When it was originally on: 1998-2003
Original network: The WB
Where you can stream it now: Hulu or Amazon Prime
Had I seen it before: No.
What IMDb says: Four friends in a small coastal town help each other cope with adolescence.
Why I picked it: I wanted to pick several teen dramas as they’re one of the evergreen genres of television that will never go away. We started this journey with the pilot for Beverly Hills 90210 (read that review here) but Dawson’s Creek seems like a natural follow-up. It’s a show I still hear about all these years later, with a legendary love triangle. So many shows seem to have similar premises, but very few have the legacy of Dawson’s Creek.
What I liked: The pilot does a great job of setting you up to think you know where the story’s going, and then slowly rebelling against those expectations. The girl-next-door vs. sexy newcomer feels like a story I’ve seen before, and in the earlier part of the episode that’s where I thought we were headed. But instead, that newcomer (Jen) actually ends up being fairly nice, smart, and interesting. That girl-next-door ends up turning into the bitchy mean girl by the end of the story.
We also see this same thing happen with the introduction of Jen. Initially Jen seems to be demure and beautiful, and it almost seems as though Dawson is only attracted to her because she wears short dresses and Joey has more of a grungy tomboy aesthetic. But Jen gets more and more interesting as the show progresses. We learn she’s an atheist, and she politely but firmly refuses to go to church just to make her grandma happy. She used to smoke, but is trying to quit. She’s a virgin, but seems to have fairly liberal views on sexuality in general. We see that she’s unafraid to hang out with people that her grandma warns her about. She doesn’t judge people until she’s interacted with them for herself. The show hints at some drama that happened in New York before Jen arrived here.
At the beginning of this story, I saw Jen as Joey’s rival. The show does a great job of showing that Joey has feelings for Dawson despite her consistent denial of this, and I genuinely pitied her losing her best friend to this new girl. But as the episode goes on, Jen is characterized in such a way that we don’t think any less of Dawson for falling for her so quickly. Even before Jen starts actively pursuing Dawson, she has the courtesy to ask Joey if there’s anything between them. By the end of the pilot, I was invested in the Dawson/Jen romance, and Joey felt like an obstacle to that romance. I still understood where Joey was coming from, but my relationships with these characters had also evolved so much in these 42 minutes, and that’s something special.
Dawson’s Creek is self-aware of the high school archetypes that are expected from this genre, but it makes interesting choices regarding those archetypes. It knows that people can simultaneously be the charming girl next door and the rough-around-the-edges-with-an-attitude (Joey) or liberalized intellectual (Jen). And it knows that Dawson can be the charming boy everyone likes without being an idiot or a total asshole. I already love these characters as individuals and I’m excited to watch them interact and wreak havoc in each other’s lives.
What I didn’t like: Pacey has this whole arc about wanting to fuck his teacher that 1) doesn’t age particularly well and 2) seriously impedes Pacey’s overall character development. Given how intricate and nuanced Dawson, Jen, and Joey seem in just one episode, it seems particularly tragic that Pacey doesn’t really get to have a personality outside of his horniness.
He initially means “Tamara” during a shift at the video store only to later find out that Tamara is also “Miss Jacobs,” one of his teachers. After a flirty exchange at the video store (Tamara asks to rent The Graduate) we are also lead to believe that Tamara is the bad guy for flirting. Now it is true, Tamara is an adult, so the burden of NOT committing statuary rape falls 100% on her, but there’s also numerous times when Tamara appears to say “Oh Pacey, there’s been a misunderstanding…” and Pacey refuses to listen. Pacey goes on this whole rant about how Tamara shouldn’t deny her true feelings and this bitch KISSES HIM AS IF TO CONFIRM EVERYTHING HE JUST SAID. The result is a twisted “love story” (if you can even call it that, which you really shouldn’t) where I end up hating both parties involved.
And what’s particularly terrible is that every time we were sidetracked to this B-plot, I just got frustrated that I wasn’t spending time with the other three characters who I actually enjoy. Pacey could’ve had a plotline with a girl his own age that would actually build his character in the same way as everyone else’s, but no. We just get an extended version of Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” video.
Do I want to watch Ep. 2: Yes! It seems like a fun mix of guilty pleasure soap opera plus characters that I could get genuinely invested in. It’s definitely something I want to watch more of later.