10 Observations about Dawson's Creek on Its 20th Anniversary

Friday, January 19, 2018

It was a whopping 20 years ago tomorrow that Dawson's Creek aired on the WB (RIP). My best friend Christina & I were in eighth grade, & even before the first episode hit the airwaves, we knew from the commercials & articles in Seventeen that it was going to be our favorite show. Ever.

And it was. It is.

Do you remember watching your favorite show, as a kid, with no inkling that you would ever be able to watch it again? Back then, seasons of TV shows didn't really even come out on VHS. Unless you recorded the episodes on your own VCR, each viewing was likely to be your only.

And so I watched each episode of Dawson's Creek like it was my only chance - which is also why it's the one show I've been so reluctant to rewatch. This show is seared in my brain as perfect, the show that influenced me, that grew up with me, that educated me, that gave me half my vocabulary (truly, those kids' mental thesauruses are impressive as hell). Yes, with time, it's become critically panned & much maligned, but in my teenage mind, Dawson's Creek was - & still is - the best TV show of all time.

I haven't wanted to sully or in any way taint that memory - but recently, I've watched (for the first time) other celebrated teen angst-centric drama, including The O.C. & Gossip Girl (both great). As much as I enjoyed their glitz & glamour, I found that in watching them, I pined for the regular-kid normalcy of the Capeside kids, who weren't cool or popular or bad or beautiful. They were just... they were real, even with that damn overwrought dialog.

And so, last week, I started watching Dawson's Creek again. It's all right there for me, on Hulu, to be rewatched & relived & re-enjoyed. Why not now? Going back to Capeside feels like coming home - even without the Paula Cole intro.

In celebration of the show I've always loved most - & hopefully still will, when all of this is over - here are a few observations about the show based on episode one of season one, the pilot that aired 20 freaking years ago. Say goodnight, friends - not goodbye.

1. There's a lot of very frank body talk.

Off to the races! In the show's very first scene, Joey talks about "breasts & genitalia," & later, Jen tells her horrified, religious grandmother, "I'll go to church when you say the word penis. Clinical & technical: penis." And of course, when it comes to less clinical & technical terminology, there's that now-famous scene in which Joey asks Dawson when he "walks his dog," a new euphemism written just for the show because they couldn't technically discuss masturbation on the cable. (His answer, in case you're not familiar with the scene, is "Usually in the morning, with Katie Couric.")

2. This show was ahead of its time on a number of fronts.

Sure, Dawson's Creek was the first show to reference, you know... walking the dog. But it wasn't all sex & body talk. The show also featured a number of unusual-for-1998 themes, right off the bat, including Bessie & Bodey's interracial relationship & Jen's outspoken, unapologetic atheism. Later, it would also delve into other serious social issues, like Jack coming out as gay & Andi grappling with severe mental illness. As an adult liberal, I very much appreciate that Dawson's Creek just got into it.

3. I am deeply uncomfortable with the phrase "Mr. Man Meat."

Very early in S1E1, Dawson & Pacey walk in on Mr. & Mrs. Leery gettin' their freak on... on the coffee table. As the missus buttons up & leaves for work, she kisses Dawson's dad &, in front of her son & his teenage friend, refers to her husband as "Mr. Man Meat." As a now-married woman, I cannot think of a grosser nickname, truly.

4. Wait, what is Pacey short for, anyway?

I'm still dying for a backstory about how a main character ended up with a name that isn't even a name - but since we never meet Pacey's mom (& his dad really sucks), we never learn this detail. Inquiring minds want to know: Is anyone in the world actually named this?

5. Jen's arrival is very cliched &... billowy.

We first meet new-girl Jen Lindley when she climbs out of a yellow cab, blond hair blowing in the breeze & buttoned-up skater dress (ah, the '90s) clinging ever so lightly to her lithe frame. It's all very girl-in-a-music-video & very ridiculous.

6. Oh, yeah. Pacey & Dawson work in a freaking video store.

Long before the advent of Netflix or iTunes or online pirating, the boys worked in an old-fashioned video store, the kind with VHS tapes lining the walls - & it's no Blockbuster, either. It's that independently owned type that has long gone the way of the dodo.

7. This show gets right to it on the affair-with-a-teacher thing.

As a teen, I thought this story line was over-the-top but still kind of cool in a TV drama kind of way. As an adult, this story line  really bothers me - & it has since showed up in nearly every teen drama, from Pretty Little Liars to Riverdale. Tamara is so overtly sexual, right off the bat, from the day she waltzes into the video store & flirts with a smitten teenage boy as she requests The Graduate, of all movies. This lady has zero self-control, & her remorse feels absolutely disingenuous.

8. Pacey literally says, to his teacher, "I'm the best sex you'll never have."

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Just before a very brazen & ridiculous scene in which Tamara makes out with her young high school student on a public dock in full view of God-knows-who - in a small town, no less! - this swaggering 15-year-old manchild actually says this to his teacher. Again, as a now-33-year-old woman, I am deeply uncomfortable with his self-confident hotness because I do not think teacher/student scenes are hot. And yet... here I am, feeling 14 again & thinking Pacey is just so cool?! No. Stop.

9. "No" is a complete sentence.

What an underrated lesson from the first episode of this much-maligned show. How I wish I'd internalized this one long ago! It comes from a film teacher whose class Dawson wants to take; the teacher insists the class is full & that he can make no exceptions. "'No' is a complete sentence," he tells Dawson, a sentiment that would, in the late 2010s, become the mantra of anti-sexual assault activists & self-care advocates alike.

10. Nineties music was the best music, don't @ me.

The first episode alone includes Chumbawumba's "Tubthumping," The Pretenders' "I'll Stand By You," & "As I Lay Me Down To Sleep" by one-hit wonder Sophie B. Hawkins, which swells & booms as a lovestruck Dawson spots Jen sitting on the dock with her feet in the water & her hair blowing in the damn wind again. I also remember fondly the show's soundtrack, which featured nineties names like Sixpence None The Richer & Sophie B. Hawkins & introduced me to Jessica Simpson.

Bonus thoughts from episode two: Dawson wears a lot of vests; Jen has the cheesiest dialog of the whole cast; there's no way Tamara is not yet 40.

I am having a blast rewatching this show, & I can't wait until it makes me cry for the first time. Is that a weird thing to say? Bring it on, Capeside. I'm here to feel 15 again.

Did you watch Dawson's Creek? What's your all-time favorite teen-angst drama?

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