sponsoring a foster child" doesn't make any damn sense. Sponsoring and fostering are different things! And they keep using this expression and it is really bugging me.

After school, Lucy and Voula are walking out together, and Lucy is going on about how Voula should present the cheque, "not a broomhead like Stephanie". Damn. Lucy is actually one of my favourite characters in this, but I respect her less for using that word. Voula bursts out, "I'm probably not going to go to the dance! I've got too much homework."

Lucy is utterly appalled and says that Voula has the rest of her life to do homework. If I thought I was going to have to do homework for the rest of my life, I would kill myself; homework does actually end when you leave education, you know. Voula eventually admits that Papa Stalin won't let her to go to the dance. "Voula," says Lucy with an air of great worldliness, "it's all how you bring up your parents. You've gotta educate them, or they'll walk all over you. My parents are real loose." Everybody drink!

"My parents are nice!" Voula protests. "Just kind of old-fashioned. They come from a really little village." Funny, I thought Moscow was pretty big, but I suppose Voula knows best. "Don't you want to go?" asks Lucy, who's now putting on lipstick. "I'd love to!" says Voula. "Well, even parents can be reasonable, if you give them a chance. Ask again!" says Lucy. Yes, because parents love nagging. Voula gathers up her courage and asks to borrow Lucy's lipstick. Lucy looks kind of baffled that Voula is so tentative about it, but shares it anyway. Aww, female bonding.

That night, back at the Stalin residence, Voula's doing the cooking. For some reason they're having nothing but slices of bread for dinner. "Papa?" she asks. "What is it?" asks Joe, who's going through paperwork while drinking a brimming glass of wine. Booze always makes doing the household accounts much more fun! "Nothing," Voula mumbles. "Must be big nothing," he answers, and I'm sure he's playing up the ethnic accent for that line. Also, I think his shirt is made of graph paper.

Unfortunately, when Voula brings over the bread, he notices the lipstick, and makes her take it off. Ethnic dads are old-fashioned. Seriously. "You're just a little girl," he says. "It takes a long time to grow up." Studies have shown there's no quicker way to alienate a teenager than with a line like that. "So vat vas it you vere going to ask?" Voula tells him that there's this "thing" at school on Saturday, to do with the foster child, and it's utterly non-dance-like – in fact, it's "just like school", and it's in the evening, "so we could be with our family and do our homework during the day" (nice one), and, in fact, it is a meeting. Yeeeees, a meeting. That'll do. Stalin says she can go, in a voice that suggests he stopped listening some time ago, but adds that she has to be home by 9.30. Gee, I wonder if that curfew will be important in some way later on?

Next morning, in the girls' bathroom. Steph is wearing maybe her worst top yet. It's not particularly revealing, just bizarre: imagine if you had a shirt that was white with a ridiculous print of cars and tropical trees on it, and it had a really high collar that you wore up, and then you cut off the sleeves completely, and also cut out most of the back, from nearly the bottom of your back up to the bottom of the collar, so that it resembled a halter-top with a shirt collar. That's what she's wearing. With a huge plastic necklace. Also, she's wearing a lot of blue eyeshadow and is assiduously back-combing her hair as she practices crappy chat-up lines in the mirror. To her horror, a flushing sound from behind reveals that there's actually someone in one of the cubicles, and we just glimpse Nancy in the mirror, giving her a nicely eloquent smirk as she comes out of the cubicle. Heh.

Meanwhile Joey and Wheels come into the building together. "This is the day I ask Stephanie to the dance. She'll remember this day for the rest of her life," Joey announces. Wheels gives him a patronising smile, but Joey isn't the kind of guy who notices these things. Steph pops up out of nowhere and comes over to the guys. Joey tries to motion Wheels away, but before he can go, Steph asks to talk to Wheels alone. Joey does a terrible job of hiding how annoyed he is, but goes off, muttering something about polishing his nails. Wow, Joey invented metrosexuality?

Steph frogmarches Wheels into a cupboard full of gym supplies for some reason, hits him with the full-scale Flirting Grin, and asks him to the dance. Wheels, brave man that he is, doesn't run screaming, not even a little bit, and in fact agrees to go with her. Joey overhears and runs off. Awww. When Wheels is gone, Steph does a victory squee. Her hair is so wide, she looks like a badly dressed mushroom.

Saturday night. Steph is rehearsing her speech for the dance and bundling some kind of silver outfit into her bag. Voula comes downstairs in a fugly purple skirt and a hideous ethnic/Victorian plaid blouse that we may or may not have seen before – it's hard to tell these… things… apart. Her dad is doing the dishes (!) and reminds her that if she doesn't get home by 9.30, he's going to the school to pick her up. They're sure emphasising this 9.30 thing, but I'm sure it won't be relevant. Wheels is in a tiny bathroom. He asks "Dad" if he can borrow some aftershave, and a disembodied voice mumbles "OK, sure." Unperturbed by the apparent hauntedness of his bathroom, Wheels pours out a handful of some bright blue stuff that looks more like mouthwash to me, and rubs it all over his face and neck.

Lucy's chilling on the couch, reading a huge book about "MOVIES". Voula knocks at the door, and Lucy goes to let her in. She's wearing leopard-print leggings and a bright orange top with a jagged hem which looks like something you might cobble together if you had to go to a fancy-dress party as Wilma Flintstone on short notice. When she sees Voula's "outfit", she chokes out a polite compliment, but obviously even Voula knows how bad her clothes are, because she quickly explains that she brought other stuff to change into. "I'm so excited!" she sighs. "My first dance." Her misplaced optimism about a junior-high dance is utterly adorable. Judging by the look on her face, Lucy feels the same way I do.

Another knock at the door, and it's the twins, plus Steph. The twins remark on how posh the house is, but Lucy retorts, "This dump? You should have seen our loft in Manhattan." This is a breathtakingly rude response, but the others don't seem to notice. Steph's heading towards the stairs when Voula comes down. She's wearing heels (!!), a not-completely-terrible skirt with random sparkly bits, and a peasant blouse that isn't as terrible as her usual peasant blouses, but is such a morbid shade of hospital-décor blue that it makes me want to cry.

She and Steph exchange awkward glares, and Voula announces she's leaving for the dance right now. Lucy and the twins tell her to save some boys for them. Given that Steph will be there in a Steph outfit, I think it's probably not Voula they need to worry about.

Outside the school, Voula's greeted by some extras. I don't get a proper look at their outfits but one of them is wearing a blouse made from that brown swirly carpet that old people have in their living rooms. Snake is sitting outside in sunglasses, apparently for ogling purposes.

Aaaargh. This dance looks so fucking depressing. There's hardly anyone there, the gym is way too brightly lit and full of random folding chairs and crates and things, and there's a huge banner reading "DEGRASSI'S BENEFIT DANCE TO SUPPORT A FOSTER CHILD !!", which I think is the least catchy name for a social event in human history. Wheels is wandering around aimlessly in a pair of obscenely tight pants, there's a kid in the background wearing what I swear is a man's nightshirt over white tapered trousers, and Ms Avery is wearing the kind of horrible floral dress that your mother might have worn to the wedding of a distant relative in 1985, if your mother was a particularly bad dresser and didn't like the relative or approve of the marriage.

Voula doesn't know any better, though, and she wanders into the gym looking utterly spellbound and mumbling, "Wow! Fantastic…" rather loudly to herself, until she's called over to a table by a very miserable-looking Caitlin. I would blame her misery on the dance, but Caitlin's always miserable about something. Meanwhile, Arthur is dancing with Nightshirt Kid. Mr Raditch makes a deeply cringeworthy speech, in which he refers to himself as "your disc jockey, Rompin' Rockin' Raditch", and claims that he'll be playing "the kind of music YOU wanna hear". If any teacher at my school had made that speech, he would have been lucky to escape physical violence, but apparently Canadian kids are way more willing to humour this kind of behaviour, because they just laugh politely.

Back at Lucy's house, the girls are having a generic teen whinge about how their parents treat them like kids, when one twin notices the huge amount of booze on the kitchen counter. "If you want to drink, go ahead," says Lucy. "But what about your parents?" asks the other twin. "Oh, they're loose," she says. Drink! And apparently the twins are playing the Lucy's Parents Drinking Game too, because this is the signal for them to start boozing.

Just then, Steph comes down the stairs, in a pair of bright pink leggings, and you know the way leggings have to be worn with a long top, otherwise they just look kind of obscene? Well, she's not wearing a long top. (A blue boob tube and a shirt made out of one of those foil blankets they give you for shock, since you asked.) And it looks kind of obscene.

She's amazed to find the twins drinking, but when they act surprised that she's never been drunk, she insists that she has in fact been drunk lots of times, and starts swigging whiskey from a bottle. Lucy looks appropriately concerned when she realises that her friends obviously have no idea what they're doing, but she's not the meddling type.

Meanwhile, at the dance, Joey turns up in a Hawaiian shirt, sunglasses, and a straw sunhat – seriously, have none of these kids ever even seen a disco on TV? Nightshirts and sunhats! Joey comes up to Wheels and theatrically smells him, claiming his aftershave smells like oven cleaner, but Wheels just smirks at him, and then foolishly lets slip that he doesn't know where Stephanie is. Joey is delighted at this, and goes over to mess with Mr Raditch's stack of records. Mr Raditch literally slaps his hand away. Ha!

At Lucy's, the girls are laughing idiotically and drinking from assorted bottles, while Lucy watches from the couch. Suddenly her mom phones. Lucy calls her mom by her first name! How daring and liberal and, dare I say, loose! She then hangs up, just in time to watch Steph downing an entire glass full of Bailey's, a sight which makes me feel vaguely queasy. Not as queasy as it will shortly make Steph, though.

Aw, how cute! Arthur's asking Voula to dance! Well, actually what they do is stand several feet apart, grin nervously at each other, and sway arrhythmically from side to side, but I suppose that's as close as two such hopeless geeks will ever get to actual dancing. A briefly non-miserable Caitlin is dancing with Joey, straw sunhat and all. Wheels is sulking at a table.

Outside, the girls are stumbling drunkenly towards the school, bellowing the school song. Steph falls over at one point. Alexa is sulking outside the door in a power suit for some reason, and Spike and Shane are having what looks like a Deep Talk in the hallway. I've seen real grown-up TV shows, made on actual budgets, that could learn a few things about foreshadowing from this show.

Finally, the girls make it into the gym, and Steph sleazes over to Wheels. Her greeting is a classic: "Oh Wheeeels, you're SO SEXY! …Are you wearing mosquito repellent?" Meanwhile Lucy explains to Voula that Steph's "been drinking", conveniently neglecting to mention that she's the one who supplied her with unlimited hard liquor.

Mr Raditch announces something called the "Annual Degrassi Junior High Crazy Dance". Cue some obstinately sane jumping up and down from the kids. It turns out that jumping wildly while spinning your head around really fast is sort of a bad idea when you're incredibly drunk, because Steph suddenly stops and runs off, with her hand to her mouth. The girls follow her into the bathroom, just in time to hear some deeply unpleasant vomiting noises from one of the cubicles.

Back in the gym, Wheels resignedly goes back to his Sulkin' Table.

Steph is done throwing up and is now washing her face. She looks at herself in the mirror (she's even more terrifying than usual, due to the goth-style smudged mascara) and mumbles that she'll never be able to face Wheels again. A twin unhelpfully points out that she'd "better get better real quick" because she has to present this confusing foster-sponsorship cheque. People always get better when you tell them to get better. But strangely, the only effect it has on Steph is to make her sit down on the floor in a pool of self-pity and whine, "Somebody else has to do it! …Somebody? Please?" The twins look at her in a half-heartedly pitying way that makes it very clear they have no intention of helping. Worse still, Lucy suddenly decides she hasn't facilitated enough trouble tonight, and runs off to get Voula.

Just now, Voula's in the midst of some passionate slow-dancing with Arthur. Unfortunately, it's time for her to leave, or her clothes will magically turn back into plaid monstrosities. And thus ends the only action either of these two will ever get. Anyway, she's grabbed on her way out by Lucy, who ignores her protests and drags her off to the toilets.

Dun-dun-dun! Papa Stalin is pulling up outside.

Steph is still on the bathroom floor, looking angsty, when Voula and Lucy come in. Voula is making a snide remark about how Stephanie is "good at making speeches", but Lucy just points at Steph and says, "But look. She's so sick." The word is drunk, Lucy. D-R-U-N-K. Drunkety drunk drunk drunk.

Ethnic Dad gets out of his car and goes into the school building. Shane and Spike are now sitting on the steps, and he's got his arm around her. Stalin shoots them a dirty look; for once, his distrust of lecherous North American youth is not misplaced. Inside the gym, he sees more horrors. There are kids slow-dancing! To some pretty awful music! And a disco ball! Those things are an invitation to sin. Ms Avery goes up onto the stage with a hairy charity guy in a tweed suit, and asks for a big round of applause for Stephanie. Lucy runs up and gives her some kind of cover story, and Ms Avery, apparently used to last-minute drunken emergencies of this kind, cheerfully announces Voula instead. Nobody seems to have noticed Stalin, who's lurking at the back of the hall. We can only see the back of his head, but it looks pissed.

Voula makes a very sweet speech about how she and her classmates raised money for charity to show that kids aren't selfish, and are aware of the problems of the wider world, etc. Now, in any normal TV show, this is where they'd cut to Voula's dad, his icy stony heart melting out of its icy stony ways when he sees that his daughter is a good kid really, and only disobeyed him for a good cause, and we'd be all set for a heartwarming reconciliation. But this is Degrassi Junior High, and he's an Ethnic Dad, and he's just stomping steadily towards the podium with a Face o'Doom that makes me want to yelp in terror and hide behind the couch. Impressively, Voula manages to hold it together long enough to finish her speech, at which point he grabs her arm and drags her out of the room. Classy guy.

Back in the bathroom, Stephanie's alone and barefoot on the floor in the dark, the sound of a dripping tap adding some extra squalor to the scene, like it wasn't squalid enough already.

Voula and her dad are arguing out in the hall. Voula claims that "everyone else in the whole world gets to go to dances", which suggests she maybe isn't so up on the Third World as her speech would have us believe.

Lucy comes in to check on Steph, who's really milking this. Lucy offers to let Steph come home with her to get changed into her normal clothes, and I can't decide if she's being way nicer than Steph deserves or is just desperate for company because her parents are deadbeats.

Out in the hall, Stalin is yelling, "Your mama didn't go to dance till she vas sixteen!" Voula sensibly points out that it's no longer the 1890s and they are no longer living in Generic Eastern European Country, but Ethnic Dads have no time for Canadian logic. Even when she points out that the dance was for a good cause, he answers, "You lied, Voula. That cannot change!" Ah, ethnic dads. Old-fashioned to the last.

"I feel like such a broomhead," moans Stephanie, who's apparently progressed to the "eerily lucid self-awareness" stage of drunkenness. Lucy helps her out of the bathroom and down the hall, while Stephanie rambles about phoning everyone to apologise for her actions (wow, she's skipped straight to the "joining a 12-step programme" stage) and getting her mother to make her cocoa. Which I think will only make her more sick, but I don't really care as long as we don't have to hear her vomit again.

The girls walk away, and we're left with an unutterably bleak shot of the hallway in semi-darkness, a banner for the dance on the wall and deflating balloons discarded on the floor. It's a heartbreaking visual metaphor for all the shattered girlish hopes and dreams of what this dance would be, and, by extension, for everything tragic and disappointing in this world.

They really could have picked a better image to freeze on for the end credits.

Dubious lesson of the week: Ethnic families are old-fashioned, and the fathers are brutal autocrats with hearts of stone, fists of iron, and moustaches of pure hate. If you lie to your parents for a good cause, don't think that'll change anything: they'll still be mad at you when they find out. Also, if you get unspeakably drunk before you have to give a speech, you'll probably spend the evening vomiting – but there'll be some minion you can guilt-trip into covering for you, so try not to worry too much.

2 comments:

livii said...

Stalin shoots them a dirty look; for once, his distrust of lecherous North American youth is not misplaced.

This made me actually laugh out loud. Great work, I'm loving these recaps.

Ms Avery said...

Thanks :D Glad you like them!