It’s not a creek. It doesn’t belong to Dawson. What kind of misrepresentation is this, this title that references a fictional waterway to which a teenager lays dubious claim? And why must they always use so many big words? And analyse things so minutely? And what’s up with the blonde guy’s hair?
Yeah, yeah. Mock all you will. Clearly, you just don’t get it, and that’s fine with me. Either you can’t remember being teenagers, or none of you ever had a date. Go ahead: dissuade everyone you know from watching it, you with your nay-saying and your holier-than-thous. The less people get a chance to fall in love with my Pacey, the better.
It all began in early 1998, when Scream creator Kevin Williamson’s mid-season replacement series became the “It” show of the season. Featuring a host of unknowns—and the kid from the Mighty Ducks movies—Dawson’s Creek was the critics’ darling. Like My So-Called Life before it, and Felicity since, it was the show everyone wanted to say they championed first. Then they saw some episodes, saw where it was going, and said, “Hey, don’t these kids know any monosyllabic words? And do they have to take everything so seriously? This isn’t—horrors!—a teen soap, is it?”
Well, yes, it is . . . with all the complex simplicity that implies. Dawson Leery (James van der Beek) is a small town boy who lives his life through movies, thinking only of the day when he can create them like his hero, Spielberg. His two best friends are the sarcastic and lovelorn tomboy, Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), and the wise-crackin’ screw-up, Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson). Add to this cool parents, (John Wesley Shipp and Mary-Margaret Humes), a picturesque hometown, and a generally charmed existence, and Joey’s admonition to “accept your perfect life, Dawson,” seems remarkably apt. But there’s trouble a’brewin’ in sunny Capeside when the rebellious Jennifer Lindley (Michelle Williams), temptress in a sundress, gets out of her cab and steps right into Dawson’s fevered daydreams.
Soon, Dawson is faced with the perennial Archie dilemma: the blonde or the brunette? Pacey is immersed in a heated affair with a teacher, Dawson is freaked ‘cause Cool Mom cheated on The Flash, Jen’s grandfather dies, Joey’s father is arrested, the school bitch drowns, the new kids in town are—respectively—mentally unstable, eventually gay, and blatantly diabolical, the protagonists attend dances, football games, and graduation, and they get together, break up, make up, talk, talk, and talk about it . . . and pretty much all anyone ever thinks about is sex.
But let’s forget about all that for a moment. Let’s especially forget about all-too-deathly-dull Dawson. It may allegedly be his creek, but it’s Pacey’s Stream, Pacey’s River, Pacey’s Ocean. He’s why I watch. He’s what the show’s all about: the humour, the insecurity, the insanity of our teenage years. He’s the perfect, perfectly-flawed hero.
Having attended the Joel Fleishman school of sexual tension, Pacey begins a romance with much back-biting and calling of the girl by her surname. He also likes to play knight in Nike armour, saving his lady fair from perils left and right. Second season addition Andie McPhee (Meredith Munroe) won his heart when she became interested in him (or, as Dawson put it: “When a girl hates you the way she hates you, it really means that she likes you. That’s basic kindergarten psychology.”), but it was only when he discovered her many layers of frailty—dead brother, delusional mother, absentee father, psychosis, headband addiction—that he really fell for her. And when Joey was pining for Dawson in one of their Off-Again periods—and despite the Buffy-fueled conviction that Capeside would become home to a huge Hellmouth that would spew forth endless hordes of monsters and demons if he acted on his feelings—Pacey saved her with his love, devotion, and oh, his way with words.
That’s another thing about Pacey: he gives good quotes.
Indeed, the writing on Dawson’s Creek is at all times entertaining. Okay, sometimes you’re laughing at it, in a “who talks like that?” way, but it’s never dull. And it’s not all about the glib speeches and improbably witty barbs. There’s also the patented Joey-and-Dawson introspection-athons. As though they field different writing staffs as needed, the Offensive Team supplies the wit (and wit there is), the Defensive Team, the sarcasm (of sarcasm, in spades), and the Kicker . . . well, that’s for the over-long, oh-so-serious discussions between the Lovers o’ the Week about whatever disasters may be plaguing them.
Dawson’s Creek‘s writers have also taken trendy inter-textual references to new heights. Pacey loves those infamous hockey movies, Jen demands of her phone-stalker, “Okay, let’s cut to the chase: what’s your favorite scary movie?” (stalker: Friday the 13th, Jen: The Ten Commandments), and Joey complains to Dawson, “I am so tired of dancing around with these big words . . .” Such self-consciousness reaches a peak when Pacey announces to a briefly happy gang, “We are this close to the Peach Pit right now.”
If Dawson’s Creek owes a little something to its 90210 ancestry (as do all teen soaps, let’s face it), it has certainly surpassed this predecessor. The verbiage might be excessive and the sentiments too readily expressed, but it all bears more than a passing relationship to reality. This is something that too many TV critics, and indeed TV studios, seem to think irrelevant. But truth be told, teenagers do actually have, like, y’know, vocabularies. They do take their stuff—loves, friends, clothes—seriously. They talk about sex a lot. Breaking up is the end of the world, and a bad grade can scar someone for life. Sure, real kids may not talk about their traumas in iambic pentameter or use a Freudian analytical model, but the madness, if not the method, is identical.
Agonising over life decisions whilst looking hot is the hallmark of the teen drama. The dimension Dawson’s Creek adds to this is that it knows that’s its mission statement, and revels in such self-awareness. And as the Articulate Ones head off to college this fall—with Jen’s bun-wearing, God-fearing Grams (Mary Beth Peil) in tow—we can only hope that the agonising and the self-awareness continue. And, that there will be lots and lots of Pacey. Is it wrong to want a Pacey of my very own?