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TV Reviews : ‘Degrassi High,’ ‘Wonderworks’ Return to PBS

Two award-winning series for young teens make a welcome return to PBS this weekend--"Degrassi High” and “Wonderworks.”

In a special one-hour premiere at 6 p.m. Sunday on Channel 28, “Degrassi High” takes up where two seasons of “Degrassi Junior High” left off. Still proving itself one of the gutsiest series on television, the show, which previously has addressed alcoholism, homosexuality and racism, takes on the issue of abortion.

Last season ended with the junior high school burning down, but Spike, Wheels, the twins Erica and Heather, Snake and the whole gang are now ninth- and 10th-graders, adjusting to life in a new, big-city high school.

While the new students are going through an unofficial, relatively lighthearted “initiation” at the hands of older students, Erica is dealing with the discovery that, at age 16, she’s pregnant.

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No one knows but her sister. Their religion says abortion is wrong and they have both taken strong anti-abortion stands in the past. Heather calls clinics “killing centers.”

A classroom discussion of abortion, talks with unwed mother Spike and with a clinic counselor, give both sides of the issue passion and weight. It is clear that whatever Erica decides will change her life.

That’s the strength of this funny/serious series. What happens to each character will be referred to in the future--there’s no sitcom amnesia at work. When parents divorce, when illnesses, failures and successes happen, the kids of Degrassi are affected, change and grow like real people.

“Wonderworks” makes a lower key return with “Sweet 15,” a predictable but well-acted drama about a Mexican-American girl’s coming of age. (It airs today at 8 p.m. on Channel 15 and Sunday at 8 p.m. on Channel 28.)

Marta Delacruz (Karla Montana) is looking forward to her 15th birthday Mass and celebration that will publicly mark her entry into womanhood. The party will be costly, but Dad (Tony Plana) is a proud, successful man, living his American dream.

But Dad has a secret that threatens their security. He is not an American citizen. Working as a volunteer in her church’s Amnesty office, Marta discovers his secret when she comes across his citizenship application.

Sharon Weil’s script traces Marta’s path out of childhood as she helps her father gain his citizenship and gains her own understanding of the hardships he has endured to give his family a future.

The telling could be shorter (Part 2 of the two-hour drama airs next weekend), but Montana, Plana, Jenny Gago as Marta’s mother, Panchito Gomez as the handsome older boy who earns his way into Marta’s heart, and guest stars Susan Ruttan, Jerry Stiller and Liz Torres work as a smooth ensemble to make it all worthwhile.

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