Re-watching Dawson’s Creek – the classic late ’90s, early ’00s teen drama that launched the careers of Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams and Joshua Jackson (and was probably the high point of James van der Beek’s, lets be honest) – it has become obvious I previously lacked a complete understanding of the finer nuances of the show.
I was 11 when Dawson’s Creek premiered on New Zealand television screens back in June 1999. One of the more pressing dilemmas facing my younger self was what to do when confronted with a poster from TV Hits that had Pacey on one side and Dawson on the other. I opted for Dawson, and teen heart-throb James van der Beek was duly tacked on to the ceiling above my bed. 27-year-old me admits my judgment was very wrong in this instance. I still don’t know if Dawson drowned in the creek in the end, but here’s what I’ve realised initially passed me by while re-watching the first two seasons of Dawson’s Creek 16 years later.
It’s entirely about sex
Did my parents know what I was watching? Or did it clash with Coronation Street, meaning I had an excuse to scurry off down the hallway to watch it on the other TV without their supervision? In the pilot episode alone there are at least a dozen overt, often cringe-worthy sexual references.
The highlights include virginal Pacey’s proclamation to the hot new English teacher in town, Miss Jacobs, that he’d be “the best sex you’ll never have” (spoiler: he does end up banging her and causing a minor scandal at school), and Joey asking Dawson how often he “walks the dog” (“you know what I mean”).
Dawson himself manages to sum up the show’s obsession with sex quite aptly: “It’s all anybody thinks about anymore. Sex, sex, sex”. But he goes on to question whether sex deserves the hype and offers up this cracker: “if it’s so important, then why hasn’t Steven Spielberg ever had a sex scene in one of this movies?” The sexual tension in this single episode alone is painful, much like when you’ve got a pimple brewing just under the surface of your skin, not quite ready to squeeze, but you give it a go anyway. Now imagine that pain multiplied over six seasons.
The characters definitely didn’t seem 15, even though they said they were. I think Dawson’s Creek left me with unrealistic expectations of what life would be like at 15: clear skin, complex love triangles, drama-filled days spent angsting over feelings (my own and everyone else’s), a perplexing vocabulary, boys falling at my feet. Sure, don’t believe everything you see on TV, but this certainly wasn’t my experience of being 15 – clear skin aside.
Put it down to wishful thinking back then, but it’s clear now that Dawson, Pacey, Jen and Joey aren’t your average 15-year-olds. The actors playing them don’t look 15 (Joshua Jackson’s abs being a case in point). They don’t sound 15 (not enough ‘like’ punctuating the dialogue), they’re too willing to talk about their feelings (ew), and Dawson is quite obviously a middle-aged man trapped in a teenager’s body (he admits to having a middle-aged perspective on life in season two).
I get it, if they were normal 15-year-olds it would make for a very boring television show and if the actors weren’t hot babes, no one would tune in. But enough with the blatant cons and references to their supposed on-screen age already: I’m 15! Woe is me! *wink wink* Man we’re in detention, 10th grade sucks! *nudge nudge*
How bloody annoying Dawson is (and how in love I am with Pacey)
I’m not alone in my previously misguided love of Dawson. Other friends (not many, but a handful) have admitted to swooning after Dawson, rather than Pacey – now widely accepted to be the far superior male lead. The traits I now find most eyeroll-inducing about Dawson were probably endearing to 11-year-old me who didn’t know better: he uses big words, he’s into cultured things like films (namely those directed by Steven Spielberg), his idea of romance oozes thoughtful gestures and cheesiness, he has an over-wrought ability to analyse various aspects of his life and relate them to movie plots.
Despite the fact he exercises poor judgment and get frosted tips in one episode, Pacey has won me over this second time around. My ice cold heart was warmed when he finally pashed Andie McPhee (actually, it’s warmed every time they pash, which is a highly unusual response for me). I got a little teary when he tried to defend Andie’s brother Jack in the face of a bullying teacher (disclaimer: I cried in Finding Nemo). I did a little fist pump when he scored his first A on a test (an underdog achieving academic success gets me every time). Also, Pacey takes his shirt off, Dawson doesn’t (recall my earlier mention of Joshua Jackson’s abs). And, tellingly, even James Van Der Beek found Dawson annoying.
The fascinating subplot involving Dawson’s parents
In the pilot episode, Dawson and Pacey walk in on Mr and Mrs Leery dry humping on the coffee table (gross when I was 11; still gross now). Not long after, Dawson gleans a hint that his news presenter mom Gail is having an affair with her co-anchor, Bob, by applying his hyper-aware analytical abilities to the delivery of her sign-off, “back to you, Bob”. Despite brushing off Dawson’s fears about his mom’s possible infidelity, Joey stumbles across Gail and Bob having a pash in Bob’s SUV.
It takes a few episodes, but the affair is revealed, prompting doomsday-like emotional responses from Dawson, silent brooding on the part of his hot dad Mitch, and endless promises from Gail to “make it work”. When Gail and Mitch’s initial attempts to get their marriage back on track don’t go so well, Mitch has a yarn to one of his mates who suggests trying an open marriage (it works for him!).
Thursday night becomes date night, which Gail forgets the first week and makes a romantic dinner – candles and all – for Mitch. Weirdly, he shuns the food in favour of heading down to the pub solo. Morose ‘90s music plays as he wanders a desolate bar trying to make the first move on the few ladies there. Gail meanwhile heads to the local coffee shop, where she sits alone at a table nursing a giant mug of coffee surrounded by pensioners. Anyway, things get worse, despite Dawson’s attempts to save the day: Mitch moves into an edgy bachelor pad and wears a turtleneck on a father-son fishing trip. Apparently Mitch meets a tragic end in one of the later seasons, but I’m not up to that bit yet.
And in case you were wondering…
Joshua Jackson has been dating Diane Kruger for ages and thus I feel like he’s totally winning at life. James van der Beek is in CSI: Cyber and I’ve just found his Instagram and I can’t stop scrolling. After that blip with the whole getting-married-to-Tom-Cruise thing, Katie Holmes might be/probably is dating Jamie Foxx. Her Instagram is also strangely fascinating. But Michelle Williams ended up being the most successful of them all – Oscar nominations, fashion campaigns and all.
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