Tuesday, June 16, 2009

S01 E05 – The Great Race

The girls' locker room. On the PA, Mr Lawrence expositions that sports are "a big part of life" at Degrassi Junior High. Melanie's in her school swimsuit, staring at her own chest in the mirror. L.D. is watching and getting creeped out. "What are you doing?" she asks.

"Checking!" says Melanie brightly. "Checking?" asks L.D., who knows where this conversation is going and doesn't want to go there. And who could blame her?

"My mom won't let me get a bra. Which is really unfair, 'cause I need one. Don't you think?" asks Melanie. L.D. looks kind of panicked and mumbles something ineffective, but when Melanie gets mad, L.D. reluctantly agrees with her. "It's obvious!" insists Melanie. "I don't know what's wrong with my mom. Maybe she needs glasses or something?" L.D. politely resists the urge to point out that if your boobs can't be seen without glasses, they may not be all that big. The swimming coach comes in and calls the girls out. L.D. has to drag Melanie away from her fascinated contemplation of her own breasts. Opening credits.

So, there's a swimming pool, and people are swimming in it. People in swimming caps and goggles give me the creeps – they look like aliens. Anyway, Melanie is a fast swimmer, and they win because of her. This is Important to the Plot. Everyone jumps into the pool to celebrate. High-fives ensue.

Later, everyone's leaving Mr Raditch's classroom. Joey comes up to Steph, and breaks out a line he's obviously been working on all day: "Hey Stephanie, did you know I got an A+ in sex education last year? So if there's anything you want to know, Joey P. Jeremiah – P for Playboy – at your service." Thank GOD the P is for Playboy (and I'm pretty sure the uppercase P is appropriate here, as I think Joey has more experience of tacky "men's magazines" than of actual playboyism). Steph inexplicably continues to be entertained by Joey's flirting, and even feigns interest in the cutouts of "hot" '80s chicks and motorbikes pasted inside his locker. I never thought I'd say this, but Stephanie Kaye is aiming too low here.

L.D. runs up and tells Steph that the girls won their swimming race and are in the city finals of something unspecified. "Great," says Steph, with a spectacularly insincere toothy smile. L.D asks her to make an announcement about it, but Steph tells her that school presidents don't announce sports and to go see someone called Jason Cox. As so often happens to characters on this show, L.D. doesn't seem to realise she's being snubbed, and runs off to find Jason.

Close-up on the inside of Arthur's locker. We see a clumsily hand-drawn height chart with Arthur and Yick's heights marked. Arthur's replaced his owl poster with some horrifying photo of a sort of mummified face with lots of plaster of Paris melting off it, like if you were delirious from malaria and then took acid, you might have hallucinations of this sort of thing. There's also a really disturbing artist's reconstruction of a buck-toothed teenage Neanderthal, a poster of a slug, and another one called "Insects on Parade".

Yick and Arthur take turns standing up against the height chart, and both are pissed off to discover that they're still short, just like yesterday. They rail against cruel Fate for a bit, and just as they're going to leave, Snake (who's at least 6 feet tall) walks by. They both watch him like he is a man-god, come to earth just to make them look even shorter by comparison.

Melanie's getting books out of her locker when Snake the Man-God appears and goes to his locker, which is a couple feet away. Melanie blatantly ogles him, until he looks over at her and she turns away hastily. Scene from the credits! Snake totally noticed, though, and gives her an "Awww, cute" kind of smile. Which is not actually that encouraging, from her point of view.

Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence is on the PA again, and announces that the music club is looking for new members, and "new tuba players would be especially appreciated". Seriously, this is the weirdest running joke ever.

L.D comes over and teases Melanie about liking Snake. Melanie denies it unconvincingly. Random girls appear and congratulate them about the swimming thing. Did you know the girls are good at swimming? Pay attention.

A kid runs up to Doris the Secretary's desk, and he's got a football under his arm so you know he's Jason Cox, the sports guy Stephanie mentioned earlier. He tells Doris he needs to make an announcement on the PA. "Ok, just keep it brief. I've got a date!" says Doris, sounding all excited and squeeish. Awww. While Doris anxiously touches up her makeup (hee!), Jason announces that the boys have a soccer match that afternoon, and everyone should turn up to support them. No mention of the girls' swimming team. L.D. and Melanie hear him, and are filled with righteous feminist rage.

Outside the school, Arthur and Yick hide behind their stalking tree and spy on Snake. "How come he gets to be tall?" asks Yick resentfully. "I'm not sure," says Arthur, "but I read somewhere that you are what you eat. Maybe we should find out what he eats." Arthur needs to find some better reading material.

The boys are getting on with the important manly business of kicking a soccer ball at random, while some girls (who know their place) practice cheerleading. L.D. and Melanie march up to Jason and demand to talk to him. L.D. asks why he didn't make an announcement about the swimming team, and Jason says he didn't have time. L.D. correctly points out that this is a stupid excuse.

"Ladies, ladies," Jason begins. And nothing good ever started with that. "People don't care about girls' sports. Girls aren't good athletes." Smug nods from the soccer team. Indignation from L.D. and Melanie (and a collection of girls who've appeared out of nowhere). "Don't get mad at me," says Jason. "It's human nature, right?" "Ya, right on!" say the boys.

L.D. points out that the girls are actually good at swimming, while the boys lose all their matches. Jason has an answer: "We're unlucky, that's all. Anyway, soccer's tough. If you win, big deal. If we were swimming against a bunch of girls, we'd win too." The man knows how to work a crowd.

L.D. challenges the boys' soccer team to a swimming race against the girls. Jason looks around at the rest of his team. The other guys look nauseous, cough and stare at their shoes. "Ok!" says Jason. "We'll be there!" His undoubted talents obviously don't include reading body language. The boys then hurry off and get into a minivan, presumably to go to their doomed soccer game. Jason actually grabs the cheerleaders by the arms and shepherds them in too. What a gent.

Snake's been watching the whole argument, and now exchanges goofy grins with Melanie before cycling off.

The next scene opens with some tremendously blatant product placement: a very tight close-up of two McDonald's milkshakes being slurped tantalisingly (it's that old packaging where everything had rows of M's in regulation '80s shades of brown and yellow, which makes me feel both nostalgic and hungry). The camera pulls out to reveal that the delicious, delicious milkshakes are being drunk by L.D. and Melanie.

"What a sexist!" whines L.D. "He's just like my brothers. They think just because I'm a girl, I'm a second-class person. Well, we'll show Jason, right?" Melanie is entirely not listening, and wonders out loud if Snake just sees her as a kid "But who could blame him? It's my mum's fault. She thinks I'm still a little kid! I'm nearly a teenager. A passionate teenager whose dumb mom won't let her buy a bra."

L.D. listens open-mouthed to this baffling monologue, then stands up and drags Melanie down the road, announcing that they're going to go buy a bra. Off they go, with Melanie making shrieky noises of protest, watched by passerby Nancy, who seems to exist for the sole purpose of rolling her eyes at the crazy antics of the main characters.

More product placement! Closeup of a shiny Wonderbra sign in a department store, which lists (in French and English!) the range of bra types made by Wonderbra. We will also see large numbers of clearly branded Wonderbras on the shelves and a poster for something called the "Wonderbra support system". Wonderbra Wonderbra Wonderbra. This is shameless. On the other hand, the bras the girls look at are all horrible things so big they could qualify as nightdresses, and the underwear models on the posters are all suicidal-looking middle-aged bottle blondes, so this may not have actually done much for Wonderbra sales.

"I can't do this!" giggles Melanie. "Of course you can! Don't be so chicken!" L.D. tells her. Melanie utters yet another timeless nonsensical Melanie speech: "I am not chicken! Well, maybe a little bit, but not a lot, though, sort of like a chicken wing, without the legs, or breasts…" "Ha ha! Breasts!" says L.D., and they collapse (almost literally) into giggles. Hilarious.

"What'll I tell my mom?" asks Melanie. "She doesn't have to know," says L.D. "You can change at school like Stephanie!" "Oh, like Stephanie," says Melanie, in a valiant attempt at withering sarcasm. She clearly realises that taking Stephanie as a role model in any area of life is a recipe for disaster. Smart kid.

L.D. shoves a huge bra at Melanie, who looks terrified, and then takes another one and sticks it over Melanie's eyes like a blindfold, which is pretty weird, really, and Melanie looks like she doesn't know whether to be amused or to run screaming and just avoid the whole bra issue by getting a sex change.

Before Melanie can make any life-changing decisions, though, an old and for some reason English shop assistant whooshes up and asks if she can help them. "She wants to buy a bra," explains L.D. "Mmmm!" says the woman eagerly, which, girls, should be your cue to run. She makes a vague attempt to measure Melanie (i.e. wraps a measuring tape diagonally around her torso, so that it goes under one boob and over the other) and declares, "I think I know what you'd like." She yanks a random bra off the rack and holds it up reverently, murmuring, "It is lovely, isn't it?" like it's some kind of antique Chinese embroidery rather than a fugly nylon bra – but at least the Wonderbra marketing department are getting their money's worth. Melanie smiles politely and wonders if this woman is actually insane.

"Would you like to try it on?" asks the bra lady. "What? Here?" asks Melanie in disgust. "In the change rooms, dummy!" explains L.D. Aw man, do you remember when you were a kid and your mother would make you try stuff on behind a rack of clothes if there was a big queue for the changing rooms, and it was the most embarrassing thing ever? Or was that just my mother?

"You really should try it on," says the bra lady. "You can't bring it back." She is extraordinarily patient with these two, who are laughing so squeakily through all of this that I think they might be back on the New Zealand Zappers. Off they go to the changing rooms, where no doubt more bra-based hilarity ensues, but thankfully we're spared actually having to watch it.

Next morning, Stephanie is in the Bathroom of Skanky Transformations, putting blusher on her cheeks and also on her chin for some reason. L.D. is begging her to put in an appearance at the swimming race. "Do I get to make a speech?" asks Steph, in her flirty voice (I guess she's decided that it's easier to just leave it switched on all the time, or else that a bit of lesbian flirting will provide her with a much-needed change of pace). L.D. says she doesn't have to, but Steph tosses her head, looks sideways at L.D, and smoulders, "I'm getting pretty good at speeches, you know." L.D, completely oblivious to Steph's dubious charms, cheerfully answers that Steph can say whatever she likes.

"Can I wear my new wet-look bikini? It's hot pink," says Stephanie. "Sure, wear whatever you like," L.D. says with difficulty, obviusly getting more and more uncomfortable with Steph's leching, but aware that this is the price of getting her to appear at the race. I feel a bit sorry for L.D., because she's considerably more mature than most of the people around her, and also because those sexist brothers she mentioned earlier? Don't exist. We get a whole episode later on centred around her home life, and she has no brothers. Whatever gets her through the day, I guess, but it seems kind of sad to me.

Melanie comes out of the cubicle, wearing the new bra under her T-shirt. The others stare. "What do you think?" she asks. The others tell her she looks "real nice", though Stephanie needs a bit of prompting from L.D., and is a terrible liar. "Isn't it great? I feel grown up at last!" sighs Melanie, and heads out to work her Wonderbra magic on the general population. Stephanie smirks.

Out in the corridor, Melanie meets Susie and Caitlin. They say hello, but that's all, so Melanie ostentatiously fidgets with her bra. They look rather disturbed at first, but eventually Caitlin catches on and says, "Your mum changed her mind!" Jeez, did Melanie tell the whole school about her braless woes? The girls awkwardly compliment her new bust.

And speaking of busts, here comes the bust connoisseur himself, Joey Jeremiah! "Nice BRA, Melanie," he says, then pretends to sneeze and asks her for a Kleenex. Melanie insists her suspiciously lumpy bosom is not made of Kleenex and Caitlin witheringly tells him to knock it off. Joey and Tim crack themselves up comparing Melanie's boobs to variously-sized fruits, then finish with a wolf-howl for some reason. Excessively ominous music plays. Melanie is crushed. Teenage boys say stupid things? Who knew?

At lunchtime, Sexist Jason, Wheels, and some guy who I don't think will ever appear again but whom the credits refer to as "Wai Lee" are huddled in a stairwell. Jason is insisting that the guys can't back down or everyone will call them chicken (and thankfully doesn't go of into a rambling discussion of chicken parts, a la Melanie)."We'll look pretty dumb if we lose," counters Wai Lee through a mouthful of carrot sticks. Wheels utters a cogent but very poorly acted speech about why the guys are utterly fucked, but Jason is still in frantic denial. "I thought you were men!" he wails. Wheels looks appalled at this error of judgement. Wai Lee just chomps on a carrot stick, which is an answer in itself, as carrot sticks are the wussiest of school lunches.

Jason suggests that they could win if Snake swims with them, but Wheels points out that he's not on the soccer team. Wai Lee specifies that Snake was, in fact, cut from the team for being terrible. Jason says that he's a good swimmer, and makes the others promise to swim in the race if he can get Snake to join. It seems that Sexist Jason is also Unethical Jason!

Snake the Man-God is unsuspectingly eating lunch on the front steps, wearing a huge pair of sunglasses with a cord around his neck, like old women have. But apparently in the '80s this just heightened a man's allure: women want to be with Snake, men want to be him. Arthur and Yick are staking him out from behind a bike rack, but they're too far away to see what he's eating. Just as they're getting ready to wander by for a better look, Generally Unsavoury Jason barges past them and goes to sit next to Snake.

Jason asks Snake to swim with the boys in the race, but Snake reminds him that he's not on the team due to his previously mentioned suckitude. "No," says Jason, "I remember the tryouts. You were… not bad, actually." That's some nice lying. Snake is still having some ethical qualms but Jason says he'll get him another tryout if he agrees to swim. Snake sort of agrees to it.

Jason goes, and Snake takes out his lunch. It's a pot of yogurt. Yick and Arthur are staring at him from two feet away. After a minute, he realises, and looks up. "Uh… excuse me… is that yogurt?" asks Arthur raptly. "Yeah," says Snake, looking so weirded out he might cry. The boys walk off, and Yick points out that he eats yogurt all the time and is still short, so Arthur decides that they need to find out what Snake eats after school. Because the problem couldn't possibly be that their plan is stupid in the first place. Nuh-uh.

Later, in English class, Mr Raditch is reading out loud (the Player Queen's lines from Hamlet, in a squeaky woman's voice, since you asked). The line he's reading contains the word "breast", and all the boys laugh. Susie rolls her eyes in mature disgust; Caitlin gives the boys a look of pure loathing. The mention of breasts gives Alex an idea, and he reaches over and snaps Melanie's bra. "Ow!" she screams. Mr Raditch glowers at her and asks sarcastically if there's something she'd like to share with the rest of the class, like she would yell "Ow!" as a hilarious prank. Raditch is obviously unfamiliar with the concept of hilarity. Melanie hides her face in her hands. More ominous music. Let this be a lesson to you all, girls: breasts are a source of unending public shame, and don't you forget it.

After class, a glum Melanie shuffles out of the room, with Susie and Caitlin making feeble attempts to cheer her up. Joey yells that he can't wait to see her in her bathing suit. Melanie looks yet more shamefaced. Snake overhears and watches her anxiously, or he might just be daydreaming about bathing suits. Steph has a pink wet-look bikini she'd love to show him.

Melanie mopes out into the stairwell, where there's a poster advertising an "informal current affairs discussion group" run by Ms Avery. Because Ms Avery is a liberal. L.D. catches up with Melanie and complains that half the swim team are refusing to swim because they've got their periods, or don't want the boys to see them in swimsuits, but "at least there's four of us – Susie, Caitlin, me and you –" "I'm not swimming," says Melanie. L.D. freaks out, but Melanie walks off. Commercial break.

A little later, the boys are practicing soccer, and Wheels isn't very good in goal, by the way. Melanie and L.D. walk by, Melanie still insisting she won't swim. L.D. delivers a heartfelt speech about how winning this race would let her overcome the years of gender-based trauma she's suffered at the hands of her sexist brothers, which would be very touching if her brothers EXISTED.

Melanie, who's somehow acquired a big black cardigan with which to cover her shameful body, says that everyone laughed at her today and it'll be worse if they see her in a swimsuit. She insists that her bra isn't stuffed, it just "shapes" her, but she can't wear it under her "Speedo" (good lord, does the product placement never end?) and she'll look flat and the mockery will never end. She walks sadly homewards, the logo on her brand-new Speedo sports bag clearly legible. Yes, really.

Meanwhile, back on the soccer pitch, Jason and Snake come over and Jason announces that the coach let Snake on the team (presumably the coach is easily bribed). Manly cheering. The boys start to play, but Snake is just as bad at soccer as we have been led to believe. He tries to weasel out, but Jason insists he just needs practice.

Later, Arthur and Yick are lurking outside an unbelievably dingy shop called the "De Grassi Grocery", which looks like the kind of place with a secret back room where they remove bullets, no questions asked. Arthur watches through a pair of binoculars as Snake comes out eating something, which they identify as a "Super Crunch Delight". Once he's gone, they run in and buy forty of them. Oh, those boys!

Next morning. Melanie comes into school, still carrying her Speedo bag despite insisting she won't swim, and in comes Jason, also with a Speedo bag. This is getting ridiculous. Jason goes over to Snake, and then sees L.D., and proudly tells her Snake's on the team. L.D. knows what he's up to, Jason says there's nothing she can do about it, and Snake watches them argue. He grins goofily every time he looks at Jason and seems troubled and qualmy every time he looks at L.D. "I still don't think this is right," he says after L.D. is gone. Jason doesn't give a crap.

Inside, Melanie's going upstairs when she sees Joey and Tim (in a bookie's hat) taking bets on the race. Is there no adult supervision in this school? Cut to Snake, alone, tormentedly eating a Super Crunch Delight – the brunch of champions! – on the front steps.

Jason comes into the boys' changing room, but finds only Wheels and the perpetually depressed Wai Lee. "Where's Snake?" asks Wheels. "He's not here?" says Jason. "Sure he is," snarks Wheels. "He's just so thin you missed him." Heh. The others obviously hold Jason personally responsible for this hitch in their cheating plans, so he runs off to look for Snake the Man-God before they mutiny.

Meanwhile, Susie, L.D. and Caitlin are in their changing room, doing warm-ups in their spiffy matching Adidas jackets YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING. Oh look, a Speedo poster on the wall. The girls are all pretty depressed, because apparently Melanie's been carrying this team all along and they're doomed without her. Stephanie, in her tried-and-trusted pink boob tube and minty green miniskirt, her hair freshly back-combed to full mushroomy glory, practises her speech: "It's a big day for the girls' swim team, blah blah blah." Yes, really. L.D. asks what happened to the pink wet-look bikini, but Steph says there's too many people out there. What, all of a sudden she's developed a sense of shame? This isn’t the Steph we know and tolerate!

Jason runs through the deserted halls calling forlornly for Snake. It would be touching, if Jason wasn't such a pain in the ass.

Somebody's remembered that the subplot needed wrapping up. Cut to Arthur and Yick hanging onto one of those laddery climbing-frame thingies they have in school gyms, in an effort to stretch. "I'll never eat another Super Crunch Delight again," says Arthur. "I was sick all night." "Me too," grunts Yick. "My arms hurt." "Mine too. But that's the price of getting tall – there's no gain without pain," says Arthur. My sides are splitting, I assure you.

Finally, Jason finds another human being in the corridors, but unfortunately for him it's mere mortal Melanie. She says she hasn't seen Snake. "Aren't you supposed to be getting ready to swim?" asks Jason. When she can't look him in the eye, he realises she's not swimming, and is so delighted he does one of those little sideways kicks as he goes off to keep looking for Snake. It would be cute, if Jason wasn't such a pain in the ass.

Eventually he gives up, and returns to the changing room. He announces that Snake's still missing, but they don't need him, because Melanie's not swimming either. There's another Speedo poster in the boys' changing room, no surprise there, only it shows some huge oiled-up muscly guy in the world's smallest bulgiest swimming trunks, and frankly it's a little creepy.

With a level of self-belief that would be inspiring if he wasn't such a pain in the ass, Jason declares that Melanie backed out of the race because she knows the boys are going to win. Wai Lee and Wheels finally fall for his web of confidence-building lies, and exchange giant grins.

Meanwhile, Snake is sitting in godly isolation on the front steps, eating some kind of brown mush wrapped in tinfoil. Melanie comes out the door and tells him Jason's looking for him. "Yeah, well," snaps Snake. Then: "I thought you were swimming?" "I thought you were swimming," says Melanie.

Snake explains that he quit because it "wasn't right", as he was only put on the soccer team in order to rig the race. "They said I can play, but I know I can't. I used to be pretty good… but since I got tall, my feet don't always do what I tell them to any more." And this is the tragic revelation of the episode: puberty is a bitch, and it will shatter your dreams. Speaking of which, wouldn't big breasts make you all unstreamlined, so you couldn't swim as fast? Melanie had better hope she stays flat-chested.

Snake asks Melanie why she's not swimming. "I bought this b…" she trails off. "You saw the way Joey and them laughed at me. And I hate being laughed at."

Snake the Man-God, of course, has the answer: "Everyone hates being laughed at. But you can't let that stop you from doing stuff." Wow, that's like, totally deep. Melanie looks inspired. Hers has been a life very starved of inspirational material.

Joey leads his posse of male chauvinists into the stands by the pool. As the school song plays (of course), the girls' team emerge from the changing rooms in their snazzy Speedo/Adidas outfits. Much cheering from the girls, booing from the boys, and brandishing of handmade placards from everyone, because people had a lot of time on their hands before the internet. Then the boys' team comes out of their door. Cheering from the boys, and also for some reason from Alexa. Sell-out.

Inside the locker room, Melanie's in her swimsuit. She stares ponderously at herself in the mirror, then checks out her bosom one last time. Nope, still small.

Outside, the teams are standing by the edge of the pool, when the girls' door opens again and Melanie comes out. Her team-mates cheer. Wheels and Wai Lee look like they might beat up Jason. Joey leans over and yells, "Hey Melanie! You're so flat the walls are jealous!" Ominous music, but Melanie meets L.D.'s eye and they smile at each other, fondly remembering their hilarious Wonderbra-based capers of two days ago. With that, L.D. runs over to Joey, grabs him and throws him in the pool. Everybody laughs (even Rick! Caitlin would be proud).

Once Joey's been rescued by his chauvinist sidekicks, Stephanie starts the race. Thankfully, this is one Steph speech that doesn't end in a giant group makeout session or in vomiting. Though when the swimmers dive in, she gets splashed and recoils like the Wicked Witch of the West. People swim, the audience cheers (Snake's turned up to watch). Melanie swims last. Obviously she wins. In the grand tradition of this show, the credits roll over an unflattering, blurry still of her grinning face. But at least her teeth are straight.

Dubious lessons of the week: In the great race that is puberty, there are no winners. Also, Wonderbras are the sine qua non of womanhood and Speedo and Adidas make the most delightful sportswear.

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