Next up, I’m joined by Savannah Dooley to talk all things Craig-Ashley-Manny love triangle related in Degrassi: The Next Generation’s ONLY (at least to our knowledge) two part holiday episode aptly titled “Holiday.” Sorry, Drake aka Wheelchair Jimmy barely appears in this episode.
As always with Degrassi, there have been some on-going storylines, primarily a love triangle centered on the curly haired, mentally unhinged dreamboat Craig Manning, who has been cheating on his rocker girlfriend Ashley with the bubbly cheerleader and much younger Manny. After dealing with this for a couple episodes, there was no finer time to make the confrontation happen at the holidays! Craig’s stepdad, Joey (an OG Degrassi character) is having his own relationship problems and pining for former girlfriend Caitlin (also OG). So, what we’ve got here is a bunch of angsty dude romantic problems…
Kerensa: I'm not sure if we have ever talked about Degrassi fandom but I am a HUGE Degrassi fan. I started watching it my senior year of high school and was automatically obsessed. So watching “Holiday” (which I own on DVD obviously) brings back a lot for me because it really hits my peak Degrassi fandom.
Were you a fan of the show? Is this your first time seeing it?
Savannah: I also started watching it senior year of high school, because we're kindred souls. I eventually became so obsessed that I spray-painted a hula skirt black so I could be Goth Luau Ashley for Halloween. I still watch it in its 14th or whatever season it’s in now. Last week, they tackled queer polyamory. But watching “Holiday” made me super nostalgic for the early, low budget seasons with ridiculous 00's fashion. This is the first Degrassi episode I remember feeling like a "special episode" because of the way it starts-- instead of the normal theme song we get that sappy mini-montage of young couple Craig and Ashley (now in her alt-rock stage) romping in the snow. It looks like the opening of a Hallmark movie where someone is definitely going to die at the end.
Have you seen the old Degrassi? This episode is full of Joey/Caitlin stuff which was beyond boring to me when I first saw it, before I watched the old show and saw them as kids. Now I care about them a little more and it's actually satisfying to see their history come up here.
Kerensa: We are kindred spirits! I was so obsessed with Degrassi that my friends were trying to stage an intervention for me. Bullshit obviously. I stopped watching pretty soon after Emma and Spinner got married (spoiler alert y'all). So watching this made me super nostalgic for Degrassi as well--I even watched several other episodes after.
My Degrassi obsession gave me the motivation to check out the original series which I also loved. Honestly, I've seen this episode so many times that the Joey/Caitlin stuff drives me nuts. It feels SO useless to me. How did seeing their history come up work for you?
Savannah: Emma and Spinner getting married was totally Degrassi's jump the shark moment. I refuse to acknowledge it as canon!
The only reason I really feel anything during the Joey/Caitlin drama here is because it recalls the amazing old Degrassi series finale where they drop the F bomb. When I watched them as kids my heart went to them a lot more-- even though Joey was always a tool and Caitlin was always pretty boring and melodramatic-- their cute young faces activate my empathy chip or something. So to see them finally get together here (after Joey ditches his stuffy annoying girlfriend who was clearly designed only as an obstacle) evokes some residual emotion. But yes they are basically useless in every way. It's also hilarious to watch their cheesy happily-ever-after moment knowing that Caitlin will later leave Joey for Kevin-Smith-playing-himself (more decade-old spoilers!).
CLEARLY the best thing about this episode is Craig getting his comeuppance for cheating on Ash with everyone's favorite velour-tracksuited harlot with a heart of gold Manny. It's so satisfying when Ash slaps him in the face as they're onstage about to perform their emo Christmas song ("you're every wish that never came true") in the Big School Holiday Pageant. This episode is mostly framed through Craig's POV, but I never feel sympathy for him. He is the Joey of this generation, obviously. Joey cheated on Caitlin back in the day because she wasn't giving him sex or constant undivided attention, so he found a younger girl who'd give him both and led her to believe she was the only one. Craig's situation is basically identical.
Do you feel worse for Ashley or Manny here? I think I feel bad for them equally. I have never been the Ashley (or the Craig for that matter) of a cheating situation, but I have sort of been the Manny.
Kerensa: I forgot about Caitlin leaving Joey for Kevin Smith-playing-himself! That negates that whole storyline for me now!
Oh god, Craig getting what he deserves amidst a background of holiday cheer/depression is just the best. You never feel sympathy for Craig--even later on, though I loved him, he's very hard to feel for.
I feel for Ashley and Manny both equally as well (I've been the Craig :/ ). Craig's lying totally fucks them both up in different ways--I mean they both are in love with him and think he's in love with them--but the stakes I think are a little different for both of them? Ashley's invested in Craig super emotionally, and this is coming off her general isolation from everyone post-goth phase right? But, I almost think that Manny's investment is worse because beyond being in love with Craig, she's lost her virginity to him which is a whole other awful situation. When Craig tells her to meet him in his GARAGE AT 7:30--I was just like Manny, don't go! He just wants to bone you!
Maybe I'm over reading it, but obviously Craig is invested in both of them in different ways, and I think it fares worse for Manny. What do you think?
Savannah: Good point, remembering that Manny loses her virginity (not to mention everything she goes through later as a result) she definitely got a rawer deal. This is indeed coming off of Ashley's isolated goth period but somehow it still seems like Manny needs Craig more. She's younger than Ash but also just a naive character. Both girls are shown dealing with trust issues for a while after (and yet both went on to date Craig again, at different times). I kind of wish they could have become friends (or LOVERS??) through this but obviously that's not that realistic.
Something that struck me on rewatching this is how non-Christmassy the content is. I mean Craig is caught because of a gift he gives Manny but really this could have been set at any time of year. Like, when I think of Christmas episodes I think of someone learning the meaning of giving, seeing what the world would be like without them or finding a homeless teen who is maybe definitely an angel. Not like, dude gets caught cheating on his girlfriend. I think this is the only Christmas episode Degrassi attempted in 14 years, though I could be wrong?
Kerensa: I wish that Ashley and Manny could have been friends as well. Especially because dating Craig feels like something that one would need a VAST support system for.
I agree! I was actually just going to ask you that. The content of this episode is decidedly not Christmas-y. I think Christmas is used plot wise in getting Craig caught with all the presents he was giving but as you mention it could really be set at any other time. Well unless my very brief research is incorrect (FYA readers, insights?) I think that "Holiday" is the only Christmas episode that Degrassi attempts! That's insane!
While we both agree that the content of this episode doesn't need the holiday setting, do you think it adds anything to it? Like I mentioned before I think it gives an easy way for Craig to get caught and the general melancholy of the season adds a bit for me--but more for the Caitlin/Joey storyline for sure.
Savannah: "The melancholy of the season--" Y'know, I never really noticed before but I feel that too in this episode. And it does add something to have that set against Craig's story-- like there's supposed to be all this holiday togetherness but he's in this self-created isolation chamber of lies, and even though he has two girlfriends he seems lonely. The forced cheerfulness of the season always makes me feel a little lonely too, but it seems like Craig maybe feels like he can't fully take in the double dose of love he's getting from Ash + Manny, because he knows he doesn't deserve it? Actually, now I'm wondering if they were trying to (very subtly) channel Gift of the Magi here, with Craig struggling to find the perfect present for each girl, then losing everything (I know that doesn't sound like Gift of the Magi at all, and maybe I'm totally reaching, but I get a slight O'Henry vibe from the ending where he's left with zero girlfriends due to his own hubris).
Obviously all the Joey/Caitlin stuff in this episode is right out of a Hallmark or Lifetime Christmas romance, with kissing in the snow and that idea that Christmas is the time when people realize what's truly important. But that cheesy stuff just annoys me. It feels like cheating, using Christmas to make a romance seem more romantic (even though I guess it sometimes happens in life when you are dating someone at Christmas)
So where would you rate this episode among others of the era? And what could have made it more satisfying? Personally, I felt a little frustrated by Manny's subdued reaction to the cheating, even though it makes complete sense for the character. Where Ash got angry and violent (and later writes and performs that incredible Riot Grrl-lite song about it), Manny never expresses anger, just sadness. Which in a way I relate to, maybe that's why it frustrated me. It's like, all you're gonna do is give him the bracelet back? Throw some eggnog in his face or something, girl! I also would have enjoyed seeing the Joey/Caitlin plot replaced with one of the following:
- something involving JT, Liberty, and awkward mistletoe
- Paige sees 3 ghosts and realizes she's been a Christmas Bitch, and is briefly nice
- Ashley reverts to her goth phase and steals Christmas because Christmas is too conformist
- Spinner accidentally kills Santa and must take over Santa's duties
- Emma realizes she's pregnant, although she's never had sex, and somehow has to give birth in a barn
- perpetually-sidelined Toby, while lighting his menorah all alone, sees a vision of what Degrassi would be like without him-- exactly the same
Kerensa: Honestly, for me, a better b-plot replaced with ANY of your amazing suggestions would have completely made it more satisfying for me. This was peak Degrassi viewing for me—Craig-Ashley-Manny triangle--and all subsequent episodes including Ashley's riot grrl band performance and Manny's abortion, so in comparison to those "Holiday" is certainly ranked lower, but it's an important episode to those moments in the future.
I understand what you mean about wanting more of a reaction for Manny but I think her youth coupled with her feelings for Craig, illicit this exact response. Sometimes we're the most gracious to the people who are the shittiest to us especially at the holidays.
Next week: Kerensa will take a look at the ultimate holiday episode on this list—My So-Called Life.
FYI: Savannah Dooley is an LA writer best known for her work on ABC Family's Huge. If she were a Degrassi character, she'd probably be Toby.