|Degrassi Junior High
Degrassi: The Next Generation character
|First appearance||"Kiss Me Steph", Degrassi Junior High episode 101|
|Last appearance||"Should I Say or Should I Go?", Degrassi: The Next Generation episode 307|
|Created by||Linda Schuyler and Yan Moore|
|Portrayed by||Neil Hope|
Derek Michael Nelson (birth name)
|Occupation||gas station attendant (summer after high school)|
|Family||John Wheeler (adoptive father) (deceased)
Helen Wheeler(adoptive mother) (deceased)
"Wheels' Grandmother" (adoptive maternal grandmother)
"Wheels' Grandfather" (adoptive maternal grandfather)
Mike Nelson (natural father)
Maggie (natural stepmother)
Cindy (natural mother)
Derek "Wheels" Wheeler is a fictional character in the universe of the Canadian television series Degrassi. He appears as a regular character in Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High, and makes two guest appearances on Degrassi: The Next Generation. He was portrayed by Neil Hope.
Wheels was born Derek Michael Nelson to a pair of teenaged parents, but shortly after his birth he is adopted by John and Ellen Wheeler (portrayed by Timm Zemanek and Nancy Sinclair) in a closed adoption. Wheels' best friends are Joey Jeremiah (played by Pat Mastroianni) and Archie "Snake" Simpson (played by Stefan Brogren); together the three form a garage band called "The Zit Remedy", later shortened to "The Zits" in high school.
Degrassi Junior High
Wheels' first appearance in the series is as a grade eight student in Mr. Raditch's homeroom class. In episode 102 of DJH, "The Big Dance," Wheels attempts the first of two ill-fated dates with class president Stephanie Kaye (portrayed by Nicole Stoffman), which ends early when she gets sick from having consumed too much alcohol. In "Best Laid Plans," episode 107 of the series, Stephanie asks him out again. Facing peer pressure to "go all the way", Wheels purchases a box of condoms from a drug store. When he shows up at Stephanie's house on date night, he learns that the pharmacist who sold him the condoms is Stephanie's mother. When Wheels loses interest in her, Stephanie attempts to make him jealous by openly flirting with Joey ("Revolution!", episode 113).
In "Parents' Night" (episode 112), shortly after his fourteenth birthday, Wheels meets his biological father Mike Nelson (Dave James), a struggling musician. In the same episode, he counsels pregnant classmate Christine "Spike" Nelson (Amanda Stepto) on whether to keep her unborn child (the future Emma Nelson) or put her up for adoption. Wheels explains that he is grateful to both his natural parents for having given him a chance at a better life, and to his adoptive parents for providing that better life to him.
Wheels' poor grades become an issue in season two of Degrassi Junior High. In "A Helping Hand..." (episode 202), he learns that he is near-sighted and begins to wear glasses. Wheels also enrolls in after-school tutoring with Miss Avery (Michelle Goodeve), forcing him to put music on hold. During a break from a tutoring session, he witnesses substitute homeroom teacher Mr. Colby attempting to sexually molest classmate Lucy Fernandez (Anais Granofsky) and breaks it up. Lucy confided in him, and Wheels promised to corroborate her story when she eventually came forward ("He's Back...", episode 212).
Thanks to the extra tutoring, his grades improve enough that he is allowed to resume playing music with the Zit Remedy. Later, Wheels and Joey sleep over at Snake's home when his parents leave him on his own for the weekend. They stay up all night and when they wake up late the next morning, Wheels realizes that he is going to be late for an optometrist appointment. Joey drives them both in Snake's parents' car, despite having neither a driver's license nor any formal driving skills. After they get caught -- for fixing a broken tail light -- Wheels' parents forbid him to associate with Joey as a result ("Trust Me", episode 211). Wheels heads into final exams still concerned about his grades; he gets promoted while Joey learns he's being left back. Despite these factors, the Zit Remedy perform live for the first time at the end-of-the-year dance ("Pass Tense", episode 213).
At the start of season three of DJH ("Can't Live With 'Em", episodes 301-302), John and Ellen Wheeler are killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Wheels was to have been with them that evening; instead he lied about having to study before sneaking off to Joey's house where the band recorded a demo of "Everybody Wants Something." The grieving Wheels withdrew from his friends, then blamed Joey for him not being with his parents that night. Wheels eventually reconciled with Joey and Snake, who was unable to articulate his grief.
Wheels is then cared for by his maternal grandparents (Rod Rekofski and Dorothy Phillips), but the tragedy affected him for the remainder of the show's run. He takes to using his parents' death as an excuse for his own failings, and is hostile to his grandparents' attempts to discipline him. After receiving a postcard from his biological father, Wheels hitchhikes to see him in Port Hope, Ontario; along the way, he is nearly molested by a traveling salesman who gives him a ride ("Taking Off", episodes 311-312). Mike is surprised to see him and dashes Wheels' dream of living with him; after introducing Wheels to his pregnant fiancé, Maggie, Mike sends Wheels back to his adoptive grandparents. Later in the season, Wheels cites his parents' death as the reason he turns down an offer to drink beer with Snake and Joey ("Pa-arty!", episode 315).
Wheels, Joey, and Snake enter high school with their bond intact. In a move to display maturity, they change their band's name from the Zit Remedy to "The Zits". They each survive a hazing by bully Dwayne Meyers (Darrin Brown) ("A New Start", episodes 101–102); shoot a music video for "Everybody Wants Something", ("Everybody Wants Something", episode 105); try to get into a strip joint together ("Little White Lies", episode 108); and perform in a "feminist" horror movie directed by Lucy ("It Creeps", episode 114). Wheels also shares a passionate kiss with Heather Farrell (Maureen Deiseach), but does not reciprocate her interest in him ("Just Friends", episode 107).
The second and final season of Degrassi High revisits Wheels' conflicts with his elderly grandparents. They eventually tire of his lies, disobedience and theft, and evict him ("A Tangled Web", episode 204). Joey's parents allow him to stay at the Jeremiah house. In "Home Sweet Home" (episode 208), Wheels is kicked out when it he is suspected of stealing from Joey's mother (Gretchen Helbig). The theft and Wheels' attempt to shift the blame drive a wedge between Wheels and Joey, though he later confesses. Snake's parents refuse to let Wheels in the Simpson house but Snake, though fed up with Wheels' attitude, takes pity on him and lets him sleep the night on the porch. Wheels and Joey reconcile their relationship in "Showtime" (episodes 210–211) when Wheels performs at the school talent show, alongside Joey and in place of Snake.
In the made-for-television movie Degrassi: School's Out, Wheels is assumed to have graduated from high school, is working as an auto mechanic, and is preparing a cross-country move to Calgary to be with his girlfriend Karen. In a twist of irony, Wheels also has become a heavy beer drinker. At a summer party, he drives Lucy under the influence of alcohol to pick up snacks, and collides with another car. In doing so, he temporarily blinds and partially cripples Lucy, and kills a young child in the other car. Although Wheels had long worn out Joey's and Snake's sympathy after incessantly lying, stealing and refusing to take responsibility for anything, Joey nevertheless visits him in pre-trial confinement. However, Wheels' inability to accept culpability angers and disgusts Snake, who refuses to forgive him. He was charged with "criminal negligence causing death, criminal negligence causing injury times two, and drunk driving". Taking responsibility for once, he pled guilty to all charges.
Degrassi: The Next Generation
Wheels is released from prison by the time the events of Degrassi: The Next Generation, take place. He appears in the series' pilot episode "Mother and Child Reunion" (episode 101-102). His appearance, however, is only shown on the Canadian version on CTV and not on the American version shown on The N. In the American version, Snake is nevertheless shown harbouring disgust with Wheels over the way his life turns out, and Wheels can be seen in vintage still photographs being viewed by the characters.
Two years later, in "Should I Stay or Should I Go?" (episode 307), Joey finally manages to reunite the old friends when taking Snake out bowling to get the latter's mind off of his leukaemia and chemotherapy. Snake initially wants nothing to do with Wheels, but they bond over both having wanted to die (Wheels after killing the child, and Snake while dealing with his ailment and its treatment). The three friends, now balder and hopefully wiser, loudly sing Everybody Wants Something on the ride home in Joey's convertible.