I took a nostalgic trip back to Dawson's Creek, my once favourite teen TV drama. I have mixed feelings about this decision.
2020 has been challenging to put it lightly. Like most TV fans I have watched all the essential viewing on Netflix. From Tiger King to The Crown, to most recently Big Mouth, I've crushed the new releases.
My journey back to "Capeside," Massachusetts was a different pursuit from my other TV binges. This epic rewatch has been an attempt to revisit the late 90s and early aughts through a 2020 lens.
Although I fervently support the social progress that has been made over the last 20 years, I find myself feeling wistful for other parts of the Dawson's Creek era. My lifestyle was simpler. There was no such thing as social media. I wasn't glued to a smartphone and I always had a new book on the go. I just wanted to recapture that time for a little while.
The rewatch began on a jarring note. The show's opening theme song, "I Don't Want to Wait" by Paula Cole was GASP-- replaced by "Run Like Mad" by Jann Arden. WHAT!? Could Netflix not secure the rights to the original song? After a quick google I confirmed that this was the case. The Jann Arden song is fine but it wasn't part of my fond memories.
Was this a bad omen for the rewatch?
I burned through season one. It had all the elements I wanted. BAD 90s hair and makeup, GOOD acting performances from the entire cast, and a GREAT soundtrack of songs by Lillith Fair alum female singer-songwriters. After a couple of glasses of wine, I found myself singing along to Chantal Kreviazuk's iconic 1997 ballad "Surrounded" as it swelled during a pivotal scene between characters Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and Jen (the amazing Michelle Williams). I was delighted by these aspects of the show, and they did create a bit of the escape I was seeking.
Unfortunately, the shock that I felt with the absence of "I Don't Want to Wait" continued with a lot of the problematic themes and dialogue within each episode.
Many TV fans remember the Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson) "affair" with his English teacher. I was cringing while watching at the way the show depicted this STATUTORY RAPE. Also, all the male characters are whiny misogynists and... so are the women characters. Even Jen Lindley, who was always my favourite character, delivers a very pointed monologue about just how much "girls suck." Many of the female guest star characters are crazed Femme Fatales who seduce and betray the "innocent" Dawson and Pacey. The show is full of slut-shaming, mansplaining and other behaviour that we deem toxic in 2020.
Dawson's Creek is also overwhelmingly white. Even the college seasons, which are set in Boston have very little diversity. The few characters of colour that exist in the show world are largely on the sidelines of the series. Even the more prominent non-white characters barely appear over a full season. Joey's (Katie Holmes' character) brother-in-law Body (played by Obi Ndefo) who is also Dawson's parents' business partner only appears in 10 episodes. He is constantly mentioned... but is sort of weaved in and out in a way that seems tokenized.
Despite my issues with the series I can't seem to stop watching. It turns out that I'm not the only millennial rewatching Dawson's Creek.
There are plenty of other writers out there who have taken this same roller coaster ride to Capeside. It seems like it's become another major pandemic hobby for 30 somethings... it's right up there with baking sourdough bread.
The reactions of my fellow re-watchers have generally been similar to my own. The most consistent reactions are CRINGE and YIKES. So why are we putting ourselves through this? For me, my D.C. binge morphed from comfort TV to a deeply uncomfortable examination of the culture and attitudes from my formative years. I blame my status as a millennial. We are naturally introspective. Before we were rebranded as Millennials my generation was dubbed: Generation -Y often nicknamed "Gen - Why?"
Are we just watching these old shows as a way to understand our former younger selves? To see how far we've come? Perhaps. All I know is watching Dawson's Creek in 2020 is weirdly compelling and frustrating at the same time. I'll say that it's the right antidote for my boredom at the moment, and a welcomed distraction from all the heavier things we are contending with in this most turbulent year.
As I write this I've realized that I made it to season 6 of Dawson's Creek. The final season. Sigh. What can I say? I'm a completionist. I'll brace myself for the series finale which involves the KILLING OFF the best character-- the only one who truly evolves as a person *Cough* Jen *Cough.* I'm not sorry for the spoiler. Though this foray to Dawson's Creek has been a wild ride I will embrace the small elements of comfort. Despite her crappy speech maligning other girls, my beloved Jen Lindley still largely holds up as the awesome character I remember.
I almost cried with joy when I got my "Which Dawson's Creek Character Are You Actually?" Buzzfeed quiz results:
I knew I was a Jen!
Other parts of this rewatch I'll choose to enjoy are the weird pop culture trivia that is associated with this teen show. There are multiple Twin Peaks actors that have guest starred on Dawson's Creek. Jack Osbourne also guest stars, playing himself, and the gang goes on a road trip with a very gassy Seth Rogen. There's also a very strange bottle episode set almost entirely in a Kmart store. Finally, Paula Cole apparently HATED that her song become famous for its association with Dawson's Creek, but then was angry that it was replaced for the Netflix release!
Dawson's Creek is clearly a product of its time. Please remember that Dear Reader, if you attempt your own rewatch. If you find yourself getting #triggered... remember it's just a TV show.
Enjoy the weird trivia I mentioned above and use your critical thinking for something more important (reminding myself of this too lol). At least there are young adult series being made today that are much more progressive. Shows like Never Have I Ever, and The Babysitters Club are refreshingly inclusive. There's always a chance however, that teens and tweens of today, will re-watch their old favourites in 20 years with the same confusion and morbid fasciation.