Attention all students! Get your back-to-school outfits ready as the hit series, Degrassi, returns next year with a few surprises in store, according to a member of the show’s production team.
In January, HBO Max dropped a bomb on Degrassi lovers everywhere: The beloved TV series is returning after a five-year break. HBO Max tweeted the announcement on Jan.13, saying, “The next class of students arrive in 2023.” The new series will have 10 one-hour long episodes in the starting season.
Fans are eagerly awaiting any morsel of new information to drop about the show, but a lot is being kept under wraps. “We’re all being sworn to secrecy,” said Emily Bunting, a production assistant at WildBrain Ltd. WildBrain is the Canadian media, production and brand licensing company that owns the Degrassi brand and that will be producing the series.
“It was one of my favourite shows growing up and I can’t even talk to my friends about it!” Bunting said. She’s currently part of the design and set team giving Degrassi a home here in Toronto.
Bunting is fairly new at her job, but has a few shows and movies under her belt, most notably, Amazon’s The Boys. Being a movie buff and a “television hog” as her mother calls her, the offer for this job a few years ago was a dream come true, especially now getting to work behind the scenes of one of her favourite shows from her childhood.
The second-to-last season of Degrassi, Degrassi: The Next Generation, ended in 2015. Did you know that the home of Degrassi High was Centennial College’s Story Arts Centre and a lot in Toronto’s East end when they couldn’t film at the school?
That lot, Epitome Pictures’ four sound stages and backlot, was home to a Centennial College lookalike, the set for the beloved cafe/teen club, The Dot Grill and Above the Dot, as well as sets for many of the homes of the teens attending Degrassi High.
With most key props and set pieces being sold in an auction back in 2019, Bunting said they’re still deciding on set locations.
“We’d love to have a home for Degrassi High and other more permanent locations, but it’s become harder with Covid to figure out the logistics and stuff,” she said.
“And even without Covid, it’s really just a toss-up if we just remake our own set or are actually able to film in more residential areas. I know I would be geeked out if we were able to film at the old school!”
The neighbourhood gets ready
Some East York residents are quite excited with the prospect of Degrassi filming in and around the neighbourhood. “It’s all so exciting!” says bartender and actress, Rosalia Vagalatis, from behind the counter at Mezes, a Greek restaurant at Danforth and Pape avenues. Vagalatis said she auditioned for Degrassi: Next Class back in 2015 and is currently auditioning for roles, with hopes of being a part of this new Degrassi reboot.
“I’m just waiting for callbacks and any news about background acting for the show, but I’ve been telling my boss to let me see if they need another film location,” Vagalatis said with a laugh.
Other restaurants and restaurant goers said it would be interesting to have their little corner of Toronto filled with film crews.
One patron leaving Mezes recalled a time he and his then-young grandson were going to eat when they were stopped by a crew filming My Big Fat Greek Wedding in 2001. “We just wanted to eat,” George Tsouroupakis said. “After we were let through, it was so hard to find anywhere with empty seats, because of the crew in all the restaurants!”
With the great success following HBO Max’s other high-school drama, Euphoria, the new series will be darker. Bunting described it as staying true to the original vibe, but she thinks it gives the new generation of viewers a new story that’s both dramatic and exciting.
Degrassi will start filming in Toronto this summer and will be released in spring 2023.