Wednesday, April 4, 2012 One Tree Hill vs. Degrassi: The Next Generation: Which Is the All-Time Insane Plot King of Teen Dramas?
By Juliet Litman
It may be hard to believe, but tonight marks the end of the nine-year run of One Tree Hill. (Yes, this show is still on.) The final episode is its 187th, 43 more than the critically loved Buffy the Vampire Slayer (144); 59 more than Dawson's Creek (128), the show that defined the network that spoke to a generation; and 34 more than Gilmore Girls (153), OTH's sole companion in making the jump from The WB to The CW. (The only WB show whose episode count OTH does not beat is 7th Heaven, which managed to air 243 episodes. 243!!!!) When the show debuted on September 23, 2003, with a fairly simple premise — two basketball-loving, North Carolina-living half-brothers from different mothers clash on and off the court and are tormented by their truly psychotic father — and a medium-sized cast, it was almost unimaginable that it would have the legs to become one of the last remaining shows [Ed.note: Sorry, we forgot about Smallville] from the halcyon WB days of the previous decade.
A show can't make it through 189 episodes without some dramatic curveballs, but even by the (low) standards set by daytime soaps, One Tree Hill subjected its characters to an unbelievable number of catastrophes: absentee parents, teen marriage, teen pregnancy, organ failure, homicide, suicide, stalkers, attackers, long-lost relatives, estrangement, addiction, theft, kidnapping. As One Tree Hill continued on the air against all odds, its stories shot up the absurdity scale and a single question kept popping up (to me, at least): Is this program more insane than television's most outrageous long-running serial, Degrassi: The Next Generation? This show used to be the undisputed holder of the Most Outlandish Plot-Lines belt, also subjecting its vast cast to the most extreme perils of teenage life, as if each one of its 270 (!!!) installments were a Very Special Episode. But based on longevity alone, OTH has encroached on Degrassi's batshit territory.
Now that OTH is ending its run, it seems like the perfect time to properly assess which show is definitively crazier. We need to strip away the indie music and dig in where their plots overlap. If you can't outdo your competition on a head-to-head plot-point competition, do you even deserve to be in the conversation?
1. Most Dramatic Homicide
One Tree Hill:Dan Scott kills his brother, Keith Scott. (Season 3; essential plot point in every season thereafter.)
High schooler Jimmy Edwards brings a gun to school and takes hostages. Dan Scott, the OTH villain, runs into the school, ostensibly to be a hero. However, he finds his big brother Keith (who Dan believes attempted to kill him in a fire) and a gun, and decides to kill his brother. There are no witnesses, so Dan blames it on the school shooter.
Degrassi:J.T. Yorke is stabbed to death by a Lakehurst hooligan. (Season 6.)
James Tiberius Yorke, who has just put his infant child up for adoption and recently overdosed on oxycodone, but now seems to have his life back on track, is attending a party with students from rival Lakehurst High School. He goes outside to find his baby mama and profess his love, but he is brutally stabbed in the back. Literally.
Winner:Degrassi. This is really hard. On the one hand, the marquee homicide of OTH is a crucial plot point that remains disproportionately relevant six seasons later. But on the other hand, J.T.'s death was unexpected and very aggressive. It's difficult to find a good clip of the stabbing on YouTube — I think in part because it's bizarrely graphic. J.T. was on a mission to tell Liberty that he loved her, but instead he gets knifed in the back. It was extreme, even for this show. Shakespearean, even.
2. Most Dramatic Suicide
One Tree Hill: In the same Season 3 episode, previously unimportant character Jimmy Edwards, victim of bullying and friend-abandonment, kills himself, but not before he shoots heroine Peyton Sawyer in the leg and holds a class of students hostage.
Degrassi: Rick Murray commits suicide after he shoots Jimmy "Wheelchair" Brooks, whom he believed was behind a very public humiliation. (Yes, we all know that Jimmy was played by Aubrey "Drake" Graham. Moving on.) (Season 3.)
Winner:Degrassi. In both cases the suicide became secondary in plot to the accompanying homicide. It's hard to deny Degrassi here. The Rick Murray school shooting was cemented as television legend long before Drake shot to fame, thanks to YouTube fan videos like this one, which is an ... um, homage to The OC. If One Tree Hill ever accomplished such a cultural feat, you wouldn't be shocked it was just ending tonight.
3. Best Kidnapping
One Tree Hill: Dreamboat-teen-dad-turned-NBA-player-turned-NBA-agent Nathan Scott is kidnapped by a Central European cabal that owns a basketball team from which Nathan is trying to sign a player. He is bound to a chair and held in an abandoned warehouse. (Season 9.)
Degrassi: In the very first episode, Emma Nelson meets her online "friend" Jordan, who turns out to be a 40-year-old pedophile. He kidnaps her, takes her to a hotel room, and tries to rape her. (Season 1.)
Winner:OTH. Yes, Degrassi really kicked things off strong with kidnapping and attempted rape in its first episode. But no one does abduction like One Tree Hill: In addition to this plot line, which dominated the final season, Nathan's son was kidnapped by his psychotic nanny, this nanny hit Dan with a car and abducted him, and Peyton Sawyer and Brooke Davis were essentially kidnapped in Peyton's own basement (more on that in a second). One Tree Hill relied on kidnapping the way most shows rely on love triangles.
4. Most Unfortunate Consequence of Absentee Parents
One Tree Hill: Peyton Sawyer is attacked by a cyberstalker pretending to be her long-lost biological brother. Twice. You see, Peyton's father is a fisherman who goes on long trips, and her mother died many years ago. So when a creepy blond guy pretended to be her biological sibling and attacked her twice — the second time on prom night! — she had no parents around to save her.
Degrassi: Delinquent Sean Cameron drag-races with Peter. Sean is the original bad boy of Degrassi, who alternated between getting in a ton of fights and doing something valiant to prove he was just a misguided kid with a heart of gold. Sort of the James Sawyer Ford of Degrassi, if you will.
Winner:OTH. Peyton's stalker, Psycho Derek, was an unforgettable high (low?) point of the series, and we have her lack of parents to thank for that. Sean, on the other hand, ultimately reunites with his parents. Which is just not that fun.
5. Most Outrageous Consequence of Organ Failure
One Tree Hill: Lucas Scott, who has a defective heart, falls into a coma after a heart attack (or something — medical specifics are unimportant) in which he has a dream that allows him to realize that Jimmy didn't kill Keith. Keith visits Lucas in his coma to tell him to "OPEN YOUR EYES, LUKE." (Season 4.)
Degrassi: When she needs a kidney transplant at the tender age of 17, Holly J. Sinclair finds out she was adopted. After none of her "family" is a match for a transplant, she scours the family photos to find there are no newborn pics of her. (Season 10.)
Winner: Tie. One the one hand, has a dream experienced in a coma ever directly led to the solving of a murder in One Tree Hill? But on the other hand, has any television show tried to claim that a 17-year-old girl had not previously looked for baby pictures of herself? Who knew organ failure could be such a powerful tool of self-discovery, even for solipsistic teens?
6. Quantity and Quality of Celebrity Guests Playing Themselves
One Tree Hill: Pete Wentz from Fall Out Boy plays Peyton's boyfriend, Pete Wentz; Nick Lachey goes on a date with Brooke.
Degrassi: Jay and Silent Bob shoot a movie at Degrassi (so Canadian!); MLB player Chris Woodward appears as a judge in an epic battle-of-the-bands competition.
Winner:Degrassi. Yes, the celebrity guests on OTH may be more noteworthy, but the sheer hilarity of the C-Listers on the Canadian show earn them extra points. Was Chris Woodward the only athlete in Canada willing to be on Degrassi? He's not even Canadian, though he did play for the Blue Jays at the time.
7. Quantity of Cyberstalkers
One Tree Hill: One (Psycho Derek stalking Peyton)
Degrassi: Two (Jordan stalking Emma Nelson; Adam stalking Darcy Edwards)
8. Quantity of Teen Pregnancies
One Tree Hill: One. Haley James Scott keeps the baby with her husband, Nathan Scott.
Degrassi: Four. Manny Santos has an abortion (on a two-parter that The N refused to air in the U.S.); Mia Jones has a child, she is introduced to the show post-pregnancy; Jenna Middleton, attempts to raise child but can't, ultimately opting for adoption; Liberty Van Zandt, gives baby up for adoption.
9. Quantity of Time Jumps
One Tree Hill: Two, following Season 4 (four-year jump) and Season 6 (roughly one year).
Winner:OTH.Degrassi has a massive cast and cycles new kids in all the time. OTH stuck with a core group, so they needed these deus ex machinas more. Ultimately, I think this is a win on the absurdity meter, because the Degrassi method is technically more realistic.
By my count, Degrassi, the reigning champion of absurdity, remains on top. Not only did it eke out a victory by the criteria set above, but there are tons of characters and plot lines not covered because they didn't appear on One Tree Hill, and there's no baseline for comparison. (Incest and pseudo-incest; abusive parents; secret sex clubs.) Nonetheless, the loss of One Tree Hill marks the end of an era. Shows like Gossip Girl and Vampire Diaries may literally fill the WB void, but the first wave of network soaps that first ushered in the importance of indie music to indicate emotional gravity is now gone. Thank God for SoapNet, where viewers can spend a little time every day pretending it's still 2004, and that Peyton Sawyer is still without parents.
Juliet Litman takes time off from watching television programming targeted toward teens to work on the Grantland Quarterly. Issue 2 is available now.