If I had been born ten years earlier, I probably would not have thought too highly of people who watched “Dawson’s Creek.” This is because I am generally a snob about entertainment. But hey, even snobs need their guilty pleasures, and I happened to find mine in the form of watching six high schoolers from Capeside, Massachusetts deal with their teenage angst and 90’s fashion senses.
On the surface, “Dawson’s Creek” is a typical teenage soap opera. These kids experience more dramatic tension in a one-hour episode than I hope to experience over the course of my life. Case in point: Dawson’s best friend and sometime-paramour Josephine Potter, played by the lovely Katie Holmes. Poor Joey has one lousy back-story. Her mother died of cancer and her father, who cheated on the aforementioned dying mother, is in jail for selling drugs. So she lives with her sister who, as an added bonus for the gossip hounds, is in an interracial relationship and pregnant out of wedlock. And all this occurred before the show even began!
So yeah, “Dawson’s Creek” has a flair for the dramatic. That’s part of the allure of shows like this – you tune in every week for a new wild and crazy adventure. And yeah, the show’s penchant for racy and risqué material definitely contributed to its popularity, a trend that today’s dramas marketed for teens certainly have followed. But “Dawson’s Creek” is more than a forerunner to “Gossip Girl” or “The OC” or whatever the kids are watching these days. Strip away the omnipresent preoccupation with sex and what you get is a television show with an incredible amount of heart.
You see, “Dawson’s Creek” is really a show about outcasts. Dawson, Joey, Pacey, Jen, Andie and Jack aren’t all rich, well dressed, or popular. In fact, every one of them exists on the periphery of the rigid high school social hierarchy. Joey’s family is the black sheep flock of Capeside because of their dark past. Everyone who knows Pacey considers him a failure with no future. Jen’s racy history in New York City causes her classmates to simultaneously revere and hate her. Andie has serious mental problems. Jack is the first openly gay kid in Capeside. And Dawson…well, Dawson is just kind of a dork. That’s what really appeals to me about the show. These aren’t the kids that everyone wanted to be in high school. And yet, “Dawson’s Creek” didn’t treat them like losers. It proved that you don’t have to be part of a popular clique to be interesting.
As a shy, somewhat aloof kid in high school myself, these are the characters I found relatable. For a while, my high school was obsessed with the UK soap opera “Skins.” I watched a few episodes and found it interesting, but the kids on “Skins” clearly were way above me on the social scale. Their problems involved taking too much ecstasy at raves. But on “Dawson’s Creek,” I could understand what the kids were going through. Sometimes the parallels were disturbingly close to home. Dawson Leery and I are pretty much the exact same person: overly responsible movie fanatics with an idealistic and romantic worldview. And if Dawson could get over his social awkwardness and find love, happiness, and success, then maybe there was hope for me too.
“Dawson’s Creek” is really a very smart show. Not every teenager is going to understand what Dawson means when he refers to another student’s film as the “Leni Riefenstahl approach to filmmaking” (but I sure do, thanks to Film 310!). As a matter of fact, quick quips are these kids’ specialty. The characters tend to talk about their problems endlessly, with pop cultural references up the wazoo. Dawson and his friends are clearly way too verbally mature for their age, but what they lack in realism they make up for in wit.
Of course, it certainly helped my obsession that I had a huge crush on Pacey…excuse me while I swoon a bit. Pacey Witter was the perfect combination of bad boy and boy-next-door. His smart-alecky attitude and perfectly executed sarcasm combined with his seemingly endless compassion for his severely depressed girlfriend Andie made my heart race.
So make fun of me for owning four seasons of “Dawson’s Creek” all you want, guys. As Paula Cole so eloquently puts it in the show’s theme song, “So open up your morning light/ and say a little prayer for I/ you know that if we are to stay alive/ and see the peace in every eye.” Yeah, I don’t really know what it means, but I’m pretty sure she’s encouraging you to open up your cynical hearts to Dawson and his creek. Because trust me, once you start watching this show, you can’t help but become emotionally invested in the lives of the characters. And who knows, maybe you’ll see a little of yourself in Capeside too.