Dawson’s Creek premiered on January 20, 1998, one month to the day after my 17th birthday. Had a been a good diarist, I probably would have indicated why I started watching this schlubby show about a bunch of teenagers that I couldn’t really identify with on a personal level. Not an only child (Dawson), nor a teen rebel sent to live with my grandmother (Jen). I wasn’t some loser kid hated by my parents (Pacey), nor was my father in jail (Joey). If I combine various traits of our four main characters, however, I might see what the appeal was. I had a long-time crush on my best friend (Joey), I was a smart aleck (Pacey), and I was prone to over think even minor details from my teenage existence (Dawson). I guess the character that I never truly identified with was Jen, at least not at first. Once she started getting rejected, however, maybe I grew to like her. Too bad 17 year-old me decided to play Magic: The Gathering all the time instead of writing down his various thoughts.
In “Pilot,” the aptly named first episode of the show. we are introduced to the four main characters. Dawson (James Van Der Beek) is being all Spielberg Junior and directing his stupid horror movie, starring Joey (Katie Holmes) as the poor victim and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) as the monster. Lovely little blond girl Jen (Michelle Williams)* shows up in a cab from New York, with all sorts of foreshadowing as to why. Dawson immediately falls in love with her, thus making Joey all upset. I’m sure this little love triangle will entertain us for the next few episodes at least.
*As a quick aside, it’s very interesting to look at what these “kids” have done since they left “the Creek:” Van Der Beek has been relegating to playing a caricature of himself on some ABC show that nobody watches. Holmes has turned into Tom Cruise’s baby daddy. Jackson has a pretty decent show in “Fringe.” Williams, on the other hand, has turned herself into an multiple Academy Award nominee. Very interesting.
Meanwhile, Pacey is attracted to, and flirts with, an older woman that comes into the video store that both he and Dawson work at in town. Later it is revealed that this new hotness is everyone’s new sophomore English teacher. Also, Dawson tries to force himself into the film class, but can’t join because he is but a sophomore and the mean ol’ teacher says no dice. And Joey sees Dawson’s mom kissing her co-anchor after he drops her off.
Episode 2, entitled “Dance,” is about a dance. Kevin Williamson sure was creative in naming his episodes. In this one, Jen is cast in Dawson’s movie, but Dawson goes all emo again when the football captain starts flirting with her at the dance. Awkward angsty moment ensues. In the “B” and “C” stories of the week, Joey confronts Dawson’s mom about the kiss she saw and the affair and Pacey continues to try and use big adult-sounding words in his attempt to woo Ms. Jacobs.
Next week, in an episode called “Kiss,” poor Dawson Spielberg is upset in his film class because the upperclassmen are working on a football movie.* His art is going to suffer for sure. Not to be totally ruined by the experience, Dawson sets out to capture his first kiss with Jen on camera. Meanwhile, Pacey continues to flirt with Ms. Jacobs as she tutors him after school and Pacey pretends to be some little rich girl to a cute guy with a bat.
*Another quick aside. One of my favorite guilty pleasure movies is “Varsity Blues,” starring no other than James Van Der Beek as Mox, the star quarterback who “don’t want your life.”
By episode four, entitled “Discovery,” you begin to feel pretty bad for Dawson. He finds out about his mother’s infidelity and also finds out that his girlfriend was sent away from New York for having some sex in her parent’s bed. Alas, Jen won’t even let Dawson get to second base, at least on camera, so he is left to be all pouty and whiny about everything. Joey’s only involvement in the episode is to get yelled at by Dawson for keeping the secret of his mother’s affair from him, in which Dawson pretty much blames Joey for Jen not giving him a handy. Poor Joey. Pacey and Ms. Jacobs continue to get hot and heavy off camera… well, except for the camera Dawson had set up to capture his kiss with Jen in the last episode that instead captures them making out in this weird Italian garden. I don’t see that ending well…
A “Hurricane” batters Capeside in the next episode, forcing our peeps into awkward situations. Joey and her sister come over to the Leery’s to wait out the storm, and they are subsequently joined by Jen and her grandmother. Apparently, Jen’s grandfather, currently in a coma back at Gram’s house, is okay to be left by himself in a hurricane. Meanwhile, Pacey has every intention of waiting out the storm with Ms. Jacobs, until his brother shows up to try some of his version of the Witter charm on Ms. Jacobs as well. Dawson has it out with the two ladies in his life: confronting Jen about her past in New York and continuing to browbeat Joey about keeping his mother’s affair secret. He also tries to tell his dad about it, but then his mom does it instead. Also included in the week’s story was judgment from Jen’s grandmother about Joey’s sister and her biracial relationship/baby.
Guess what happens in episode 6? I’ll give you a hint: it’s called “Baby.” One story line has Bessie, Joey’s sister, giving birth at the Leery’s house with the assistance of Jen’s grandmother. The other story line is all about Pacey and his big mouth in the bathroom, telling Dawson all about his adventures with his English teacher. Unfortunately, some kid is hiding in the stall and hears everything, leading to the rumor spreading around school that a teacher is diddling a student. This culminates in Ms. Jacobs going before the school board, with Pacey denying it all, saying that he made it all up to get attention. Ms. Jacobs leaves for Rochester, never to return…
The “Breakfast Club” homage episode that is “Detention” features on of the better jokes in the series. While discussing the movie, they wonder aloud what happened to the actors. Pacey points out that Emilio Estevez made those “duck movies,” of course referring to “The Mighty Ducks.” Who else starred in those awesome hockey movies from the ’90s? Joshua Jackson!! Well, I thought it was pretty funny. Anyway, tensions mount as you would expect with all the kids in detention. Joey and Jen finally have it out, Dawson is all jealous of no-longer-a-virgin Pacey, and stupid Abby Morgan shows up to stir the pot a bit. In the end, everyone makes up and stays friends. Kinda. Otherwise, it would be pretty difficult to keep the series going.
What happens to our four friends in the last half of the first season? I’m sure it’s more of the same, but I’ll cut this post short and resume in Part 2.
Until next time…