The simple act of being in love with you is enough for me.Joshua Jackson, Dawson’s Creek
NOTE: I wrote this essay for one of my best friends who I wanted to convince to watch this show. I figured that now that he’s watched it, maybe this essay can convince someone else to take the trip to Capeside.
Dawson’s Creek first premiered in 1998; it was the love child of Kevin Williamson (a film assistant on the set of Scream and Scream 2) and Paul Stupin. It was meant to be a story about teenagers growing up. Each character was meant to have a backstory that different people could relate to. The original story followed teenagers growing up in a small town in North Carolina, with the main character (Dawson) being a devotee of Steven Speilberg. The show eventually was moved to Boston and is set in the fictional town of Capeside. This show contained the first LGBTQIA+ kiss on television (between Jack and Ethan) and wanted to treat its audience like real people (which meant incorporating conversations that forced audiences to think and develop personality traits beyond being good looking).
There are four main characters in the first season and this section will briefly cover them all without giving away their fates. Despite the name of the show, Joey Potter is the main character. She is the daughter of an incarcerated drug dealer and a mother who died of cancer. She is being raised by her older sister, Bessie and her black boyfriend, Bodie. Bessie is seen as somewhat of a social pariah because of her interracial relationship in a conservative Massachusetts town. Joey is incredible because she is completely unaware of the power of her presence. This is shown multiple times throughout the show. This allows Joey to be a universal character because she is essentially coming of age by realizing that people around her love her. This is something that everyone can relate to; the desire to be loved coupled with the incessant thought that nobody truly cares if you exist. While her character development can sometimes be reliant on the development of the boys in her life, watching her navigate high school and college is definitely one of the high points of the show.
Dawson Leery is Joey’s best friend. He lives across the creek and all his life he has wanted to be a director. He is an only child, son of two people who seem to hide the dysfunctions in their lives behind a perfect marriage. Dawson is so reliant on Joey’s presence in his life that much of his creative work revolves around Joey and their lives. He initially seems to be the main love interest in the show (again, hence the title), but I think that Dawson’s character symbolizes selfishness, jealousy but also the desire to achieve his life’s dream and the work and struggles that accompany that. Dawson’s character (in my eyes) is more humanly written than Joey. He’s indecisive and makes decisions as an actual teenager would – impulsively.
Pacey Witter is probably the best character on the show. The black sheep of his family, Pacey spends most of the show developing. He starts as any child without guidance would, entering unhealthy relationships and practically failing school. While initially he may seem like the token bad boy character, Pacey’s moral compass is the most interesting and the most akin to a developing boy. He relies on his friends for approval and love. His romantic relationships help him grow into a man. Pacey is also a strong role model for people who choose not to go to college and instead learn how to tackle the real world instead.
Jen Lindley is probably the most iconic character. In the first episode, she is introduced as a promiscuous girl from New York who needed to be tamed. Instead of being tamed, Jen unleashes her wild side on Capeside, stirring up some tensions between Dawson and Joey. Despite her wildness, Jen grows to be extremely level-headed and her experience lends a hand to the other three main characters in order to help them navigate dangerous waters. Jen proves to be the most tolerant character and her relationship with her Grams is something to be desired. Also, Jack and Jen have the kind of friendship that anyone would aspire to have.
In terms of plot development, the stories are realistic. There aren’t storylines that feel like the screenwriters ran out of things to write so they added tragedies. Each episode and interaction serve to develop the characters and shape their eventual personalities. In terms of relationships, the characters don’t spend the entire show pining after each other. Instead, they date when time allows them to and learn to love others when time allows them to. Each relationship furthers the characters (as they should) and furthers important themes throughout the show. But, the absolute best storylines are the ones that contain iconic lines and where the characters prove that their flaws are realistic.
The thing about Dawson’s Creek is that it feels like coming home. These characters go to school (like its audience did) and had crushes growing up (like its audience did). The show wants to include gay characters and their struggles in order to shed light on what it was like to be gay in a primarily conseravative society where it was largely unaccepted. There are several storylines that deal with having to conceal homosexuality and coming out to parents. This show allows its audience to relive facets of high school and college while giving apt advice. The magic of this show is in its simplicity, rather than the need for elaborate characters and stories. While a show like this might not be relevant now because of all the representation and diversity on the small screen today, it was extremely iconic and relevant for its time period.
The one critique that I have is that the show severely botches the characterization of women and doesn’t really give them a fair shake. Too much of the female storylines involve either being promiscuous or prudish and the show (at times) can perpetuate the stereotype that virginal women are more desirable than experienced women. Also, Jen was robbed of screen time.
In conclusion, this show is not a bumpy ride. There are no extraordinary cliff-hangers. Instead, this show discusses the struggle of growing up in a small town with parents that don’t always know how to talk to you. The show demonstrates the failure of the American school system and the ways that people can still succeed without a college degree. The parental figures remain relevant until the students go to college. Overall, this is a show about being in love with youth. It’s a dedication to the last generation of Americans who still knew how to communicate with each other and they prove that it wasn’t any easier before the influx of technology. While the new generation of shows might be relevant in today’s society, it’s important to remember that books, TV shows, and movies create a window into the soul of the past, and what better way to view the past than through the eyes of the youth?