Ranking the OG 'Degrassi: The Next Generation' Characters
Degrassi TNG went on for 14 seasons, but who among of the original cast was the most likeable?
I recently discovered that all 14 seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation are streaming on HBOMax and, I must admit, my Millennial heart is screaming a little bit.
The show was a game changer not just for Canadian television, but for teens in general. Being one of the few teen dramas actually acted out by teens, the show covered heavy topics such as sexual assault, substance abuse, self-harm, teen pregnancy, sexual identity, and more without blinders on. In fact, the show was even censored in the United States when it aired on the the Nickelodeon teen network, The N. Along with the subject matter, the show managed to operate with a very diverse cast which was, for the early to mid 2000s, not very common.
HBOMax will be reviving Degrassi in a new series in 2023, and who knows which original characters might return for a cameo here and there - similar to how Degrassi Junior High characters came back for The Next Generation. No better time than now to get re-acquainted with the OG cast and talk about which ones we liked and which ones we didn't.
15. Toby Isaacs
It not that we didn't like Toby. Throughout the series Toby proved himself to not only a tech genius, but a painfully loyal friend. This was shown time and time again with his on-and-off friendship with J.T., his unlikely friendship with Rick, and his cute (and brief) relationship with Spinner's sister, Kendra.
The issue with Toby is the fact that we never really got to see him front and center. There were episodes that touched on on what was going on in his life at Degrassi, but even then he was always in the background. The only storylines that I remember Toby standing out in are when J.T. was killed and when Rick came to school with a gun. In my opinion, he is the only main character who never actually became a main character.
14. Gavin 'Spinner' Mason
Spinner is easily the character with the most development as he stayed on the show through season 9 - long after most OG characters departed. Right off the bat, Spinner wasn't the most likeable because he was the school bully who didn't stop at bullying just fellow students. That's right, we remember what you did to Mrs. Kwan.
He was on the uphill to some degree when he started dating Paige, with a minor hiccup of being homophobic towards Marco. But he showed himself to be hard working and a supportive protector of his friends. That all came crashing down after Paige broke up with him for being a misogynistic jerk. Well... and when he was expelled from Degrassi for plotting the prank that got Jimmy shot.
Spinner never really recovered from that. Throughout the rest of his time on the series, he was involved in more scandals, more messy relationships, and more toxic masculinity. There were moments when we really rooted for Spinner, but for the most part we just stared at him and said, "ugh, really?"
13. Craig Manning
While you might expect Craig to rank higher on the list, we simply cannot forget how much pain he caused not just his peers at Degrassi, but the pain that he caused himself. Craig started out with tragedy when he was first introduced. After all, the subject of parental abuse and the death of his mother were not pleasant subjects. Craig went on to lose his father in a car accident and be diagnosed with bipolar disorder, but that isn't justification for how reckless and selfish Craig actually was.
Over the course of his time on the series Craig managed to cheat on Ashley, get Manny pregnant, physically assault his stepfather, ruin Ashley's father's wedding, take advantage of Ellie, take advantage of his band, become a drug addict, and so on and so forth. The show ultimately redeemed Craig when he successfully completed rehab and achieved a successful music career, but it's hard to overlook everything he did on his way to that ending.
12. Sean Cameron
Sean was introduced as the show's ultimate bad boy, but quickly showed that he was actually a nice guy in the middle of an unfortunate situation. He first comes to Degrassi having to repeat 7th grade because he was sent to live with his brother after getting into a fight back home. Sean was the guy we wanted to root for when he began dating Emma and seemed to be turning his life around. That is until Sean hooked up with less than desirable friends and basically turned into Degrassi's #1 goon.
Even though Sean became a hero after stopping Rick from shooting more students, the damage had kind of been done with his likeability. I don't think Sean really got his full redemption arc, especially when he kept getting kicked while on the ground. Sean's exit from the show was complete with a stint in jail for striking a pedestrian with his car and joining the Canadian military because it was one of the few job options he had with a criminal record.
11. Emma Nelson
Emma is arguably the main character of Degrassi: The Next Generation. The first two episodes are about her and a majority of season one followed her on the journey of simply trying too hard to save everyone and everything. As a result of that, Emma wasn't always the most likeable. She is opinionated, uptight, and always seems to be getting into other people's business.
However, Emma grew a lot over the years and learned a lot of restraint when it came to her relationships and her family dynamic. She also was a prime example of what can happen when you're under that much pressure to be perfect. After nearly being killed in the school shooting, Emma suffered from an eating disorder, dated Manny's worst enemy, and contracted an STD. Overall, Emma wasn't the most likeable character but she was also pretty admirable. She always held her convictions and knew who she was deep down.
10. Paige Michalchuk
At the beginning of the series, Paige starts out as the mean girl queen bee of Degrassi. She never misses an opportunity to tell you exactly how she feels, and she wasn't afraid to break some hearts when it came down to getting what she wanted. Unfortunately Paige's grounding moment came at the hands of sexual assault and she undergoes quite the transformation. She makes and breaks up with Spinner, confronts her rapist in court, stands up to Terri's abuser, showcases her struggles with anxiety, and comes to terms with her bisexuality.
At the end of Paige's journey, she had turned into quite the independent woman who took the reigns back from the bad things that had happened to her. As far as likeability goes, it's hard to forget her painfully blunt moments and the moments where she makes some messy romantic decisions - including dating a student teacher and getting him fired.
9. Terri McGregor
Even though Terri was always one of the popular girls, she always felt like she was on the outside looking in. Being practically the only plus-size girl in school, it was always difficult to watch Terri struggle with some of the most relatable teen issues. She also gave a perspective on parental loss when Craig came into the series because her mother had died when she was younger.
Terri finally had luck with love when Rick came into the picture. Unfortunately for our girl, he turned out to be abusive and ultimately put her in a coma after pushing her onto a rock. We never really got a resolution because she just disappeared from the show after the accident. We never saw her come back to school, never heard if she'd transferred, and never saw her graduate. In my opinion, Terri was one of the most likeable and relatable characters the show ever had. I guess all we can take comfort in is that she woke up from the coma and survived... somewhere.
8. Liberty Van Zandt
Face it, everyone who ever went to school knew a Liberty. There have always been those kids who were overachieving "teacher's pets" who always made it known that they thought they were better than everyone else. While Liberty remained quite obnoxious throughout the series, we couldn't help but root for her.
Liberty helped showcase that no matter how smart you are, you can still fall victim to teen pregnancy, learning disabilities, and tragedy. After a powerful diagnosis with dyscalculia, Liberty made the heartbreaking choice to give her baby up for adoption after realizing she and J.T. weren't ready to be parents at 15. She also had to mourn the loss of her longtime crush when J.T. was killed outside of a house party just before graduation.
7. Ashley Kerwin
Ashley always came across as a bit selfish and moody. But we can't ignore that at the root of everything, like many others, she was just searching for a place where she fit. Whether it was appearance, friend groups, substances, relationships, or location, Ashley wasn't afraid to try what she needed to in order to find where she belonged. That isn't really an excuse for some of the cruel things Ashley did in the beginning, though.
Starting out as one of the popular girls who became class president, Ashley's evolution into a gothic, punk rocker came with a hefty price when she was cheated on by Craig. Ashley tries to reinvent herself once more, but winds up back with Craig and eventually spends time abroad in London. Upon returning she restarts at Degrassi and rekindles her season one romance with Jimmy. I always thought I liked Ashley more than most people because I found her pretty relatable, but I always understood why Degrassi fans wouldn't rank her this high.
6. Manny Santos
Manny is responsible for some of the most controversial moments in Degrassi history - including choosing to get an abortion (which was almost never aired in the United States), wearing a visible thong, and being a lowkey movie star in Kevin Smith's high school movie. Despite all of her controversy, Manny was incredibly likeable as a person.
While any teen drama could have twisted her narrative into something negative, Manny's confidence was always matched with empowerment and she always managed to shine even with people's negativity surrounding her. She was also a pretty loyal friend as she stuck by people like Emma, Liberty, Paige, and even Toby over the years. It was also refreshing to see a character live up to their dreams as Manny's time on the show wrapped up with her moving to Los Angeles after landing a role in a musical.
5. Hazel Aden
Hazel is another character who came into the picture back in season 2 and there is a reason why you might not remember how she came into Degrassi - she lied about everything for the whole first half of her arc.
Hazel came in as another popular girl with Jamaican ancestry who just wanted to be a cheerleader. She got entangled with issues of racism when she teased a Muslim classmate and encouraged her friends to mock the student, as well. Little did everyone know, she was actually a Muslim refugee who fled Somalia with her parents. She confessed the truth after the school's international day and ever since showing her true colors, Hazel became that friend that was always there for you. Even though she struggled with keeping secrets a secret, her intentions were always good.
4. Ellie Nash
Ellie starts as a background character, but the Daria-like goth girl rises to main character status when she befriends Ashley and starts dating Marco. She showed herself to be supportive of who her friends actually were - like when Marco confided in her that he thought he might be gay.
Ellie's story arc amplified when her home life crumbled and she struggled with self-harm. While she could have used every excuse under the sun to be a nasty person, she consistently showed that she was one of the best people you could have in your corner. She was even there for Craig when he struggled with his mental health, even after he broke her best friend's heart. Aside from her supportive nature, Ellie proved herself to be pretty determined when it came to journalism. She interned with Caitlin Ryan, wrote for the school newspaper, and worked as a reporter for her college newspaper.
3. Marco Del Rossi
Marco starts his time at Degrassi as a fairly popular kid and quickly becomes romantically involved with Ellie. However, Marco's story became more relatable and bold when it was revealed that he was dealing with something a lot of fellow Millennials were forced to hide - his sexuality.
Marco's story arc quickly became quite groundbreaking as he was one of the only openly gay characters on television (at the time) and even had the first same-sex kiss on prime time. We saw lessons on being gay including when he was gay bashed, when his friend (and father) didn't accept him for who he was, when his relationship with Dylan took a turn, and when he was turned away as a blood donor because of his sexuality. Aside from him dedicated to unapologetically being himself, Marco truly had a heart of gold. He was the first to want to help someone, even Spinner after he was ousted by their friend group. Even as the OG crowd moved into their college dorms, Marco remained one of the most pleasant, likeable characters to ever grace the show.
2. J.T. Yorke
J.T. started and ended as everyone's favorite class clown. The boy who dreamed of being the next Jim Carrey had one of the most heartbreaking endings, but we can't help but love every bit of him.
J.T. went from being a harmless, girl crazy jokester to an unexpected father after he got Liberty pregnant. He struggled under pressure and tried to work to support his family to be, but wound up attempting suicide after overdosing on opiates he stole from his pharmacy job. J.T. bounced back and supported Liberty in her decision to give the baby up for adoption. Eventually he even moved on with a new girlfriend, but sadly was killed outside of a house party by a boy from his girlfriend's former school.
The death of J.T. served as perhaps the most heartbreaking moment of Degrassi: The Next Generation, but it also gave the opportunity to amplify the character even more. After his death, the school made his presence permanent as they constructed the J.T. Yorke Memorial Garden and we'll always thank them for making him a permanent part of the school.
1. Jimmy Brooks
You can't deny that literally everyone adored Degrassi's star basketball player. Jimmy had his time as a bully, but he always managed to come out on top thanks to his progressive, open-minded attitude. He always had a way of being the voice of reason and being able to see things from the other side of the fence.
Jimmy started as the school's top athlete with the promise of becoming the next NBA star. But despite his overwhelming talent on the court, Jimmy struggled with loneliness as he balanced a home life that consisted of parents who weren't very present. With a longstanding on and off relationship with Ashley, Jimmy briefly settled down with Hazel who stuck by him after he was shot by Rick.
What was beautiful about Jimmy's character arc was the fact that he was so loved by everyone, he was embraced in everything he ventured into. When basketball was stolen from him, Jimmy ventured into art where he even started a clothing line. Jimmy's luck with love followed him through his accident as he eventually gets engaged to a woman he meets through physical therapy and moves to New York. I've never met someone who says they didn't like Jimmy and there wasn't a single character on the show who didn't like Jimmy. Plus, who can resist what Drake was doing before he hit it big in the music world.