Often credited with spawning “One Tree Hill”, “The O.C.”, “Gossip Girl”, the “90210” reboot, and a plethora of other noughties shows about mini adults with massive problems, “Dawson’s Creek” is the godfather of the teen drama and totally reinvigorated the waning genre. The show follows the lives of a group of ordinary teenagers living in the small fictional seaside town of Capeside, Massachusetts. If you find the fast-paced lifestyles and promiscuity displaced in this show’s metaphorical successors distasteful or unrealistic, then “Dawson’s Creek” is the perfect wholesome antidote. The creator Kevin Williamson said he pitched “Dawson’s Creek” as ‘Some Kind of Wonderful, meets Pump Up the Volume, meets James at 15, meets My So-Called Life, meets Little House on the Prairie.’ The show does indeed seem to fluctuate between after school special and “Beverley Hills, 90210” wannabe, but maybe its inability to decide on an identity for itself is part of its adolescent charm.
Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) is the anti-Chuck Bass, an almost unbearably angst-ridden and excessively analytical protagonist who is less Byronic and more moronic and histrionic. At his rare best, Dawson is idealistic and neurotic. At his common worst, he is controlling and selfish. The guy says annoying things like this:
…and attempts to storyboard the perfect first kiss within his own life. Envisioned as the romantic lead of the show (I mean, it is named after him), Dawson was thankfully shunted aside in later seasons in favour of his best friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson), the show’s fangirl heart-breaker and breakout character. Van Der Beek has since good-naturedly poked fun at his own involvement in the show and the Dawson persona he’s unable to escape in “Don’t Tell the B**** in Apartment 23”. The following gif pretty much epitomizes both Dawson’s inherently irritating character and, thanks to the curtains haircut, the whole decade of the 90s.
Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) is the introverted and slightly abrasive tomboy and girl-next-door figure who you can’t help but root for. Her constant self-analysis is vaguely annoying and she tends to make mountains out of molehills, but when she breaks free of the weird emotional Dawson-vortex she’s often caught up in, she’s generally likable (and has a New England 90s wardrobe to die for). Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams) is established as Joey’s opposite: the ‘fast’ New York girl who was forced to grow up too quickly. As she meanders from plot-line to plot-hole, it becomes increasingly clear that the writers had no idea what to do with the character or the talented actress (who, unlike Holmes, went on to bigger and better productions: see “Blue Valentine” and “Take This Waltz”). Once upon a time the show was lauded for its supposedly honest representation of adolescence and its inclusion of intelligent and contemplative teenaged characters. The sophisticated vocabulary utilized by the leads and the unflinching manner in which they discussed their burgeoning sexuality was praised as realistic and fresh. Yet now the show is more known for its cringe-worthy dialogue and its unintentional comedic value in the sheer embarrassment that arises when watching Dawson wax lyrical over his hero Steven Spielberg, or sob to himself as he ‘selflessly’ lets Joey off the invisible leash he holds her on. Supposedly known for its realism, I don’t know many teenagers who have verbal exchanges like this:
Joey: I just don’t think it’s a good idea for me to sleep over anymore, you know?
Dawson: No, I don’t know. C’mon, You’ve been sleeping over since you were seven. It’s Saturday night.
Joey: Things change, Dawson. Evolve.
Dawson: What are you talking about?
Joey: Sleeping in the same bed was fine when we were kids, but we’re fifteen now.
Joey: We start high school Monday?
Joey: And I have breasts!
Joey: And you have genitalia!
Dawson: I’ve always had genitalia.
Joey: But there’s more of it.
Dawson: How do you know?
Joey: Long fingers. I gotta go.
(said no male and female teenaged friends to each other, ever)
We also have “Dawson’s Creek” to thank for Edward, Bella, Jacob and the perpetual love triangle that now seems a prerequisite of all YA fiction in all forms anywhere ever. While Romeo-Juliet-Paris and even Kelly-Dylan-Brenda were dilly-dallying, flip-flopping, and angsting about their feelings years (or centuries) before “Dawson’s Creek” ever aired, the love triangle between Dawson, Joey, and Pacey remains the paradigm of this romantic format. This love triangle single-handedly saved the sinking show when it seemed to have squeezed all of the blood out of the Dawson and Joey stone by the close of the second season. Enter Pacey, the polar opposite of the ineffectual Dawson, who sweeps Joey off her feet, buys her a wall, takes her on a spontaneous cruise, makes season 3 the absolute best, and performs some other minor miracles. I absolutely love it when a show completely veers off its pre-established track because of unanticipated chemistry between characters and the positive and persuasive fan reactions it evokes. Pacey, the underdog (or court jester, if you will), steals the heart of the heroine away from under the hero’s nose. It’s thanks to Pacey, the first sidekick who gets the girl, that Hermione ends up with Ron rather than Harry. Pacey wins hands down in the battle between the boys, no question about it. Just look at him. And read this: http://www.buzzfeed.com/leonoraepstein/13-reasons-why-pacey-was-so-much-better-than-dawson
‘You know why so many great pictures are about love triangles? Simple. For every piece of happiness, there’s also a piece of unhappiness. If you haven’t told both sides you haven’t told the whole story.‘
“Dawson’s Creek” thought it was demonstrating risqué realism but the legacy it leaves behind is, in fact, one of pure soap opera and unintentional comedy. It’s a show that’s stuck in a turn-of-the-decade time warp with an accidentally unlikable and precocious protagonist and teens no real teens can in reality recognise as peers. Yet despite the barrage of (warranted) criticism I’ve leveled at it, “Dawson’s Creek” remains unnervingly watchable and even sporadically poignant. Furthermore, it’s a cultural phenomenon that influenced all fictional presentations of teens that came after it and for that reason, if no other, it’s definitely worth a watch. Prepare to cringe, mock, and then get totally and completely invested in it against your will – and to hate yourself a little bit for falling for its unforeseen and disarming charms.