“Dawson’s Creek” is a frustrating show that’s barely about Dawson or his creek

About 20 years too late, I’ve finally watched “Dawson’s Creek”, the WB teen drama that made Katie Holmes, James Van Der Beek, Joshua Jackson, and Michelle Williams stars. My wife and brother-in-law loved The Creek and referenced it frequently over the years. My brother-in-law also lives in Wilmington, North Carolina, aka Capeside, Mass., where the show was filmed, and often pointed out landmarks when we visited that only she understood. Thanks to isolation and unemployment, we have nothing but time in the evenings and plowed through the six seasons available on Hulu. And let me tell you: talk about a love/hate relationship with a show I haven’t had since “How I Met Your Mother”. 

First off, being a teen drama, everything is absolutely stupid. Every problem they have is not a real problem anyone ever had ever. Their relationships are ridiculous. Their witty repartee is cringeworthy (though at the time was the height of cultural chic). Created by Kevin Williamson who also created Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, everyone is clever and hip and has all the movie references. And I wanted to punch all of them in the face.

Had I watched this in its prime, it would have been my JAM. I loved Clerks and anything Kevin Smith and this is that without all the stoner jokes and swearing. But man, as a 35 year old man, SHUT UP, CHILDREN.

That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it; don’t get me wrong. Some of the show was great, namely the characters of Joey, Pacey, and Jen before the fourth season. Dawson and Joey (Van Der Beek and Holmes, respectively) are best friends from childhood and when the show starts in their 15th year, their budding sexual romance confuses them to no end. Dawson is ever the dreamer filmmaker who thinks life is a Speilberg movie. Joey has a chip on her shoulder the size of Pluto because her mom is dead and her dad is in jail for running drugs. Pacey (Jackson) is the son of the sheriff with no direction and ever the screw up. Jen (Williams) is the new girl from the big city (NYC) with dark secrets. Despite his obsession love for Joey, Dawson is smitten by Jen the moment she steps out of the cab at the house next door. Joey is torn between her love for Dawson and her jealousy toward Jen. Pacey is having an affair with his teacher. 

Let me repeat that for the folks in the back. Pacey is having an affair with his teacher. AND WE’RE SUPPOSED TO SUPPORT THIS AS VIEWERS. The teacher is single and in her 20s-30s, but he is 15 YEARS OLD. This is not ok!. Drama drama drama, will they/won’t they sleep together;  that’s the first season. 

The show continues in this vein for two more seasons with Dawson, Joey, and Pacey being this weird love triangle that honestly doesn’t make sense – Dawson treats Joey like a possession, Joey has the most connection with Pacey but keeps going back to Dawson and nothing happens, and Pacey basically says, “Welp, I’m gonna do something self-destructive until Joey likes me again”, and Jen…well, Jen slowly stops being a person and becomes a cliche the longer the show runs. 

The further into seasons four and five we get, the worse the writing is. Dawson goes to California after graduating, gets into the University of Southern California for filmmaking, gets an internship on a movie, insults the director, gets fired, and decides he’s done with school and is moving back to Capeside. WHAT?! Are you kidding me?! Get your butt back to school right now! Later, he takes over reshoots of a movie and gets full credit as director. THAT’S NOT HOW IT WORKS! ARGH!

Joey goes from being an aspiring artist to a writer (who never writes anything as far as I can tell) to, I guess, a book editor by the end (no spoilers)? The whole time, she pines for Dawson even though he drops her the first chance he gets, lusts for Pacey even though SHE breaks up with him like five times, then there’s another guy who starts out great and turns into a huge jerk because of sex. The show becomes her story around season four/five and is no longer about Dawson or his creek and it suffers for it. Joey really isn’t that interesting! A straight A student who’s constantly worried about not being a straight A student who can’t even say the word “sex” let alone have an adult realtionship is Snoozeville, USA. But that’s what we got!

And Jen. Poor Jen. Such a great, complicated, layered character when she comes to Capeside who gets reduced to about three character traits and the rest is neuroses. And anytime things seem to be going well for her, they write her some chaotic left turn that makes zero sense and chips further away at any semblance of character development. 

Busy Philips joins the cast as Joey’s roommate Audrey who gets WAY too much time as a main character which only muddies the cast and plot, and their friend Jack (Kerr Smith) goes from being a sensitive guy who loves art, to the only gay kid in Capeside, to a football star with a dinking problem, then a college student with no ambition, direction, goals, or purpose. Some scenes, he’s only there to eat, drink, or play with pencils. Not exaggerating. 

Sounds like great TV, doesn’t it?

I spent 90% of the latter three seasons yelling at the TV and making snarky commentary. So don’t get me wrong; I had a blast watching it. But just like the aforementioned HIMYM, the writing just goes off the rails and these characters that I’d grown to love are shadows of their former selves and caricatures of anything resembling real people. Not to mention for whatever reason (one source I found said Kevin Williamson did it, another said it was a Sony exec), they changed the theme song from Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait” to Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad”. While Cole’s song was very overplayed on the radio at the time, Arden’s song is TERRIBLE. Mute-it-every-time, terrible. Until the finale?! Then Cole’s song is back. 


Six seasons is a lot to get through (especially with commercials, but who can afford Ad-Free Hulu in this day and age?), but it was a massive hit in the late 90s-00s and a cultural touchstone for any of that age. Van Der Beek IS “The Dawson” and it made Katie Holmes a household name. Williams has gone on to a fantastic and award-winning career, and Jackson’s recent turn on “Little Fires Everywhere” was incredible. And it all started with The Creek. I’m very glad to be finished with it, and, though frustrating, it was mostly enjoyable. If you’re looking for a good “I don’t feel like looking for anything, let’s watch this” show, give it a shot. And let me know how far you get before you smash your TV. Don’t worry; I’ll wait. 


Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Snack Packs


Lincoln L. Hayes is a writer and actor living in NYC. He wishes he had more to add to this, but not much else is going on. Wear a mask and wash your hands. 

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