Throwback Thursday: Dredging Up Dawson’s Creek

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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:

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and this:

blogda22…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.blogda1 blogda2

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.

Dawson: Yeah.

Joey: We start high school Monday?

Dawson: Yeah.

Joey: And I have breasts!

Dawson: What?

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 formsblogda7 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 lblogda5ove 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, bblogda97blogda96uys 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.

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Throwback Thursday – Top Ten Game of Thrones Moments S1-3 (Part 1)

I think it’s needless to say that this post will include spoilers for the first three seasons of “Game of Thrones” but here’s your disclaimer anyway. Spoiler alert. Read on at your own peril. I don’t know whether “Game of Thrones” is really an appropriate choice for Throwback Thursday but since the season four premiere is coming up imminently (on April 6) I thought I’d take this opportunity to rewind and review the best moments and storylines from the first three seasons. I should preface this by saying “Game of Thrones” is one of my very favourite television shows and choosing a mere top ten best bits from thirty episodes was an arduous and near-impossible task. So don’t hate on my choices.

10. Theon Greyjoy’s journey to the dark side

blogga10 blogga11One of the most difficult storylines to watch was perhaps Theon Greyjoy’s character transition from quietly bitter but passive foster brother-type and ward of House Stark to crazed traitor and Iron Islands fanatic. This storyline wasn’t so affecting because Theon was a particularly sympathetic character: he wasn’t. It’s because Theon’s downfall led to some of the most heartbreaking moments in the second season of “Game of Thrones” – including Maester Luwin’s death and Ser Rodrik’s execution.

You gave me away! Your boy! Your last boy! You gave me away like I was some dog you didn’t want anymore. And now you curse me because I’ve come home.
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Alfie Allen, however, did do an utterly fantastic job in his portrayal of Theon’s conflicting emotions and loyalties. You can tell Theon knows at a certain point he’s gone too far, but he’s too blinded by his desire to please his batshit crazy father, and to really find somewhere he belongs, to change his course. Truly manic and dangerous in his desperation and devotion to his father’s cause, his mask at times slips to reveal a scared and insecure little boy who’s totally lost his moral compass. His face when he looks up at the charred bodies of the two innocent farm boys he’s murdered says it all: he can’t believe what he’s done and he knows there’s no way to go back to the ‘good side’ after this. Theon’s rousing and atmospheric speech to his fellow men of the Iron Islands in the season finale “Valar Morghulis” is perhaps his finest moment, villain though he is.

‘You hear that? That’s the mating call of the Northmen. They want to fuck us. Well, I haven’t had a good fuck in weeks. I’m ready for one. They say that every ironborn man is worth a dozen from the mainland. You think they’re right? We die today, brothers. We die bleeding from 100 wounds with arrows in our necks and spears in our guts, but our war cries will echo through eternity. They will sing about the battle of Winterfell until the Iron Islands have slipped beneath the waves. Every man, woman and child will know who we were and how long we stood. Aggar and Gelmarr, Wex and Urzen, Stygg and Black Lorren. Ironborn warriors will cry out our names as they leap onto the shores of Seagard and Faircastle. Mothers will name their sons for us. Girls will think of us with their lovers inside them. And whoever kills that fucking horn-blower will stand in bronze above the shores of Pyke! What is dead may never die!’

Described by one YouTube user as ‘Theon Greyjoy, the real example of YOLO’, Theon is, despite his total displacement of loyalty, fighting for a cause he appears to have convinced himself is heroic. He gets his just desserts (and then some) for his destruction of Winterfell and his slaughter of innocents in the third season. Needless to say, the removal of little Theon from big Theon (by a terrifying Iwan Rheon from “Misfits”) did not make the top ten.
9. Chaos is a ladder
blogga12blogga13‘Chaos isn’t a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some are given a chance to climb, but they refuse. They cling to the realm, or the gods, or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is.’

The conversations between the members of the small council often provide, surprisingly, some of the most intense moments of each episode. In Westeros, a world full of soldiers and battles and magic, these physically unassuming men have managed to cling onto power through pragmatism, trickery, deceit and cunning. The moment when Littlefinger and Lord Varys discuss the meaning of chaos encapsulates the manner in which they always manage to succinctly and poetically summarize the episode’s thematic focus. Littlefinger’s definition of chaos, further, completely expresses the underlying point of the whole show: the thirst for power lies at the basis of all actions, and those most morally suited to power aren’t usually the ones who strive to gain it. This voiceover also occurs at an opportune moment and marks a tragic end for Ros, the figure who served as a conglomerate character for various prostitutes from the book. Ros herself tried to climb the ladder in her own way in order to survive in a highly politicized world, and is ultimately broken by her own fall. The viewer has always known that Joffrey is a little shit, but this was the moment (for me at least) that I realised Joffrey was completely sadistic, sociopathic, and utterly beyond redemption.

8. What do we say to the god of death?
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Syrio Forel’s signature catchphrase comes hand in hand with one of the most simultaneously epic and tragic “Game of Thrones” moments. Forel is only a minor character, appearing in a handful of episodes in the first season as Arya Stark’s ‘dancing master’ aka sword-fighting instructor. Despite his relatively minimal screen time, the First Sword of Braavos definitely leaves his mark upon both Arya and the show. Forel ultimately protects Arya from Lannister guards and fends off six heavily armed men with nothing more than a wooden training sword. It’s a truly heroic fight, with Forel proving himself as one of those rare “Game of Thrones” phenomenons – a selfless character. His fate is left uncertain, but this scene gives Arya her first taste of loss after the early death of Mycah, the butcher’s boy. Her face is a picture of devastation. If only she knew what was coming.

‘The First Sword of Braavos does not run.’

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7. Dracarys!

Daenerys’ storylines have been a little bit patchy since her solid first season, although her second season storyline did give us a great Daenerys catchphrase (WHERE ARE MY DRAGONS?!). Her constant attempts to find an army, the boring interlude in Qarth, and the weirdly colonial vibes in season 3 whereby she was the mother blogga24adored and followed by the slaves she freed, all mean her scenes aren’t normally the ones I look forward to. Yet it cannot be denied that this scene in season 3, in which we really see Daenerys as a potential conqueror of the Seven Kingdoms for the first time, is anything but utterly epic. Daenerys had promised Kraznys mo Nakloz her biggest dragon, Drogon, in exchange for his 8000 Unsullied soldiers. The moment in which Daenerys reveals to the slave owner that she can speak High Valyrian (and thus has understood all of the insults he has directed at her), and orders Drogon to burn him alive, is seriously badass (and launched a million memes). It’s the moment when we really get to see why House Targaryen sat on the Iron Throne for so long; it additionally makes us question whether Rhaegar really was the last dragon after all.

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6. The mother and her cub/We have won

‘In the King’s wood there lived a mother and her cub. She loved him very much. But there were other things that lived in the woods, evil things. Little cub was frightened. His mother said, “You are a lion my son you mustn’t be afraid.” For one day all the beasts will bow to you…you will be king. All the stags will bow, all the wolves will bow, and the bears in the north, and the foxes of the south, all the birds in the sky and the beasts in the sea. They will all come to you little lion, to rest a crown upon your head. And the cub said, “Will I be strong and fierce like my father?”. “Yes,” said his mother, “you will be strong and fierce just like your father.” …I will keep you safe, my love. I promise you.’

It’s one of those moments where you inexplicably and disturbingly find yourself supporting Team Lannister. The Lannisters as a whole are primarily the antagonists in “Game of Thrones”, yet (dare I say it?) their complexity and moral ambiguity often makes them far more intriguing characters to watch than the more steadfast and beloved Starks. The lioness/cub analogy is Cersei’s most sympathetic moment yet: her love for her children (even Joffrey!) is, after all, her most redeeming feature. On the verge of killing her son, Tommen, in order to avoid him facing the brutal fate suffered by the Targaryen children after Aerys was killed and King’s Landing sacked, Cersei is sat upon the Iron Throne in a symbol of the futile and temporal nature of power. Yet she is stopped in the nick of time by her father. Tywin comes marching in like a boss to announce in characteristically understated fashion: ‘The battle is over. We have won.’ The music swells and you feel triumphant – until you remember that these are the Lannisters and you can’t quite remember which side you were supposed to be rooting for.

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That’s it for now, folks. I’ll be posting my picks for the top five spots ASAP – watch out for them! To be continued…

Throwback Thursday: Mystic Pizza ex post facto

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Roger Ebert declared in 1988: ‘I have a feeling that Mystic Pizza may someday become known for the movie stars it showcased back before they became stars.’ Indeed, the film is now known for its inclusion of a pre-“Pretty Woman” fame Julia Roberts, later described by a cast member as a ‘bomb waiting to go off’. Lili Taylor and Annabeth Gish, the other two legs of the film’s tripod, only experienced modest professional success in comparison with Roberts’ cataclysmic eminence. While Roberts is currently enjoying a career renaissance for her role alongside Meryl Streep in “August: Osage County” and is participating in record-breaking celebrity selfies, Taylor is playing Captain Maldonado on “Almost Human”, while Gish sporadically pops up in guest spots on a variety of procedural dramas. Yet to categorise “Mystic Pizzablogtay17” as a mere launching pad for Julia Roberts’ ascent to stardom is to incorrectly assume she monopolises the film. “Mystic Pizza” is an ensemble piece and much of its charm relies on the communal, as well as the individual, strength of its cast.The film centers equally on three waitresses working at the eponymous Mystic Pizza restaurant in Connecticut. These girls have disparate personalities, consequently allowing a range of experiences and emotions to be explored and depicted throughout the film. This astute trope has been repeated by the likes of “Sex and the City” and “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants”, with women falling into certain ‘types’ in order to reflect diversity in female friendship and to increase the probability that viewers will have a character or situation to identify with.

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Yet the women in “Mystic Pizza” refuse to be confined to their assigned pigeonholes. Kat Arujo (Annabeth Gish) is ostensibly the scholar, bookworm and all round good girl. She picks up slack for other people, focuses on her academic future and does what’s right. Yet in the film she decides, foblogtay23r once, to follow her heart instead of her head, with disastrous emotional consequences. The moment in which the future Yale University student sobs ‘I just feel so stupid’ is agonizing to watch; this scene is unfortunately all too relatable for many smart girls who’ve surprised themselves and acted like idiots when it comes to liking a guy. Kat’s older sister, Daisy (Julia Roberts), is pretty and vivacious. Yet her brash veneer masks uncertainty: she knows all too well she’s the bad counterpart to the angelic Kat and feels itblogtay7‘s too late to alter her course in life. Her relationship with a rich college dropout further highlights her insecurities relating to her class and educational status. Jojo Barbosa (Lili Taylor) provides much of the comic relief through her cat and mouse power struggle with the man she loves but doesn’t yet feel ready to marry. While her predicament is amusing, her reluctance to settle down also provides several poignant moments, as she questions how much of her independence she is willing to give away for love. During the 25 year reunion last October, Lili Taylor said there ‘was something innocent and pure about’ the film while co-star Vincent D’Onofrio said of the female leads, ‘the three of them were so uniquely different and so uniquely powerful in their own ways, it was striking.’ Both of these comments encapsulate the film’s strengths – its ability to wear its heart on its sleeve without being saccharine, and its credible depiction of discrete women.

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“Mystic Pizza” is more than just a coming-of-age tale: it is a touching and authentic tribute to sisterhood and female friendship and an underrated film deserving of greater recognition alongside its fellow 1980s classics. If you’re not intrigued by any of that, it’s at least worth a watch just to see this little fella in his first screen role (looking a little lost without his buddy, Ben Affleck).

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He has one solitary line:

‘How do you like them apples?’

‘Mom, do you want my green stuff?’

Throwback Thursday: rewinding and reviewing “My So-Called Life”

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‘What I was thinking, as like a New Year’s resolution, is to stop getting so caught up in my own thoughts, ’cause I’m like way too introspective…I think.’

Before Claire Danes was kicking ass and pranging out as Carrie Mathison in “Homeland”, and before Jared Leto was seducing Lupita Nyong’o and collecting accolades for his role as Rayon in “The Dallas Buyers Club”, the two were just Angela Chase and Jordan Catalano on the short-lived “My So-Called Life”. Set in the fictional Liberty High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, “My So-Called Life” follows the teenage travails of the introspective Angela and ran, devastatingly, for just one criminally undervalued season (1994-5). As well as basically inspiring all of my fashion choices since I first saw it on my friend’s recommendation a couple of years ago, the show really captures the essence of adolescence in its total amalgamation of the comical and the confusing. Its nineteen episodes are a perfect blogso6antidote to shows like “90210” and “Gossip Girl”, in which impossibly beautiful 28 year olds play 16 year olds and wear several different designer outfits every episode. These shows are subsequently unable to come anywhere remotely close to representing the real inelegance of this pimply phase. They depict a very specific teenage experience and, though entertaining, their escapist fantasy depictions of teenagers can’t compare with the down-to-earth and frank portrait of puberty in “My So-Called Life”. For instance, the costume designers of “My So-Called Life” gave the 13 year old Claire Danes one wardrobe full of clothes, and allowed her to choose her own outfit from this before filming each day. A whole episode was devoted to the character’s insecurity about a zit (aptly titled “The Zit”).

‘It had become the focus of everything. It was all I could feel, all I could think about. It blotted out the rest of my face, the rest of my life. Like the zit had become…the truth about me.’

blogso18While the teens in “Gossip Girl” and “90210” are constantly hooking up and hanging out, Angela spends numerous episodes pining after a boy she’s never really spoken to and analysing her life and her relationships in ‘microscopic detail’. Unlike the other shows I’ve mentioned, in which the parents are all eventually demoted to absent figures replenishing the protagonists’ trust funds, Angela’s parents are more than guest stars, and have their own problems and interests outside of the lives of their angsty children. Angela’s relationship with her parents and the conflict between them is key to the show’s critical success. The first episode begins with Angela in a voice over internally expressing a desire to repeatedly stab her mother. The first episode concludes with Angela crawling into her mother’s bed in tears after a rebellious teenage night goes awry. The show thus perfectly encapsulates that peculiar phase when you periodically alternate between possessing an overwhelming desire to break free of your parents’ authority, and a desire to exist eternally under their protection and curfew.

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“My So-Called Life” depicts teenage years in all their mundane authenticity. Life is, after all, habitually humdrum. That’s not to say nothing happens in this show: at times it explores sexuality, alcoholism, homelessness, drug abuse and more. But these moments are interspersed enough with the everyday to retain a refreshing sense of realism and relatability. Angela’s constant self-analysis is also treated with simultaneous mockery and understanding by the show’s creators. In your teenage years, the smallest things seem earth-shatteringly calamitous and, while it is possible to point out the ridiculousness of such hyperbole, it doesn’t make those ridiculous feelings any less valid to the person experiencing them.

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The other characters are no less interesting and credible than Angela. Jordan Catalano escapes his bad boy cliché by revealing a secret which in turn reveals a certain innocence and disorientation hidden behind his cool facade. His inability to articulate his feelings for Angela doesn’t equal their non-existence. Brian Krakow (Devon Gummersall) craves human companionship yet often finds himself repulsed by other humans. His abrasive and socially incompetent persona conceals a passionate inner self. Episode 11, “Life of Brian”, is perhaps my favourite. Excerpts from Brian’s voice over narration include:

‘I became yearbook photographer because I liked the idea that I could sort of watch life without having to be part of it. But when you’re yearbook photographer, you’re, like, never in the picture.’

‘Finally, an erection from actual physical contact!’

‘There’s something about my life. It’s just automatically true that nothing actually happens.’

Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer), the obligatory ‘off-the-rails’ friend, is both charismatic and vulnerable.blogso12 Her ‘I don’t care what people think about me’ mask constantly slips to reveal deep insecurities, particularly when confronted with Angela’s more conventional parents and home life. Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz) is a gay teenager with an abusive home life. His story is perhaps the most heartbreaking and a moment of self-empowerment he experiences in Episode 11 at the school dance is undoubtedly one of the show’s most triumphant moments. Note: the moment occurs to the backing music of Haddaway’s “What Is Love”.

blogso19The music, the fashion and the jargon all mean that “My So-Called Life” provides an intimate snapshot of suburban life in the mid-1990s. Yet the filial, platonic and romantic relationships, the constant pondering, soul-searching and overwrought teenage agony are all timeless. Cancelled in its infancy, we’ll never know what would have happened in Season 2. In a sense, though, that means those characters will perpetually live in the cliffhanger of their puberty, providing us with immortal teenagers to identify with whenever we’re feeling nostalgic for that time when angst was acceptable.

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