Dawson's Creek: The painfully self-aware teen drama that could never be made today
Teen dramas are not my forte.
I watched Gossip Girl, but I did not love it. I put off Gilmore Girls for a decade, as I didn't have the time. I skipped 90210, because I simply did not care.
Then Dawson's Creek showed up on Netflix. The show landed onto the streaming platform last month, providing longtime fans the chance to rewatch the series that formed their teenage-hood, introduced them to Joshua Jackson, and made them eternally grateful that they didn't grow up in a seaside town of approximately 97 people.
And then there was me - a gal in lockdown with too much time on her hands desperate for a new TV show to watch. Did I dare throw away my evenings in favour of a series than ended over 15 years ago? Did I really want to watch James Van Der Beek mope aimlessly through the hallways of his school? How many pairs of curtain bangs could I bear to see in one hour of television?
Turns out, a lot.
What I had presumed to be a standard '90s drama about kids skipping school, smoking cigarettes, and maybe even losing their virginity has turned out to be so much more - total and utter chaos.
The series boasts the usual growing pains and awkward encounters we've come to expect from teen dramas - the guy who's desperate to have his first kiss, the lad who's desperate to lose his virginity, the girl who's from the rough part of town, your one who's just arrived to town from The Big City (which in this case, turns out of course to be New York).
But there's also a whole host of other dramatic happenings that wouldn't be entirely out of place in your standard telenovela or, dare I say it, Hollyoaks After Dark
In the first episode alone we are subjected to Pacey's fascination with older women as he flirts with his teacher at the video store. What we can only assume is a brief depiction of the teenager's misguided lust for someone who is a great deal older than him quickly escalates into a full blown kiss down by the sea, all-but initiated by Ms Jacobs who doesn't seem all that bothered by the fact that she is macking on with a genuine kid.
Their affair continues in a similar manner until Ms Jacobs eventually moves away, either after she finally copped that having actual sex with her student was a bit more than just "forbidden love," or because the writers realised that not even in 1998 could you get away with having a 36 year old woman preying on a child played by Joshua Jackson.
This show could not be made today - and not just because of the entirely questionable student/teacher affair that was conveniently glossed over and rarely mentioned again, but because the characters are so painfully unlikeable, unrelatable and unwatchable... which of course means that you simply cannot, for the life of you, stop watching.
Teenagers do not speak this way. Nobody speaks this way. I can't remember the last time I sat around with my boyfriend and philosophised about my parents' failing marriage, because it never happened.
And yet, this is all Dawson does. He makes movies, he falls in love, he tells the women he's in love with of his feelings and how his own experience of being a hopeless romantic has clouded his vision, but that now he knows life isn't a movie, despite continuing to act and speak like he is, in fact, in one.
But he isn't the only culprit. Joey's at it, Jen's at it, Pacey's at it sometimes if he's not spending his entire existence lusting after women who are 15 years old than him.
The series is peppered with moments of self awareness and this may easily be one of them - the knowledge that these kids aren't kids at all, but only appear to be that way to draw a larger audience; those who are looking for a late night drama filled with sex and betrayal, and those who are desperate to see themselves in these characters.
Watching the show now, it seems it would be impossible to do so. American teen dramas have remained as far away from the Irish experience as humanly possible for decades, but Dawson's Creek is a new level of distant. When I was 15, I was crying in school because I'd lost my locker key for the eighth time that month, not because my parents shipped me off to the sticks for having sex with an undisclosed number of men.
Your experiences are not universal, Jen. They're barely even recognisable... but Jesus, they are entertaining.
This show could not be made today - but it was made back in the '90s, and it will, undoubtedly, remain one of the most iconic teen dramas in history.
Dawson's Creek is of its time, but only if its time is a brief moment in US history where teenagers were actually adults, nothing made any logical sense, and people spoke as if they were playing a character in a 19th century novel.
It's bizarre, it's frustrating, and it's absolutely brilliant.