“Degrassi” Portrays Lesbian Relationship with Class

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The Canadian teen drama Degrassi: The Next Generation just finished

airing its sixth season in the United States last week on teen channel

The N, and fortunately for AfterEllen.com readers, the second half of the season

was all about “Palex,” the nickname for the pairing of Degrassi High’s

former bad girl Alex Nunez (Deanna Casaluce) and popular rich girl Paige Michalchuk

(Lauren Collins).

Paige and Alex’s relationship, developed over three seasons, has become one

of the best portrayals of a lesbian teen relationship we’ve seen on American

television.

Not that it has much competition — the only other series on American

television to feature a recurring relationship between teen girls are Fox’s

The O.C. and The N’s South

of Nowhere,
along with Buffy

the Vampire Slayer
(although it’s debatable whether Buffy

even fits into this category, because although Willow and Tara are technically

teenagers when they fall in love, their relationship, which deals with mature story lines about good vs. evil and the end of the world rather than school dances and failing classes, seems more like an adult

one).

The CW’s One Tree Hill also featured a bisexual teenage girl in a regular

role in its second season, but she never has a relationship with another girl.

In this review, I grade Degrassi in six areas as they relate to Paige

and Alex’s story arc: class issues, character development, labels, dialogue,

the relationship itself and physical affection.

But first, a quick plot summary for those who haven’t seen the show (avid Degrassi

fans should skip to the next page).

The Evolution of Palex

First introduced in the third season, Alex gets off on the wrong foot with Paige in the fourth season when she runs against closeted gay classmate Marco (Adamo

Ruggiero) in a school election and threatens to use his homosexuality against him to win.

But the two girls form an unexpected friendship later in the season when they

are forced to work together at an after-school job, and in the fifth season,

that friendship leads to something more when the two girls pretend to be romantically involved in order to get into

a VIP party, only to find that they actually do share more than platonic feelings

for each other.

Paige immediately freaks out after their first kiss and avoids Alex for

a while, denying she has any feelings for her. She eventually gets over it — after

some advice from filmmaker Kevin Smith (in a guest-starring role as himself) — and Paige and Alex begin dating. They

break up toward the end of the season, however, over differences about their future plans. Both graduating seniors, Paige is headed to college at the prestigious

Banting University, while Alex doesn’t see college in the cards for her. Alex,

struggling to get over Paige, comes out as a lesbian, and by the end of Season 5,

Alex and Paige are friends again.

In the sixth season, Alex decides to go back to Degrassi High to earn college

credit toward becoming a physiotherapist, and tries to reform her bad-girl

image along the way. The effort pays off — Alex finds a girlfriend (Carla,

who only shows up in a few scenes), drops the attitude (mostly), and starts

excelling in school.

Things don’t go so well for Paige, who finds she can’t handle the workload

or the pressure at Banting and drops out. She comes back home to Degrassi

and unexpectedly finds herself growing close to Alex again, even as Alex starts

setting her up with guys — just as Alex begins having serious problems

at home. Her mom has lost all their money to a deadbeat boyfriend, and mother

and daughter are faced with eviction if they don’t come up with rent money.

Trying to save them from having to live in a women’s shelter, Alex takes a job

waitressing at a local strip club, where she eventually becomes an exotic dancer

because the money is just too good to resist. She loathes it — and herself — and desperately doesn’t want anyone to find out, especially Paige.

Things came to a head in last week’s season finale when Paige finally accepts

that her feelings for Alex are more than platonic, then promptly dumps her

when she finds out Alex started stripping after turning down Paige’s offer to help.

In the end, Alex realizes — motivated in part by her mother’s decision

to use Alex’s hard-earned money to bail the deadbeat boyfriend out of jail instead

of paying the rent — that she can’t keep on stripping. So she swallows

her pride, goes to the school dance to find Paige, and asks for help, saying,

“I’ve screwed up a lot. But if I let you go, it’ll be the biggest screw-up of

my life.” The season ends with the two dancing happily together among other

Degrassi couples.

Now, on to the grades …

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