School's Out is a 1992 TV movie featuring the characters of the popular Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High series. The show's longtime team of writers scripted this feature-length movie during the summer of 1991 to be shown on CBC Television during the new year. Initially, the movie was intended to wrap up the entire Degrassi saga, but in 2001, Degrassi: The Next Generation gave the Degrassi series a revival.
The movie (like a few episodes of Degrassi Junior High/Degrassi High, and nearly all episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation) shares its title with a song; in this case, School's Out by Alice Cooper.
The setting is Toronto, during the summer following the high school graduation of many of the Degrassi High characters, before they part ways for university and adult life. The story opens on graduation day, approximately one year after the series finalé, "One Last Dance" (DH ep. 213), and one day shy of three years after the first date between Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni) and Caitlin Ryan (Stacie Mistysyn) to the school dance in the third season finalé, "Bye-Bye Junior High" (DJH ep. 316).
The crux of the feature focused on long-time recurrent couple Joey and Caitlin. Caitlin is approximately one year younger than Joey, yet the two had been classmates since Joey's dysgraphia necessitated his repeat of grade 8 ("Pass Tense", DJH ep. 216; "Testing 1, 2, 3", DH ep. 113). Despite having been held back four years earlier, he remained closer to his friends in his former class than to his contemporary classmates, aside from Caitlin. As Joey approaches his nineteenth birthday, his friends are preparing for university and far-off travel, while he faces another year of high school. Exacerbating the situation, Caitlin has has taken a number of extra classes to complete high school in three years, and has just graduated with Joey's former peers.
Eager to hold on to her before she leaves to study journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa, Joey proposes to Caitlin at the graduation party hosted by Caitlin's soon-to-be roommate, Lucy Fernandez (Anais Granofsky). Caitlin demurs, explaining that she is not ready for that kind of commitment. Joey storms out, only to run into classmate Tessa Campanelli (Kirsten Bourne) fresh from an argument with her boyfriend Todd (Christian Campbell), and he agrees to give her a ride home.
Arriving at the Campanelli house, Tessa pulls Joey toward her for a kiss. The next day, on her break from the photo processing store, Tessa visits Joey next door at Shoppers Drug Mart and asks him on a date.Tessa rejects Spike's argument, noting that Caitlin will be leaving for university in a matter of weeks anyway. Joey, though initially hesitant, accepts Tessa's offer, has a great time, and (as he tells Wheels (Neil Hope) the next day) gets to "third base." Joey sees little of Caitlin who is working as a waitress to make money for university; instead, he spends most of the summer with Tessa who, unlike Caitlin, "goes all the way". Tessa confides in her co-worker, Christine "Spike" Nelson (Amanda Stepto), the details of the relationship. Spike reminds her that Joey and Caitlin have a pattern of breaking up and reuniting.
Other plot lines include Wheels spending the summer trying to get his 200-dollar junk car to work in order to move to Calgary in September to be with Karen, and Snake's (Stefan Brogren) hope that his lifeguard job will impress a woman enough to take his virginity. Joey is uncharacteristically cruel and annoying toward Snake, incessantly teasing him about their contrasting sexual success.
Tessa realises that Joey is still dating Caitlin with no intention of leaving her. Tessa dumps Joey without telling him that she's pregnant and having an abortion. Joey and Caitlin finally make love on his nineteenth birthday, approximately a week before Caitlin, Lucy, and Snake are all scheduled to depart. The coitus is Caitlin's first time, and she is unaware that it is not also Joey's first. Unknown to Joey, Caitlin has decided to attend a local university in order to remain close to him.
The next day, at a lake house party, hosted by Lucy's boyfriend Bronco Davis (L. Dean Ifill), Caitlin accepts Joey's earlier marriage proposal. An overly confident Joey teases Snake one too many times and the latter lashes back, loudly criticising Joey for his infidelity toward Caitlin and fornication with Tessa. Ironically, the series' traditionally "good boy" character, Snake, becomes the first person to utter the word 'fuck' on Canadian primetime television. Moments later, the series' traditionally "good girl" character, Caitlin, becomes the second (and the first female) to do so when she confronts Joey after overhearing Snake. Her now infamous line, "Tessa Campanelli? You were fucking Tessa Campanelli?" was edited to "You were sleeping with Tessa Campanelli?" for airing in the United States. She storms out after breaking off their engagement and telling Joey of her would-be plans to study locally in order to be with him.
Immediately after unintentionally breaking up Joey and Caitlin, Snake realises that former classmate Allison Hunter (Sarah Holmes) is drowning and rushes in to the lake to rescue her. Everyone congratulates him for saving the her life, but he breaks down in a flood of emotion and anxiety.
While Snake is arguing with Joey and saving Allison, Wheels is driving drunk with Lucy to get more chips for the party, and collides with another car. The crash kills a two-year-old boy in the other car, and both cripples and blinds Lucy, an aspiring filmmaker who was scheduled to major in the subject. Joey visits Wheels in jail, where Wheels asserts that it is not his fault that the child was not wearing a seatbelt or that Lucy needed more chips. Snake is disgusted by Wheels, particularly in light of Wheels having lost his own parents to a drunk driver three years earlier ("Can't Live With 'Em", DJH ep. 301).
In the epilogue, most of the gang meet up again two months later for the 19 October wedding of Alexa Pappadopoulos (Irene Courakos) to Simon Dexter (Michael Carry). Absent are Wheels, Erica Farrell (Angela Deiseach), and Lucy. Still incarcerated, Wheels is set to plead guilty for his crimes, while Erica is teaching abroad in the Dominican Republic and has met a new boyfriend in the process. Meanwhile, Lucy has since regained her vision in one of her eyes but is still not well enough to attend. Snake is accompanied by his girlfriend Pam (Tara Burt) whom he met at university, and he appears considerably more self-assured; he is still vocally disgusted by Wheels. Both Snake and Caitlin are receptive to Joey's apologies for the way he had behaved toward them, and the former fiancés share a dance as friends. He predicts that she will be famous. This scene is the only time pre-Next Generation) that any hint of a friendship between Spike and Caitlin is depicted; the two traveled in entirely separate circles throughout Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, and Spike expressed her resentment of Caitlin's meddling in the Junior High episode "Censored".
The Next Generation follows the precedent of School's Out of being unabashedly Canadian and taking place explicitly in Toronto, rather than in a generic "anytown" somewhere in North America as the original series was generally depicted. (See next section, below, for examples.)
Exposition in the the 2001 Degrassi: The Next Generation pilot episode, "Mother and Child Reunion, Part 1" provides update to the Lucy and Wheels plot. Snake, no longer dating Pam, is still furious at Wheels and mentions that he was released from prison. Lucy's eyesight is restored [whether in one or both eyes is unclear] and, having completed extensive physical therapy, she is able to walk well with the use of a cane; at the same time, she has completed an honours bachelor's degree, a master's degree and most of the work for a Ph.D. Joey and Caitlin have gone their separate ways and not seen each other in many years [though it is unclear if Alexa and Simon's wedding was the last time]. Joey's prediction has come true; Caitlin is famous as the host of an environmental-political television series. At the reunion, Caitlin breaks up with her new fiancé Keith (Don McKellar); as she takes off her ring while sitting alone with Joey, she asks him, "Bring back any memories?" Alexa and Simon are still married, as evidenced by the characters sitting together and Irene Courakos being credited as "Alexa Dexter" vice "Alexa Pappadopoulos". Alison is shown to be none the worse for wear when flirting with both Joey and Keith.
Beginning in the second season, Spike and Caitlin are shown to have somehow become close friends, despite Caitlin having gone away to Carleton University in Ottawa, followed by pursuit of a broadcasting career in Los Angeles, while Spike stayed in Toronto to follow in her mother's footsteps as a hairstylist and single mother.
The third season episode, "Should I Stay or Should I Go?", brought closure to one School's Out plot line, and re-cycled another. At a bowling alley, Joey reunites Wheels with Snake who initially wants nothing to do with him. While Joey leaves them to fetch refreshments, however, the two bond over having both wanted to die (Wheels after killing the child and injuring Lucy, and Snake now that he is battling lukemia and undergoing chemotherapy); the three, now balder and wiser, loudly sing the Zits' only song, Everybody Wants Something as Joey drives them back to their respective homes.
The same episode, Joey's stepson, Craig Manning (Jake Epstein) finds himself in a nearly identical love triangle to that of Joey's from twelve years earlier. After a disagreement with his reasonably responsible and mature (but chaste) girlfriend Ashley Kerwin (Melissa McIntyre), Craig is seduced by the younger but sexually agressive Manny Santos (Cassie Steele). Craig continues cheating on Ashley with Manny until exposed and rejected by both of them in the two-part episode "Holiday". Joey consoles him, and relates how he was engaged to Caitlin but lost her by cheating with Tessa Campanelli; the conversation however leads to Craig making Joey realise that he still loves Caitlin and should leave Sydney (Elisa Moolecherry); Joey explains to Caitlin, "I moved on, but I never left." Their romance is rekindled until the end of the fourth season when they part on friendly terms. Like Tessa, Manny aborts the issue of the affair a few episodes later in "Accidents Will Happen" Part 2.
In the fifth season episode, "The Lexicon Of Love" Part Two, it is Joey who takes in Snake when Spike (now Snake's wife) learns that Snake kissed another woman and orders him out of their house.
The series, jointly funded by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Boston's Public Broadcasting station WGBH, tended to avoid specifying the setting as Canada, and the stories were essentially kept in a generic North American "anytown". Currency and vehicle registration plates were rarely seen clearly, the classrooms had no flags, courtroom interiors were never shown, and police officers wore breast badges. Cities were never mentioned by name; Wheels did visit the town of Port Arthur in the third season, but few if any American viewers would know its location or even if it actually existed; just as they would not know if CRAZ was the radio station's call letters or its moniker. In contrast, School's Out was unabashedly Canadian. The graduation dias in the opening scene featured a crossed pair of Canadian flags and the lectern bore the national coat of arms; Ontario plates were plainly visible on cars; and eighteen year-olds openly purchased alcoholic beverages when the drinking age in U.S. jurisdictions was twenty-one years.
Many fans didn't like that most of the coverage was given to Joey, Wheels, Caitlin, and Snake, but not to the other characters. Most of Degrassi's bit players are also seen in the background, dancing, drinking and smoking marijuana. Small details like this tended to make the jump from the last Degrassi High episode to this feature appear a bit jagged to those fans.
In the series, drug use and sex was more often implied than shown, and although there is no complete nudity, the sex scenes go beyond anything that aired on the series. That, combined with the profanity, led some parents to believe that Degrassi went too far.
However, the film proved a success and drew in around 2.325 million Canadian viewers on its initial showing, doubling the average audience that Degrassi High received.
With eight songs from Toronto-based rock group Harem Scarem featured in the movie, Toronto's rock station Q107 received immediate requests for their songs to be played on-air. Songs by future Styx lead singer Lawrence Gowan are also featured in the film.