"Get a pizza. Watch Degrassi Jr. High."
"You got a weird thing for Canadian melodrama."
"I've got a weird thing for girls who say 'aboot'."
If you're a Kevin Smith fan -- and if you're not, you're reading the wrong review -- you've probably noticed Kevin popping Degrassi references into his movies and namechecking his favourite Canadian teen drama whenever he has the chance. Kevin's dream gig was to write and direct the episode where two of its longest-running characters, Caitlin and Joey, get married, but the show's financing precluded a non-Canuck from doing either. There's nothing in the rulebook that says he and partner-in-crime Jason Mewes couldn't have a three-episode arc anchored around them, so...enter Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi.
This DVD collects three episodes from the tail-end of season four (and yes, the stars aligned so that Kevin's first appearance would be in episode 420) -- "West End Girls" and the two-parter "Goin' Down the Road". Kevin's scouting for his latest opus, Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh?, which has the two drug-addled title characters forced to graduate high school in Canada. (Don't ask why 'cause it's never answered and really doesn't matter besides.) When some of his locations fall through, Caitlin Ryan (Stacie Mistysyn), the former star of Ryan's Planet who's currently slumming as an interviewer for a local celebrity TV show, decides to show him around Degrassi. Kevin starts shooting his movie there, and he gives Caitlin's bipolar quasi-stepson Craig (Jake Epstein) a chance to record a song for the soundtrack. The only problem is that his bandmade-slash-girlfriend Ashley (Melissa McIntyre) is going to spend the summer in London interning for the BBC, and as Craig struggles with being away from her for months at a time, everyone starts assuming that he's off his medication. Kevin gives Craig some well-intentioned advice that doesn't go over particularly well with Ashley, prompting Craig to live up to everyone's worst fears and then some. Meanwhile, Kevin's entangled in a love triangle with Caitlin, who's struggling with some problems with her longtime flame Joey (Pat Mastroianni), and then there's a cheerleading rivalry and a broken leg and duplicate prom dresses and ninjas and ...you get the general idea.
Bear in mind that this is still Degrassi: The Next Generation, not Kevin Smith and the Yellow Ribbon Dancers. Kevin has a small part in the first episode, "West End Girls", and even though he's a lot more prominent in the two-parter that follows, the filming of Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh? is still very much the B-plot. There's a strong undercurrent of funny, but Degrassi's still a drama at heart, so don't expect the same rhythm or unrelenting sense of humor you'd get from one of Kevin's movies. Also, even though Jay and Silent Bob get the marquee billing, they're only in-character for a few minutes' worth of scenes during the filming of their movie, and even then, Jason Mewes is barely in it. That's not supposed to be a long list of complaints or anything -- it's just that when I start my giddy rant in a paragraph or two about how great this DVD is, I kinda want to make sure people know what they're getting.
Few things are more terrifying than stunt casting on a teen TV drama, but Degrassi fits Kevin Smith in pretty seamlessly. Kevin doesn't overwhelm the series; he's not shoehorned into every scene, and the Degrassi cast doesn't awkwardly act jazzed about View Askew rolling into town. Y'know how some series have stuff like, "Wow! I loved TV's Patrick Duffy in Dallas, and I'm going to show him what an amazing actress I am and we're going to get married and lots and lots of inane dialogue and...."? Nothing like that here. The reaction to Kevin and company rolling into town is natural and believable, which kinda describes Degrassi as a whole. The kids are played by kids, not actors in their late '20s with receding hairlines, and they're still the stars of the show. They're not impossibly pretty, the drama extends beyond the WB-grade white-kids-with-problems dreck, and these episodes tackle mental disorders, homelessness, and a failed cross-Atlantic romantic gesture without seeming like it's "on a very special Degrassi..." Even without a writing credit, this fictionalized, unmarried version of Kevin Smith sounds like the guy I've come to know and platonically love through his DVDs, and the self-deprecatory sense of humor and pop culture references are all present and accounted for. Kevin quips in the extras that a lot of people have wondered if he could be funny without using vulgarity as a crutch, and Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi is proof positive that the answer is "yup".
"Goin' Down the Road" originally aired as a two-parter, but it's combined into one hour-ish block here, and some scenes cut out of the broadcast version have been reinserted for this DVD. Anything that was trimmed out of the original airings was cut for time, not content, though; the "uncut, uncensored, and unrated" stuff slathered all over the cover has more to do with the disc's extensive extras, which are as vulgar and explicit as you've come to expect from one of Kevin Smith's DVDs.
This review is probably preaching to the converted. If you like Degrassi or if you like Kevin Smith, you'll dig this DVD. If you can't stand either of 'em, Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi won't do anything to change your mind, and if you've never caught 'em before, this isn't the best place to start. If you're a fan, though, the episodes are great, the DVD's reasonably priced, and, as you'd expect from a DVD with Kevin Smith's smiling mug on the cover, there are a ton of extras.
Video: These episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation look more like a modestly budgeted TV show than one of Kevin Smith's feature films, and that's probably 'cause that's what it is. Considering that, detail and sharpness are both decent enough, although the compression occasionally seems to have a bit of a rough time with the somewhat grainy Super 16mm photography, especially when there's a lot of quick movement. If you have a smaller display or sit a good distance from your TV, you'll probably never spot any of these problems, and it seemed a lot more noticeable during "West End Girls" than the two-part "Goin' Down the Road". The cinematography and the meat of the transfer are both solid...it's just the authoring that's a little on the clumsy side.
Audio: There are two main soundtracks -- a 448Kbps Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and a 256Kbps stereo track. Although you can choose between these tracks through the episode selection menu, you'll want to press the Audio button on your DVD remote to make sure you're listening to the one you want if you just whack "Play All". The 5.1 track is a noticeable improvement over the stereo mix, sounding much fuller and sporting a more substantial low-end. Like a lot of TV dramas, the surrounds are used sparsely, and the sub mostly kicks in with the music. Y'know, pretty much what you'd expect. Oh, and there are no subtitles or closed captions.
Supplements: Probably the most elaborate special edition ever for a three episode arc of a Canadian teen drama, Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi kicks off with three commentary tracks, each featuring Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes, Stacie Mistysyn, associate producer Jim Jackman, and writer Aaron Martin. Kevin Smith sets the gold standard for audio commentaries, and these tracks are predictably hysterical as he points out all of the suspension of disbelief stuff that I didn't really catch on the first time through and as he tries to make one-time crush Stacie as uncomfortable as possible. The alternate "West End Girls" commentary, which Kevin politely requests that you listen to last, is still worth a listen but is the least essential of the three. They had some studio time left to burn and a lot more they wanted to talk about, so they gave it a second pass. This time, Kevin's more of a moderator than a participant, prompting conversation about the business end of producing a show for Canadian television and talking about the show's viewership in the U.S. and Canada.
Kevin Smith covers a pretty wide variety of topics during a half hour interview about Degrassi, including comparing the new series to the original, commenting on why some people don't connect with the show, and debating whether or not Degrassi could've been made in the 'States. Kevin's answers are serious and impressively in-depth, and even though I barely have a passing familiarity with what it is he's talking about, the interview held my attention throughout.
A minute and a half of bloopers are almost entirely devoted to Kevin and Jason rattling off various bits of innuendo, and there are also five minutes of Kevin cracking up Stacie while filming an overdramatic promo. Two short deleted scenes are also included. "Best...Year of Our Lives" is the minute long dramatic finalé to Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh? (and it's easier to understand than the reverb-drenched dialogue from the finished episode). "Too Young" clocks in around 25 seconds and has an alternate version of Kevin explaining to Jason that statutory rape's still frowned upon in the Great White North.
"How to Film a Ninja Fight Scene" compares thirteen minutes of raw footage with the minute and a half sequence that made into the episode. The entirety of the unedited footage is a little much to wade through, but it definitely gives me a greater appreciation for the magic of editing. The disc opens with a brief intro with Kevin Smith and Jason Mewes, and the full seven minutes and change of raw footage, complete with rants about the appropriateness of different masturbatory material, Mewes' sexual hangups, and Canadian unfamiliarity with the concept of a cocksucker, are piled on as an extra.
There are two still galleries: one is an 80 second montage of production stills from these episodes, and the other spends 40 seconds cycling though shots from the movie-in-a-TV-show, Jay and Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh?. If you want a little more background on the seven Degrassians featured in these episodes, there are bios for both the actors and their characters, along with a list of some of the more memorable quotes from this DVD. A bunch of trailers, including a Degrassi promo, round out the extras.
Conclusion: It's a safe bet that you knew before you clicked on this review whether or not you were going to pick up Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi, and if you're a Kevin Smith fan, I'm sure you'll find this unrated DVD worth the fifteen bucks it's going for online. If not, you know where to send the hate mail. Highly Recommended.
Random Comment: Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith aren't the only actors from the Askewniverse to turn up in Jay and Silent Bob Do Degrassi. One other holdover -- someone who's a perfect fit for a Canadian flick -- also turns up, but it's a lot more fun if you watch the episode without knowing who it is in advance. It's spoiled on the cover of the DVD, so...y'know, try not to read the little white blurb in the lower-right hand corner if you want the full effect.