It's hard to remember at what point and why I took the plunge and watched Dawson's Creek. Perhaps it was because of my wife, who is both younger than I am, and she occasionally watched it when we first met. Perhaps it was because of a friend of mine, who is single, older, and watched it religiously. Then of course there was my boss who watched it too. So how did we married folks, single folks, and folks of all ages and races find ourselves watching it and discussing character destinies by e-mail following each episode?
The best answer is that it appealed to each of us in a variety of ways. For my wife, it was nice to see some young people that were humble and entertaining. They became involved in believable situations that fit into a prime-time soap perfectly, and it was arguably one of the better ones on at the time. My boss appreciated more of the soap opera elements in it and she could relate with locality (the show's North Carolina location was a short drive from her hometown). My friend watched it because Katie Holmes was cute, but in a coy and charming manner. Sometimes, boys will be just boys.
And why did I like it? I think it was because the characters maintained a level of intellect that surprised me. Considering what absolute dreck was on broadcast television then, to watch a show whose focus was on high school kids, a population that is generally considered to be inarticulate, and see these kids with a vocabulary that was beyond their years was both funny and interesting. The show was created by Kevin Williamson, who was white-hot following the success of writing the first two Scream films, and was called upon to put together a show for young people.
For those unfamiliar with the show, Dawson's Creek is a location, though not what you might expect. Set in the fictional coast town of Capeside, Massachusetts, Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek, Varsity Blues) is an aspiring film director who admires the works of Steven Spielberg. He lives across the creek from Joey Potter (Holmes), with whom he has been friends since elementary school. They have mutual friend Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson, Fringe) who serves two roles; he's the town clown, if you will, but he's also your classic underachiever. Another big character is Jen (Michele Williams), who is exiled to Capeside from New York, a role Williams took on long before she received critical acclaim in films like Brokeback Mountain. There are some characters incorporated into the show as it progressed through the years, but this remained the core group for the series' six-season run.
When those newer characters were thrown into the mix, the results were mixed. On one hand, you had Dawson's decent parents Gail (Mary-Margaret Humes, History of the World: Part I) and Mitch (John Wesley Shipp), and occasionally members of an even younger cast like Andie (Meredith Monroe) who were fairly good in their roles, as well. However, other characters were incomplete, poorly crafted or just silly, such as Andie's brother Jack (Kerr Smith, Final Destination). He was an inconvenience and an unnecessary subplot at the time when I watched the show, but now he feels like a bolder choice, as one who was dealing with his homosexuality. Nevertheless, he wouldn't hesitate to throw the label out there for just about anything ("I can't mow the yard, I'm gay!"), and the character suffered. As the show moved into the college years, the viewer was punished by the grating Audrey (Busy Philipps, Freaks and Geeks), not to mention Charlie, Jen's college love interest, played by Chad Michael Murray. I thought then, as I do now, that this casting choice was designed to force his presence onto loyal Creek fans, just because he was young and attractive, in a clueless sort of way.
As the kids got to college, the writers followed fairly convenient and unreal storylines. One of the intriguing things early in the show was that the characters' plot arcs took them to unfamiliar ground but it was more grounded in emotion instead of situation. In later seasons, Dawson, who fell into a fortunate (and unbelievable),situation and found himself in better position than his friends in dealing with the next phase of their lives. Part of me realizes that it was unavoidable; his name is on the show. If I had my way, it would have been "Pacey's Creek," but that's another topic for another time.
The fact remains that Dawson's Creek, for a period of time, was arguably the most compelling show for teens and young twenty-somethings on television. Its rapid-fire dialogue and occasional nod to pop culture and multi-syllabic words helped predate equally smarter shows like The Gilmore Girls and Veronica Mars. Coincidentally, Rob Thomas, creator and show runner of Mars was a writer for the Creek for a brief time. Combined with Williamson's writing prowess, and Dawson's Creek turned out to be a nice show to watch, and it's now available as a complete set.
All episodes are presented in 1.33:1 full-frame viewing as in the original television broadcasts. These are straightforward replications of the broadcasts that I remember watching; no special remastering appears to have been done for this set. Image quality improved as the series and production budget grew, and there isn't any edge enhancement or artifacts that I noticed that weren't inherent. No noise issues in the picture or pixilation issues from nighttime or reduced light sequences either. It's decent for what it is.
The two-channel Dolby stereo sound is included on all episodes, and like the video, this is without frills or fanfare. Dialogue requires some adjustment from time to time, but there isn't any mosquito noise on playback of the episodes, sound is reproduced accurately, and there's even a hint of rear channel activity in some of the post-Season Two episodes. It's worth noting that some of the music (including Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait," which plays during the opening credits) is replaced throughout the show, presumably due to rights issues, so diehards beware.
Sony has repacked the individual series into one complete book that's approximately 7.5 by 12 inches and is made to look like a photo album, filled with character quotes and filmographies for the main characters. The discs are housed in sturdy cardboard-strength pages, and altogether, it's an attractive package:
From the supplemental side of things, everything that appeared on the Season sets is here, and summaries of each season are as follows:
Season One: Commentaries on the pilot and season finale by Williamson and producer Paul Stupin. Two featurettes ("Day One" and "Season One Time Capsule"), totaling 15 minutes.
Season Two: Commentaries on the premiere and season finale by Stupin.
Season Three: Commentaries on two episodes with Stupin and Smith, along with an "Interactive Map" of Capeside.
Season Four: Commentaries on two episodes with Stupin and producer Alan Cross and an interactive trivia game.
Season Five: No extras.
Season Six: Commentary on the series finale with Williamson and Stupin.
Thankfully, there is a separate disc of extra material, though it's hollow and appears to have been given little thought. "Creek Daze" (17:34) is an interview segment with Williamson as he shares his thoughts and ideas on what he wanted to do with the show, including his perspective on screenwriting. The backgrounds of the characters are explained in some detail, along with some anecdotal recollections on casting. He talks about leaving the show and then coming back for the series finale and his thoughts on why he matched up Joey with particular individuals and other character matches. "Final Exams" is also included as a trivia game covering the series as a whole. The original ending for the pilot follows (1:09), and the swerve is a little surprising but hardly ground-shaking. The deleted scenes (3, 4:32) are also from the pilot, and are novel for the sake of seeing a different Mitch Leery. Both the ending and scenes claim to have optional commentary, though I couldn't find it. A soundtrack CD is also included that includes Cole's song, along with tracks from Five For Fighting and Shawn Mullins, to name a few.
The complete series of Dawson's Creek is out now, several years after the fans have picked up the individual seasons or forgotten about the show altogether. If you've purchased the individual seasons, there's no need to plunk down money for this, as the one non-CD disc barely has anything on it. If you're pining for quality, well-written drama with young people that is slightly more substantive than a nerf football, then Dawson's Creek is definitely worth exploring.