Degrassi Junior High: 101, “Kiss Me, Steph”

Original airdate: January 18, 1987.

It’s come to my attention that a lot of you plucky youths these days might not have ever heard of Degrassi Junior High, let alone ever seen it. Degrassi Junior High and its continuation, Degrassi High, are the precursors to long-running show Degrassi, formerly called Degrassi: The Next Generation.

DJH (and sister series The Kids of Degrassi Street, which features problems younger kids face, and while it has many of the same actors, it doesn’t have any of the same characters and thus is not part of the greater Degrassi continuity) was created by Linda Schuyler, a former teacher, who was dissatisifed with the educational filmstrips she had to show in class. So with the help of producer/director Kit Hood, the Playing With Time production company was born, and Degrassi soon followed.

If you’re familiar with the Degrassi franchise, you probably know it as some melodramatic teen soap where sometimes people get raped and everybody gets pregnant at some point. And while that’s not exactly untrue, it’s missing the bigger picture – the kids on Degrassi had to deal with things a lot of kids go through, in the way kids go through them. Most of the time, they never get any help or advice from an adult, although they learn sometimes it’s best to go to an adult for help. A lot of issues aren’t wrapped up by the end of the episode, and many issues start popping up before they’re even addressed on the show.

And there’s a lot of issues on the show that aren’t that serious compared to the other stuff, like “character has trouble making a movie”, “character keeps getting erections after eating health food for a while”. Some episodes are sort of a mix, like this premiere episode of the series, “Kiss Me, Steph.”

Oh, but first, a content warning: Contains copious amounts of 80s style and occasionally extreme Canadian-ness. Viewer discretion advised.

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The DVD menu is fabulous. (Yes I have the whole DVD set. The screen quality is top notch for 80s public television, probably, which is unfortunately pretty crappy by today’s standards)

Check out the “other products of interest”:

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First we meet Stephanie Kaye and Arthur Kobalowski. They’re siblings – their parents are divorced, Arthur lives with dad, Stephanie lives with mom and changed her last name because mom did.

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It’s Arthur’s first day at Degrassi Junior High, and Stephanie is totally embarrassed by him, apparently for the sole reason that he’s her younger brother. She tells him not to hang out with her, talk to her, and act like he even knows her.

Cue credits:

This show has an awesome theme song, by the way.
This show has an awesome theme song, by the way.

Fabulous.

Stephanie finds her good old friend Voula. They gush about how they’re in eight grade now, and practically adults. Stephanie then shocks Voula by pulling off her clothes to reveal much more revealing, mature clothing underneath. She does her hair and makeup and I don’t know if she’s supposed to look like a prostitute or if that’s just 80s chic.

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Steph hears an announcement over the radio about class president elections, and gets disgusted when the principal says something like “so get on out there, boys!”, which is a proper thing to get upset about, and is one of the only times Stephanie is reasonable about something.

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Arthur runs into Joey Jeremiah in the hallway. Arthur’s lost, and Joey decides to show him around. Joey stuffs Arthur into a broom closet.

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Class finally starts for our set of eighth graders. Their homeroom teacher is Mr. Raditch.

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Those of you familiar with Degrassi from ten years ago may know his equivalent on that show, Principal Raditch. He’s the same person, actually.

We also get a look at the rest of the eighth grade class.

She's not in-frame, but it looks like Liz in their class, even though she's a new student in a later episode.
She’s not in-frame, but it looks like Liz in their class, even though she’s a new student in a later episode.

Beautiful.

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There’s a stairwell there. How did that girl in a wheelchair get up those stairs? Secret elevator?

Later, in study hall, Voula is helping Stephanie with her campaign, writing her speech and making the signs. Meanwhile, Joey keeps whistling at her from across the room, and she fluffs her hair at him flirtatiously.

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Steph gives her speech the next(?) day, the speech Voula wrote, all about how if she’s elected then there’ll be more talk about family planning, better food in the cafeteria, etc. I have to say, it’s a nice change of pace from the “vote for me and there’ll be no homework, Kool-Aid in the drinking fountains, and teachers will pay US to go to school!” campaigns that are always in these kinds of episodes.

Snake, who you watchers of current Degrassi know as Principal Simpson (I swear not every character on this show becomes a principal), goes up to campaign next, by playing a rock/blues song about how you should vote for him. It’s awesome.

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Then a kid later identified as Wheels says he’ll vote for Stephanie if she gives him a kiss. She says sure, so he heads over there, and also looks down her top for good measure.

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All the other boys echo him, saying they’ll vote for her if they get a kiss as well. The girls watching the speech are disgusted, to say the least.

Stephanie gives another speech… later. It’s some other day, but she’s wearing the same clothes she wore on the first day, so it’s hard to figure out when exactly the speech takes place.

This speech is the kind of one I already mentioned I dislike – “more school dances, rock music on the P.A.!” She also mentions co-ed swimming in gym, and the guys are like “All right, girls in bikinis!” “I wanna see Steph in a bikini!” Wheels even says “Without a bikini!”

They all start hollering at her to take it all off. To say the girls are disgusted would be an understatement.

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Stephanie just giggles, honored by the attention these creepy 13 year old boys are showering on her, and then she thanks the one person who made all this possible. Voula smiles, thinking she’ll finally get some recognition for her hard work.

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Nope, Steph thanks Joey, who did literally nothing but be horny at her.

The… same? day, Stephanie is announced the winner of the election. The school vice-president talks to her about the first student council meeting and how there’s lots to discuss. Stephanie’s just like “What? Why are you bothering me with Student council business?” and Suzie, the vice-pres, is like “You’re the president, dummy, you do president things now.”

Then Steph finds out she has to make a speech to the PTA. She’s in real trouble now, because Voula was her official campaign speech-writer, and Voula has been avoiding her. Steph confronts Voula, and Voula is just mad as heck and can’t take it anymore.

Voula’s mostly mad that Steph hasn’t made any pretense of being grateful for all the work she did, thanking Joey instead. Steph basically says she only did it because boys like that kind of thing. Voula protests that girls also do, which comes off a little more, erm, gay than I think they meant it to in-context.

Voula says it’s too late for Steph to apologize now, and declares their friendship over, and calls Stephanie a baby.

Steph pouts in the washroom as she defluffs her hair and removes her makeup, returning to her earlier state. She leaves the school, to find Arthur hiding behind a tree. I forget what they say to each other, but Stephanie tells Arthur she needs his help, which I guess is supposed to make up for her ignoring him.

They leave the campus wearing the same clothes they had on at the beginning of the episode.

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I wasn’t paying enough attention to figure out if everyone else had on different outfits throughout. Stephanie had on a different top and it looked like Voula had three different outfits through the episode. Is this a continuity error? Do Arthur and Steph just not have a lot of clothes? Or was this all taking place in one day and Voula just has a weird multi-layered outfit?

Back to the Arthur B-Plot I briefly mentioned. Eventually one Yick Yu frees him from the broom closet. Theirs is the most enduring bromance in the show’s 18 year history, more if you count the time it was off the air.

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Later, Arthur frees Yick from the broom closet. They try to avoid Joey the rest of the…day/week, but Joey stuffs Arthur into a locker at one point until Stephanie orders him to let him out.

You can see why I left that out of the main post.

The issues in this episode were pretty tame by Degrassi standards. Bullying, growing up, trying to impress boys, and losing a friendship are all rough things, but this is probably a 2 on the Degrassi intensity scale (where 10 is school shooting, suicide at school, and gang rape, all of which unfortunately we will cover later).

The thing is, we don’t know anything about Stephanie or Voula as individuals or as friends, so them not being friends anymore because Steph likes boys and Voula looks like she’s a quaker (she wears really loose, dowdy clothing; we find out later she’s the child of immigrants, which explains some things), it doesn’t have a huge impact.

Like, what were they like before this episode? Was Stephanie a dowdy dresser as well? Were they both bookworms? Were they always one of those pairs where one is meek and quiet and the other is bold and flirtatious? Why are they friends? How long have they been friends? Breaking up a friendship we know nothing about in the very first episode is dumb.

Degrassi versus Degrassi: Stephanie Kaye’s closest characters on Degrassi: The Next Generation are Ashley Kerwin (who was also school president and lost her friends because of something stupid she did), and Alli Bhandari, who completely rips off the whole “wear loose, boring clothes to school and change into cool clothes and makeup in the bathroom”. Alli dials it down a notch, though, from that thing Steph was wearing in this episode that is certainly not within dress code. There’s a bit of her in Paige Michalchuk as well, who comes back from summer break with a new look, but I don’t think Steph and Paige would get along well.

Steph doesn’t make an appearance in D:TNG, although most of the other main characters do. Her actress, Nicole Stoffman, retired from acting in 1998 to become a jazz musician, got a BA in film studies, and is currently in the process of obtaining or has already obtained a degree in political studies. She’s 42 years old and looks FABULOUS. She looks pretty much like she does on the show, but grown-up and less crazy. She also seems like a very nice person, which is always great to know.

nicole stoffmanPhoto taken from her Facebook page.

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