There is something about Degrassi that is so compelling. The Canadian teen drama franchise has been on air since 1979, and its production value is pretty high-voltage cheese. But, what the show lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in difficult truths, in invaluable conversations about health and social issues of our time.

Degrassi High was originally broadcast from 1989 through 1991. I was 11 or so when I got a whiff of the re-runs, which populated cable networks each and every evening. I'd dutifully complete my homework to the backdrop of Degrassi and would inevitably be glued to the TV, engrossed by the embarrassing hairstyles, bad acting, and melodramatic storyline woven in and out of Degrassi's students. While these attributes are normally assigned to horrific programmes out of touch with reality, the naff production made it all the more realistic for me.

Saved By The Bell, this was not. Zach, Kelly and the gang were too beautiful. The same can be said of the cast of Beverly Hills 90210, Dawson's Creek, The O.C and any other teen soap incarnation of the '90s and noughties. Heavyweight American networks like FOX, NBC and ABC churned out style, idyllic settings and fancy things in their teen drama series--these were too polished for me to relate to as a kid, a teen and as an adult.

Meanwhile, watching Degrassi High was screening a time capsule and stepping right into it. I could smell the hairspray, feel the jeans clasped too tightly above the waist, and brush back the frizz of many a perm. The students of Degrassi--pimpled and bespectacled--were more diverse than their American contemporaries. And they fucking swore.

Maybe it's a bit unfair to say it's all badly acted. It's probably difficult to deliver sincerity with such a hammed-up script. That said, the writing could be forgiven. It serves its purpose of leading the young viewer through a tangled path of enduring high school, offering hints and cues to difficult experiences because Degrassi does not steer clear of controversial subject matters. It charges at taboo like a bull.

I recall Erica, one half of Degrassi's twins, as she scrambles past protesters outside an abortion clinic. She's on her own. Her twin sister doesn't support it, a friend has branded her a murderer, and protestors are waving a ridiculous shrunken down model of a baby foetus in her face. It's a horrendous ordeal but Degrassi doesn't shy away from it.

I attended Catholic schools most of my student life. Sex ed was a part of the curriculum confined to Religion class. For a week (or less) each year, sex was only ever discussed once, and framed only in reproduction terms. One year, Mr Fawcett (my junior high's multifaceted religion and band teacher), taught sex ed using episodes of Coronation Street, taped from TV to VHS. In the British daytime soap, a student our age, Sarah, discovers she's pregnant. During class, Mr Fawcett wouldn't speak. He'd simply hit play on the VCR. I can't remember how Sarah's plotline moves, but I do remember Mr Fawcett concluding the module with the denouement, "And that's why you don't have sex before marriage." The next week, we were studying the gospel of Luke.

With no disrespect to Coronation Street or Mr Fawcett, Degrassi's episodes on sex, teen pregnancy and abortion offered more to chew on.

Being exposed to a show like Degrassi--where young women had options, making their own decisions about their bodies--fosters a healthy outlook towards choice, especially when it comes to sex and all the grandeurs that go along with it. Erica chose to have an abortion, while Spike (another Degrassi student who was 14 when she discovered she was pregnant), chose to keep her child. In later episodes, both Spike's daughter and Erica's abortion would act as plot devices, but the show never painted it as though either character made the wrong decision. Their lives, though altered, carried on.

Interestingly, the two-part episode concerning Erica's abortion was edited for its American viewers in 1989. When Degrassi was broadcast again in 2005, the series was censored to avoid the two episodes entirely, ultimately silencing Degrassi's conversation about abortion. Tsk, tsk, America. Canada, points for you.

As a teen soap, Degrassi also tackles AIDS, alcoholism, depression, cheating, suicide, abuse, homophobia, drugs, eating disorders, racism, bullying, crushes and the politics of school prom. If it seems heavy-handed, it's important to hammer the conversations in for its young audience. If it stirs awareness, great. If it elicits questions, all the better.

In a desire to write about Degrassi, I unwittingly catalogued myself into a timeline: when I first gobbled up episodes under the guise of doing homework; when I drifted from the show's Next Generation; and when I rekindled the affair thanks to Netflix.

I stayed loyal to original series by the time the Next Generation hit the airwaves. By then I was in high school just trying to make it through. More recently, however, I succumbed to The Next Class, the latest of the franchise. Whilst squirrelling away on a few projects--homework, if you will--Netflix played in the background. Strange how it parallels my childhood. The newest form of Degrassi isn't any less kitschy, and I found myself as fixated as before.

If I felt the original set offered diversity, this series proved more inclusive. A mother's disability doesn't weigh in on her parenting skills. A young man's bisexuality is neither here nor there. Minority characters aren't token representation; they have their own story arcs playing throughout the entire seasons.

Somewhat similar to its ancestral series, the plotlines take heavily from controversial subjects playing out in real life. And online. The slow build-up of the Gamergate controversy is depicted; subtlety seeping into Degrassi's halls before escalating into full-blown harassment after Maya is doxxed online. Meanwhile, a prank against a rival school sparks a conversation about what's racist and hurtful. Frankie's tone-deaf apologies reflect today's (frustratingly common) denial and refusal to acknowledge white privilege. Her ongoing narrative is a hard slog, but the show handles it deftly. In real life, these aren't conversations that draw to a close at the drop of the hat. Here, Degrassi stays on the fence for as long as possible, before arriving at the moral of the story.

At the end of the day, Degrassi is an afterschool special. Some of its tales will conveniently bleed into another issue or tie up a little too neatly. The programme isn't exactly sophisticated social commentary either. Instead, its hyped-up and intricate plotlines serve to alert young minds to social issues whilst acknowledging those growing pains especially reserved for teenagers. Degrassi isn't pretending to be anything it's not, and this is why it comes across as genuine, high-voltage cheese and all.