[WARNING: THIS EPISODE REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS]
Beat It was the most anticipated episode of the season for me. First off, its main plot is about Riley’s sexuality, a storyline with amazing potential that was randomly dropped in Season 8. Secondly, this episode was directed by Stefan Brogren…though he’s produced Degrassi minis and Degrassi Goes Hollywood (all of which were amazing), Beat It is the first REGULAR episode he has ever directed.
It didn’t disappoint in the least. I’m actually having a hard time right now thinking of any episode that is as all-around amazing (aka all of its plots were great) as Beat It.
Taking lifeguard training, Riley is immediately attracted to the instructor, Sam. That’s kinda obvious when he gets a boner while watching Sam give a doll CPR. LOLZ before the opening credits? This episode can’t fail.
Riley continues to struggle with his sexuality, and the difficulties of balancing faking being straight in front of everyone and suppressing his desires. Degrassi takes a far different approach with Riley than they did Marco, who simply wanted to keep his sexuality a secret at first. Riley doesn’t want to be gay AT ALL, and takes actions to “get rid of the gayness.” He fails at doing so after trying to sleep with Fiona, then after they break up he can’t seal the deal with Chantay either.
Degrassi does a fantastic job of pacing the episode and the stages of the emotions Riley goes through. It’s amazing to watch him gradually become more nervous and aggressive, ending Part 1 after Riley punches Sam because he casually asks Riley if he’s gay (it’s revealed earlier in the episode that Sam is gay too). Another great element to this storyline is Peter’s presence as Riley’s supportive friend. It’s only appropriate that Peter be the first person Riley vocally admits he’s gay to.
I noticed that Argiris Karras’ acting is at its best whenever Riley is anxious or angry. Whenever he’s calm it feels like Argiris is forcing his lines, but he’s on the mark in Part 2 since Riley spends most of the episode frustrated. From contemplating “gay therapy” to the climactic confrontation with Sam, Riley’s emotional, self-hating attitude brings back that genuine feel to Degrassi…something that hasn’t been around much since Season 4.
BEAT IT MAIN PLOT GRADE: A+
If you think this subplot is dumb because it involves LARPing, then you completely missed the point. The theme was simple, and one everybody can relate to. Tired of being a Studz groupie, Anya has been doing her own thing lately. She’s involved in Live Action Role Playing after school, but lies and tells Sav she’s taking self defense instead because she knows he’ll just make fun of her.
Samantha Munro has always kinda just been “there,” but I really like her acting in this episode. When shes LARPing, you can actually tell a difference in Anya’s confidence level compared to all of her previous appearances on the show.
I didn’t particularly like how the plot ended so happily with Sav at Anya’s “wedding,” given the fact they butted heads the entire time leading up to that point. Either way, I’m just really hung up on how great this plot’s message is: just because you think something’s dumb it doesn’t make it any meaningless to someone else. Heck, we all have that “thing” we love that everyone else around us thinks is dumb: what a coincidence, mine happens to be Degrassi.
“BEAT IT” SUBPLOT A GRADE: A
This must be stated: Dave is awesome. He bursts onto the scene out of nowhere and ever since he’s delivered simple comedic entertainment…how sad is it he’s funnier than Danny and Derek ever were combined?
Dave becomes the man after hitting the game winning shot during a Degrassi basketball game. He uses this opportunity to ask out Jenna, who agrees. This subplot is so cleverly written…Dave’s crush on Jenna is really just a smokescreen for the plot’s true purpose.
Why did Jenna go out with him? Because they were going to the fair, and KC and Clare would be there.
She openly tells Clare she wants to be friends with a guy before dating them…like KC. (oops)
Get where I’m going with this?
Hints are thrown left and right throughout this subplot that Jenna wants KC, and plans to steal him from Clare.
I love how Degrassi has been setting up this future love triangle without anything big actually happening yet. Its combination of subtle and not so subtle hints (ranging from Jenna’s comments about KC to the look of confusion/concern on Clare’s face) are making me excited for Heart Like Mine. Degrassi’s come such a long way to make KC/Clare’s relationship more entertaining, considering it seemed so juvenile in Season 8. Well done.
“BEAT IT” SUBPLOT B GRADE: A+