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Featured TV on DVD Review: Degrassi: Season 11, Part 1

May 27th, 2012

Degrassi: Season 11, Part 1 - Buy from Amazon

The fourth installment of the Degrassi franchise begins its second decade on the air with Season 11. The first half of the season comes out on DVD this week, and as with most seasons, the name of the game is change. As the characters get older, some characters graduate and leave Degrassi High School, others arrive as new students. Relationships begin and end. Do these changes help the show maintain its high quality level? Or does it start to unravel?

The Show

While there are a lot of things that change, there are a couple that stay the same. First of all, this is a split-season release and while I normally hate split-season sets, Part One has 29 episodes. That's more than most full season sets. Even if you look at the first part of season eleven as thirteen one-hour episodes, plus three half-hour episodes, it is still a very good deal compared to most summer shows, or cable network shows, which are its direct competition. Secondly, this show has a huge cast. There are twenty-five members of the cast that are featured during the opening credits alone, plus several more that are recurring. Obviously not all of them are featured in every episode, at least not in ways important enough to mention, and some fade into the background for most of the season and just won't pop up here. You can read my previous reviews to get a handle on some of these characters.

The season begins with an hour-long special called either Boom Boom Pow in Canada or Spring Fever in the United States. As you can probably tell by the American name, it's a Spring Break Episode. It features a guest role by Keke Palmer who meets Sav Bhandari while he's moping over his lost girlfriend. He doesn't recognize her or who she is and asks her out on a date. Meanwhile, the newly out of the closet Fiona Coyne starts to date a woman she met in an art class she took after her spring break plans fall apart. Finally, Bianca DeSousa wins tickets to Keke's concert, but runs into someone she knew from her past, a gang member, and he's not happy she's not longer part of the gang. The first story is mostly stunt casting; Keke Palmer is good in the episode and the story works, but it doesn't have a lasting impact on the show. The second does develop into something more throughout the season and it does help Fiona develop more as a character. However, it is the final one that becomes the major force for the first part of the season. While at the concert, Bianca again runs into the same gang member, but this time he tries to rape her. Drew Torres, her boyfriend, defends her and in the process accidentally kills him. The ramifications continue right till the final episode of this DVD. This includes the dead gangmember's friend, Vince, coming back and continuing to threaten Drew and Bianca.

Other new plot threads that pop up in season eleven include the arrival of Jake Martin. Jake was someone Clare Edwards knew when they were much younger, but his father's moved back to town and he starts to attend Degrassi. He's a lot better looking that Claire remembered and they start dating, despite some complications. For instance, Claire's breakup with Eli Goldsworthy left an emotional mark with both of them and he's now on anti-anxiety medication. (A new girl and fellow drama club member, Imogen Moreno, helps him with that. She is also a very fun addition to the cast.) Secondly, Claire and Jake's parents begin dating each other. Creepy. Another new student, Katie Matlin becomes central to a number of plots. She's the school editor and Claire tries out for the paper. She becomes the object of affection for several of the main cast members (giving names would be venturing too far into spoiler territory). She's also an athlete, runs for student body president, and has an eating disorder. Couldn't they have spread those storylines out a bit.

Some of the continuing plot threads that really held my attention were Adam Torres, who continues to be the most compelling character on the show. He gets a job with the school's radio station, only to become the center of a controversy when his co-host, Dave Turner, calls him a tranny on air. Although, there are events that lead up to that remark, which I won't go into, that do at least make what he did understandable, but not justifiable. Adam also tries his hand romance yet again, and, let's just say its difficult for him to find the right girl. Finally, he has to deal with puberty, which is tough on most people, but really tough when you are a transsexual and changes brought by puberty make your body further and further away from the way you see as natural. Actually, there's one more big Adam moment beyond that, but I'm not talking about it for fear of spoilers. I'll just say Degrassi came close to pulling a Joss Whedon.

There are some storylines, both continuing and new, that just failed to connect with me. K.C. Guthrie and Jenna Middleton's baby drama was among them. The way the show dealt with Connor Deslauriers' Asperger syndrome didn't quite feel right. Also, I'm not happy with the way the Dave Turner / Sadie Rowland relationship ended. It's well done and it makes sense for the characters, but I liked Alexandria Benoit and was hoping she would become a regular character on the show. That's probably not going to happen now.

The Extras

Extras start with an audio-commentary track on the two-part mid-season finale, Dead and Gone, with the director, Stefan Brogren; the writer, Matt Huether; and one of the stars, Luke Bilyk, who plays Drew Torres. There are also a lot of other short extras. There's a three-minute behind-the-scenes montage with the cast taking their promo shots. There's a three-minute featurette introducing the new cast members and a two-minute featurette saying goodby to the ones leaving. There are five deleted scenes and eight minutes of outtakes. There are two featurettes with the cast giving behind-the-scenes tours. The first is on the set and the other is in the parking lot looking at the various cars. And finally there is a four-minute making of featurette showing the rehearsal and the final scene in the DVD.

On the downside, they use flipper-discs, and I hate those, while the menus are a little loud and the episodes are only numbered, not named. Those are minor complaints overall.

The Verdict

Degrassi is an excellent show and the Season 11, Part 1 has plenty of extras. However, I'm sure the full season set will be about 25% cheaper than the individual parts. This two-disc set is still a good deal, so if you don't want to wait, it is certainly worth picking up.

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