Tuesday, March 10, 2009

S01 E01 - Kiss Me, Steph

We start on the lawn in front of the school. Steph is striding militantly down the sidewalk, dressed in a gigantic blue skirt and white blouse, with a purple sweater knotted over her shoulders a la someone in a yachting catalogue. She looks like a preppy tent.

Arthur spots her and calls out, and she pretends not to know him, only he won't stop yelling so she has to turn around. In principle, I'm on his side here, but considering he has not one but two fountain pens clipped onto the neckband of his T-shirt, I can sort of understand how she feels. Arthur apparently doesn't know he's a geek and is thus confused that his sister is ignoring him, so she rolls her eyes and says that he's not allowed talk to her and she doesn't want anyone to know that they're related. He still doesn't get it, so she expositions that since their parents split up, and he lives with Dad and she lives with Mom, she's enterprisingly taking the opportunity to cut loose all her style-cramping male relatives (and swap Dad's Polish surname for Mom's Anglo one, presumably in preparation for a career in showbiz). "It's not you," she protests, "it's the system! I'm in Grade 8, so I'm important. You're in Grade 7, so you're, like, totally embarrassing." Ouch. As she flounces away, Arthur looks baffled but not that upset; clearly, he knows when he's on to a good thing.

Epic opening credits are epic. Inside the school, Steph exchanges some awkward, apparently improvised, chit-chat with Shane and Rick before going into the girls' bathroom. Here she has an overwrought reunion with Voula, who is wearing a lace-trimmed plaid blouse with a high neck and a bib, because her people are immigrants. Also, Deirdre glasses. In an uncharacteristically generous gesture, Steph has bought her a silver bangle "from one best friend to another", although actually it looks like half a pair of handcuffs. Voula is thrilled by this emblem of servitude. Steph tells Voula about her callous abandonment of her brother, and Voula is, ironically, entirely cool with this. Don't let the bracelet fool you, girl: Stephanie Kaye will chew you up and spit you out. With hilarious results.

Although I can't blame her for maybe getting a little distracted from the conversation at this point: Steph has casually started to strip. Underneath, she's wearing an outfit that's more or less a direct rip-off of Olivia Newton-John's in Grease. "What are you doing?" asks Voula, sounding as horrified as I feel. Steph's top is so revealing that I feel violated having to look at it. "This is Grade 8!" says Steph. "We're supposed to be more mature, so I'm going to start dressing more mature." Actually, her previous outfit was way more mature, in the sense of "a woman of mature years", but I don't think that's what she meant.

Arthur shuffles into school and interrupts a bizarrely warm-hearted reunion between Joey and Doris (the school secretary) to ask for directions. Joey introduces himself as "Joey Jeremiah Esquire, Chairman of the Welcoming Committee" and forces Arthur into some kind of '80s gangland handshake. Arthur looks appropriately terrified.

Back in the bathroom, Steph has backcombed her hair and is applying bright blue eyeshadow and a vast amount of blusher; she looks like Madonna with consumption. Voula watches in open-mouthed horror (even with the poor image quality, I think Steph has kind of a hairy belly). Mr Lawrence announces over the intercom that the school elections are coming up. The girls talk about what they'd do if they were president, and Steph fantasises about making sure there was less homework (perhaps slightly overestimating the powers of a school president to make curriculum decisions) and more dances. Ah, politics! She then ogles herself in the mirror, and decides to run for president. Not two activities that should ever be combined unless your name is Barack Obama. Voula encourages this reprehensible decision. Voula, there are people who do evil, and there are people who see evil being done and do nothing to stop it.

Joey continues to escort Arthur, exchanging high-fives and Freemason handshakes with one and all, and finally manages to simultaneously introduce him to some guy called Hank and usher him into a broom closet. "What a broomhead," says Hank. And thus is born one of the stupidest insults in TV history. Down the hall, Voula and Steph emerge from behind Spike's hair, already planning the campaign. Joey's eyes pop out on sticks. Steph is working some kind of Celebrity Grin, and… I know it's not nice to harsh on people's appearance, especially kids. But I'm assuming everyone grew up OK-looking in the end, and it would be dishonest of me to ignore this: her teeth are just bad. These are Bad Teeth They are huge but also have huge spaces in between them, and the effect is not pretty. Teeth like this are the reason braces were invented. And a toothy grin is one of her main flirting moves. But strangely, nobody seems to mind.

In the classroom, Voula greets LD. LD is a tomboy because she's wearing shorts and a baseball cap and announces, "My dad let me work on a '59 Chevy!" Steph laughs at her but LD does a pretty classy job of ignoring her. Which is an essential survival skill if you go to school with Steph. Joey sleazes over to Steph and introduces himself as "Joey Jeremiah, playboy. Wanna play?" It's Steph's turn to look horrified. Not a nice feeling, is it?

Luckily, before this can go any further, Mr Raditch comes into the room, his demeanour oozing tough-but-fairness, and says he hopes they've brought their "malleable little minds" with them. Degrassi has always been at war with Eurasia. Also, Spike's punk friend Lisa is sitting in the room, although she's later going to turn up as a "new student". I've watched this show too many times.

Out in the hall, Yick is looking for his classroom when he hears Arthur (who has been screwed over twice this morning but for some reason still hasn't lost his faith in humanity) calling for someone to let him out of the broom closet. Yick lets him out, and it turns out they're both looking for Ms Avery's class. "It's gotta be somewhere," says Arthur. No wonder he was valedictorian at primary school! "Two heads are better than one, unless you've only got one hat." Yick politely (if a little too forgivingly) pretends not to hear this last bit.

Ms Avery is writing "WELCOME STUDENTS!" on her blackboard in that bubble-writing that was the last word in funkiness, circa 1989. It's multicoloured and everything, and looks like it took her about half an hour to do. She is dressed in a shiny pink shoulder-padded shirt and matching skirt, with some sort of Native American beadwork strung across the front. Oh, and there's a mother-of-pearl wind mobile thing hanging in the corner. I think she's left-wing. "My name is Ms Avery. Ms. M. S. Ms Avery." Yes, definitely one of those feminists I've heard so much about. She calls the roll (for some reason, one of the twins is called Stacy in this episode) and sees Yick and Arthur hanging around outside, and lets them in. "This is a very confusing school," whines Arthur. She does that sarcastically impressed look that people do when someone offers really unhelpful criticism. Rick is sitting down the back and seems to be chewing a huge wad of tobacco.

Unbelievably, Mr Raditch is drawing the entire weekly timetable on his blackboard and making the kids copy it down while he explains the concept of a timetable. You heard me. Steph leans over and tells Voula that she can't write speeches, so Voula delightedly volunteers to do all the work for her. Wow, these minions just oppress themselves! Raditch shuts them up with a moustached glower, and Steph, horrifyingly, seems to be trying to smoulder at him. Or maybe she just has too much under-eye eyeshadow. I didn't even know that was a thing. She also either has a sweaty face or some kind of sparkly stuff on her cheekbones; I think she's taken Claudia Kishi as inspiration.

An election-poster montage. Voula has made about 8,000 posters. More bubble writing, plus that military-style stencil writing that was also popular then (I remember finally getting a letter stencil of my own in about 1994, and being inordinately chuffed). Arthur raises his eyebrows at the sight of Steph wearing some sort of rag wrapped vaguely around her torso, but she and Voula give him matching glares, so he shuffles away. I get the feeling he'll one day marry someone who makes his life hell.

In the library, Voula is painstakingly colouring in yet another poster, the clanking of her symbolic bangle never letting her forget who's boss. Steph is attempting to read her Voula-scripted speech, demanding various earnest things (including more information about family planning. Which would actually have been kind of a good idea, as we'll later find out. Oh well). Meanwhile, Joey and Wheels sit about two feet away and wolf-whistle at her. There's a scene of Steph back-combing her hair some more, as we hear her reading her speech about how "being president is a responsibility not to be taken lightly". Is there some sort of lesson to be learnt here? Nah, probably not.

Yick's in a broom cupboard. Arthur lets him out. Yick: "I met Joey." I am really impatient for Joey to drop this joke and start drug dealing.

Out on the steps, Steph is making her speech again. Enthusiastic cheers for family planning and, uh, current events. Nothing to do with the miniskirt and low-cut top. No siree. Voula (in an Austen Powers-style frilly shirt with a Victorian cameo brooch) is mouthing the words of the speech to her from the bottom of the steps, as a sort of primitive Autocue. After the speech, Snake (in some kind of Capri pants for some reason) goes to the top of the steps and starts playing his electric guitar, ostensibly as backing for his own campaign speech, but actually to provide a "funky" soundtrack for the rest of the scene. As one of my friends points out, Snake's a really talented guitar player, because you can clearly hear drums and a bass as well, and not many people can get those kinds of sounds out of a guitar. Anyway, Joey comes over and starts sleazing again, and then does that cheesy thing of kissing her hand and all the way up her arm. Voula disapproves mightily, but Wheels offers to vote for Steph in exchange for a kiss. Pretty quickly all of the boys are queuing up to kiss her, while Voula gapes and Arthur and Yick watch from the bushes. "It's sexism!" mutters LD to some liberal type we'll never see after this episode (you can tell she's liberal because she has a beret and lots of eyeliner).

Later, still on the steps. For a second it looks like Arthur and Yick are going fishing, but it turns out they're carrying walkie-talkies with metre-long aerials. Turns out they have a dumbass plan to avoid Joey by, um, communicating via walkie-talkie. Look, whatever. It's stupid. Anyway, Arthur finds Joey outside the girls' toilets, at the head of a group of hormonal teenage boys chanting, "All the way with Stephanie Kaye!" She should have stuck with Kobalowski, it's really hard to make a licentious rhyme out of that.

Inside the bathroom, Voula is protesting, "Kissing's got nothing to do with the campaign!" "It's politics," says Steph from between gritted choppers. "All the boys are gonna vote for me. Two or three times, some of them." Wow, she has a natural flair for electoral fraud. How nice for her. Voula points out that the girls don't like it, but Steph sneers, "I don't need the girls." Oooooooh.

Steph comes out of the bathroom (wearing an unusually modest tube top) and announces a new manifesto: rock on the PA and co-ed swimming. Voula and Snake look majorly pissed off. Arthur pulls this face D-: and it looks hilarious. In about ten seconds, the discussion degenerates into calls for Steph to get naked. "Vote for Stephanie Kaye and who's to say what'll happen," leers Joey. Steph at least has the grace to look pretty disturbed by this. "Talk about unfeminist!" wails Beret Girl. Steph shushes the leching masses and announces that she'd like to thank one person in particular, who's done so much and been such a wonderful friend – Joey. "Oh ya!" he cheers, Canadianly. Voula storms off past Arthur, who looks at her like, "At least you never had to live with her. I'm already saving my pocket money for therapy."

Voting montage, accompanied by someone playing the school song on a really cheap keyboard. Cut to a politics class taught by Mr Raditch. "Of course, with three of you involved in the election, you'll already know something about the democratic system." Ha! I assume he means "how to subvert said system by appealing to the lowest common denominator". Speaking of which, the principal announces over the PA that Steph has won. Cue horror from the girls, high-fives from the boys, and a howling in the distance that I think is Germaine Greer. Close-up on Steph's victory grin, which she really ought to try and keep to a minimum. It's nearly as unsettling as her flirting grin. Joey actually gets out of his seat to hug her, until Mr Raditch tells him to "save that for the pool room". They have a pool room? Or does he just mean it as a figure of speech, for sleazy dives in general? Shane is wearing a bright yellow "No Smoking" t-shirt. And yet, one day soon he will get laid.

Once the class is over, Voula runs off in a sulk, and Steph tries to chase her but is waylaid by Suzie Rivera, the adorably enthusiastic vice-president. Suzie goes on about how she wants to go into politics and her parents will be so proud and she ran for office for All The Right Reasons, and there are student council meetings coming up and apparently being student president involves some kind of responsibility or something? Steph looks vaguely baffled to have encountered someone who isn't interested in flirting with her, but manages this quite impressive technique of wordlessly flirting with general ambient males while not actually taking her eyes off Suzie. Today she's wearing a tube top with (apparently) a fishing net draped randomly on top of it, and a bike chain looped around her waist as a belt. Her hair at this point is so big that I think it's starting to steal nutrients from the rest of her.

But what's this? Steph is summoned to see Doris, who reminds her that she has to make a speech at the PTA meeting next week. Steph reacts like Doris said "human sacrifice" or "public acknowledgment of your brother" instead of "speech". The theme tune plays, really slowly, because she's sad.

Joey and Hank have abducted Arthur and are literally carrying him along the hall. He's not struggling, because he grew up with Steph and he has long since given up. They put him in a locker, which, from the amount of Steph merchandise in it, would seem to be Joey's, only it also has a Popular Science cover taped up inside. I guess it's from that one time Popular Science did a special issue on the effects of fedora-wearing on reproductive success. Steph comes along just as they bundle him inside, and seems put out – possibly because it's the stupidest form of bullying ever, and she expected better from Joey, which is always a mistake. Joey's astounded that she knows this "gerp" (seriously, '80s Canadian insults are ridiculous). She distracts the guys by whining about her speech, and Arthur manages to escape as Joey feebly tries to convince her that he can write it. Steph and her hair go off in search of reliable speechwriter Voula.

Unfortunately, Voula is still mad at Steph for thanking Joey and ignoring her. "Oh, that," says Steph. "Sorry, but, you know." Worst excuse-making in history. Although her next comment, "Boys like that sort of thing!" comes a close second. Voula throws off the Shackle-Bracelet of Friendship Symbolism, and storms off, declaring, "You're on your own, Miss President – you and your new image." Don't worry, Voula, it takes time to learn how to make a good cutting remark. I have a ball; perhaps you'd like to bounce it.

In the bathroom, Steph gets ready to put on her nun clothes in preparation for going home. I think my granny had that shirt in 1980. Then she starts talking to herself about how she'll be the best school president ever. First sign of madness, that. Well, not specifically talking about being school president, but you know what I mean.

Outside the school, Arthur hides behind a tree until Steph comes out. He's adapted way too easily to being treated as a shameful secret. He thanks her for saving him, and clumsily tries to bond with her, which she more or less ignores. When she admits to being worried about the speech, he offers to help her, but she's spectacularly dismissive. He takes this better than I would (i.e., doesn't punch her in the face) and skips cheerfully homewards. But! Steph calls him back, and admits, "I need you!" He's pathetically happy to hear this. Steph forces her face into a non-flirtatious smile. End credits.

Dubious lesson of the week: If you try to cheat at democracy through low-level prostitution, nobody will respect you, but you will become successful politically. And don't worry if your geeky best friend dumps you because you sold out the sisterhood and treated her like crap – there's always someone else who's so desperate for approval that they'll be delighted to be used by you.


Anonymous said...

You'll be pleased to hear that Nicole Stoffmann is now a jazz artiste and has some kind of performance art installation... and has had some dental work done, too. Phew! http://www.beatsupernovarasa.com/images/stoffmann_nicole_bsn.jpg

Ms Avery said...

Phew indeed!

Fergal said...

All sorts of largely unwanted memories being disturbed. The opening lyrics of Snake's campaign song were "My name is Snake, make no mistake", were they not? Snake seemed pretty cool. So why then did he turn up all geeky and sweet a few episodes later? Why?

I watched this show at a year or two younger than most of the protagonists. Did I want to be like them as a teenager? I did not.

Ms Avery said...

Ha ha, yes, those were the opening lyrics, followed by "To you I sez, I wanna be prez." I can't understand why he didn't win. I think his later geekification was because they realised they needed at least one character who was halfway normal.

We must be about the same age then, but I shunned it because it seemed way too dark and grownup. I think I had a very low dark threshold then.

Hank! said...

Hahahaha Hank is my boss! He claims he was fired for beating up Joey. But I'm proud to work with the man who ushered "broomhead" into our national consciousness!

Ms Avery said...

OMG, no way! That's hilarious! Thanks for posting :)