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DVD Review: Dawson's Creek - The Complete First Season
Posted by O. R. Polk, Jr. (with Bruiser Chong) on Apr 22, 2003, 19:16

A frequent contributor to both the TSM and SNKT forums, Bruiser Chong has gained a reputation for being as insightful as he is outspoken on many subjects. Back on April 5th of this year, Bruiser posted a review of Dawson's Creek at my messageboard. The show is a favorite of mine and eventually I would've probably gotten around to reviewing it myself but Bruiser's take on it didn't leave much to improve upon so I offer to you in its entirety (with a few comments by yours truly in italics), Bruiser Chong's Dawson's Creek: Season One review. Never let it be said that I don't give something back.

Coming of age movies and TV series’ is a particular genre that just about everyone can enjoy, and for good reason. After all, we were all once young and remember the struggles of adolescence and growing up, so it’s not like we can’t relate to something pertained in these movies or shows. Even those of us who still haven’t completed that crazy journey from child to adult, there is still often something that we can identify with when it comes to these sorts of productions. Although the genre has been pretty dominant in the cinematic world, that’s not to say that it hasn’t made its presence known in the world of television. The Wonder Years, probably the best coming of age television series of all-time, immediately springs to mind. Freaks and Geeks is easily another great show of the genre, although it was doomed to fail from the beginning, as lack of promotion, coupled with lousy timeslots, led to its demise after one short, but memorable season. These shows however took a more humorous look at growing up, although that doesn’t mean that they didn’t touch upon some of the troubles that we all encounter in our formative years.

Firstly, I'm a huge fan of the coming-of-age story. Not just in Dawson's Creek but on television and in cinema PERIOD. George Washington, The Slums of Beverly Hills and even My Girl are just special to me for some reason. It's a period of life that everyone can identify with and is fertile ground for literally millions of different variations. But the heart remains the same: Growing up is hard to do and often so confusing and frustrating at the time we seldom realize that it is some of the most fun and intriguing times of our lives. It's true when they say youth is wasted on the young. Only now at 27-years-old am I starting to realize it. Just as Williamson says that there is a part of him in each character in Dawson's Creek, you can also see different parts of yourself in each character. You're not going to side with one character and understand everything they do all the time. There will be times when you'll alternate and eventually identify with them all at some time or another and that makes Dawson's Creek an awesome experience, not just 13 shows on a shiny disc.

In January of 1998, a new, greatly anticipated and promoted coming of age series premiered on the WB, which skewed from the typical comedic route of similar shows and taking a more dramatic route. This show of course, is Dawson’s Creek, a series created by Kevin Williamson (the man who penned the Scream movies and wrote the screenplay for I Know What You Did Last Summer, among other films) that focused on four teenagers growing up in the small town of Capeside, Massachusetts and the hardships they encounter as they travel down that bumpy road to adulthood. Somewhat similar shows like Party of Five and Beverly Hills 90210 were on their last legs and it was clearly the perfect opportunity for a new show to take their place, which is exactly what Dawson’s Creek did, becoming an instant hit with viewers.

The quartet of main characters included Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), his best friend of many years Josephine ‘Joey’ Potter (the extremely cute Katie Holmes), his loyal “sidekick” Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson), and the girl from New York, Jennifer ‘Jen’ Lindley (Michelle Williams). Although at the beginning of the series, Williams was the only one of the four under 20-years-old, they all played 15-year-old sophomores attending Capeside High. Despite the being twenty-somethings, they all managed to pull of the job nicely, playing high school kids convincingly, aside from some of the dialogue at times (kids don’t use that many “big” words, but I’d almost rather have the cast be different from “real” kids in that aspect, as I’m not dying to see a show where they actually talk like the high school kids of today. *shudder*)

Rounding out the rest of the regular cast were Dawson’s parents, Mitch and Gail Leery (played by John Wesley Shippand Mary-Margaret Humes, respectively), Jen’s grandmother, Evelyn ‘Grams’ Ryan (Mary Beth Peil), and Joey’s sister, Bessie (Nina Repeta).

This 3-disc set brought to you by Columbia TriStar offers up the complete first season, featuring 13 episodes, with each one hovering around the 44-minute mark. Arguably the strongest season of the series, season one was based on the life of Williamson, who grew up in a small coastal town much like Capeside. Perhaps it’s because of that fact that season one provides some of the strongest emotions, storylines, and episodes found in the six-year run of the series or maybe it’s just because everyone was on the ball, but regardless, season one features 13 excellent episodes that are each strong in their own right, something rarely found in the premiere season of any show.

The Episodes:

Disc One

1) Pilot - This is of course what started everything. We’re quickly introduced to Dawson and best friend Joey, who are finding that as they are growing up, they are also growing apart. Spending the night now seems odd, despite it being a common thing between the two in the past. In addition, the two are finding it hard to talk about certain things, which only seems to drive the wedge between them even more. When Jen, the granddaughter of Dawson’s neighbor, comes from New York to live with her grandparents to tend to her ailing grandfather, Joey finds herself growing increasingly jealous when it becomes apparent that Dawson has a thing for her. Elsewhere, Pacey finds himself falling for an older woman, who turns out to be his English teacher, Ms. Tamara Jacobs (Leann Hunley). Also introduced here are Dawson’s parents, Jen’s grandmother, Joey’s pregnant sister Bessie and her black boyfriend Bodie, who is played here by George Gaffney, but was replaced in later episodes by Obi Ndefo. Although the seeds for a Dawson/Jen relationship are planted here, it is already obvious that Joey has a thing for Dawson. The storyline with Pacey and Tamara Jacobs would prove to be not only one of the more interesting storylines of the first season, but also one of the most controversial ones. And if all of that wasn’t enough, Joey discovers at the end of the episode that Dawson’s mom is having an affair with her co-anchor.

2) Dance - Dawson casts Jen in his homemade movie, but causes some problems between the two at the school dance. Meanwhile, Joey confronts Mrs. Leery about her affair and Pacey continues his pursuit of Ms. Jacobs.

I wish I had a dollar for every time I called Dawson a "dumbass" or "pussy" or some other similar insult the first season. He really is a whiny bastard. And when he finally does assert himself, he makes an ass of himself. I'm sure we've all done that; been pushed around and pushed around and when you finally make a stand it's completely at the wrong time. Well, there's Dawson. This is also the first episode where Jen is a point of conflict and instead of helping to work out a solution, she removes herself from the situation i.e. she runs away nearly in tears. I hated her for that. Also of note that they let a flubbed line stay in the final cut of this episode. Joey says: "The remote on the rewind of life definitely does not work!" when she was obviously supposed to transpose the words "rewind" and "remote." But when she goofs it, she smiles and laughs and I guess she's just so damned cute they had to let it stay. I would've too. I don't think anyone really noticed.

Also, Pacey and Tamara have a confrontation after he attempts to track her down at the movies. I LIVED for the Pacey/Tamara storyline in the beginning to be quite honest. Pacey isn't just an idol to teenage boys, but men everywhere. Any man who's bagged some hot ass that he thought was out of his reach. Pacey makes you proud to be a MAN. He's an inspiration.

3) Kiss - Dawson causes some problems on the set of the film class’s movie, all the while trying to create the perfect moment for his first kiss with Jen. Elsewhere, Joey is wooed by a mysterious stranger, but isn’t exactly honest with him. In a truly inspirational moment for all teenage males out there, Pacey finally gets Ms. Jacobs to succumb to her desires.

4) Discovery - In the first truly dramatic episode, Dawson discovers his mom’s affair and turns to Jen for support after finding out that Joey had knowledge of the affair but didn’t tell him. He soon regrets doing so however, after Jen tells him the true reason why she was sent there from New York. Dawson also learns of Pacey’s affairs with Ms. Jacobs.

In this episode, Dawson's whole life falls apart. When it rains it pours. He gets blown away by Pacey's revelation about Tamara Jacobs first. Then he finds out his mom is a ho, that Joey knew she was a ho and didn't bother to tell him despite calling herself his "friend" and then he finds out that the girl he has a crush on, Jen, is a ho, too. Ever had those bad days that just won't fucking end when you were that age? This is that day for Dawson Leery. But it's done so well, you feel it and it makes for some powerful drama. They're weaving together about 8-10 storylines at this point with about as many characters (they've all go their own shit happenin, even the smallest of supporting characters) and they're doing it fucking seamlessly.

Disc Two

5) Hurricane - A major storm hits Capeside, forcing just about everyone to take refuge at the Leery home, where Dawson vents to Jen about her past and Mitch finally learns of his wife’s affair. Elsewhere, Pacey and his older brother, Deputy Doug (Dylan Neal), take cover in Ms. Jacobs’ home, where Pacey ruins Doug’s chances of hitting it off with her. Easily one of the most emotionally-charged episodes of the first season, with Mitch finally learning of his wife’s affair, as well as Dawson’s problems with Jen and Joey.

6) Baby - The proverbial shit hits the fan, as the school gets wind of Pacey and Ms. Jacobs’ activities, which proves to be too much for them. Meanwhile, Bessie is ready to give birth, but has no way to get to the hospital, which lands her in Dawson’s living room, delivering her child with an unlikely aid. On a side note, I felt that the Pacey/Ms. Jacobs storyline came to an end too soon and should have been extended throughout more the season, as Pacey’s character was without too much direction for the remainder of the first season.

7) Detention - In a not so subtle homage to The Breakfast Club, Dawson, Joey, Jen, Pacey, and the school bitch Abby (Monica Keena), all find themselves in Saturday detention for various reasons. This is called one of the best episodes of the series and while that may be up for discussion, there’s certainly a lot of interesting stuff going on here, as we see Dawson and Pacey at odds for the first time, get introduced to Abby, and basically learn why Joey doesn’t like Jen.

I had a good time figuring out who was supposed to be whom in this episode. I mean, in reference to what character they were most like from The Breakfast Club. At least they acknowledged the similarities in the actual episode. Man, John Hughes has a lot of fans in Hollywood and writer/director's he's influenced with his slightly above average 80's schmaltz. (with good reason, though. Hey, I'm a fan) This episode introduced us to SATAN aka Abby. She is the catalyst for some serious discussion, verbal and sometimes even physical confrontations in this episode. As a device she works perfectly, because she gets every character to come clean about certain things and say things to each other they would've never said otherwise through a clever game of Truth or Dare. But she also seems like a character inserted to jumpstart things and stir up trouble because they couldn't think of another way for them to get these things out with just the core four. Because we almost never see Abby again this entire season until episode 9, Roadtrip.

8) Boyfriend - Everyone is surprised to see Jen’s ex-boyfriend Billy (Eion Konrad) from New York pay an unexpected visit to Capeside, especially Dawson who soon finds himself bunking with his girlfriend’s ex. To get her mind off things, Joey gets a little (too) crazy at a beach party, which lands her in an awkward situation. Meanwhile, things reach a heated peak between Mitch and Gale, as they attempt to rebuild their marriage.

9) Roadtrip - Dawson is convinced by Billy and Pacey that a road trip to Rhode Island is just what he needs to get over Jen. At school, Jen helps Joey get revenge after she falls victim to a vicious rumor.

Disc Three

10) Double Date - In an attempt to prove that he’s over Jen, Dawson suggests a double date involving himself, Jen, and their respective dates. After Dawson’s date figures out that it’s all a ploy by Dawson to win Jen back, she offers some help. Long time foes grow fond of each other, when Pacey and Joey are grouped up for a science project, which leaves Dawson feeling jealous.

11) The Scare - In celebration of Friday the 13th, Dawson holds a séance at his home and invites the gang over. Reports of a serial killer on the loose near Capeside only adds to the spooky atmosphere. This episode was a takeoff of Scream, which Williamson also wrote.

I forget which exact episode it was, but in one, Dawson's Spielberg-exclusive room suddenly has a "I Know What You Did Last Summer" poster on its wall. And it's not the only one that shows up during the first season. I didn't like this episode too much since it was just a self-serving pat on the back from Kevin Wiliamson to himself. This is the DEFINITION of a filler episode.

12) Beauty Contest - For separate reasons, Pacey and Joey enter a local beauty contest, which leads to Dawson finally seeing Joey in a different light, while Jen begins to regret her breakup with Dawson.

I totally loved how everyone started regretting prior decisions here. Dawson started to look at Joey different, Jen started to see Dawson look at Joey that way and regretted helping her and wanted Dawson back. I swear real life works out JUST LIKE THAT. We also get some more of Joey's self-loathing and flipping on the "psycho bitch" switch at a moments notice to trip on her friends. When she starts getting down on herself and how horrible her life is, look out. You do NOT want to be in the way.

13) Decisions - This episode (which was the season finale) goes all out in an attempt to evoke as much emotion from the viewer as possible, as Jen’s grandfather’s fate is finally sealed, Dawson escorts Joey (who is contemplating on leaving for France for a semester) as she visits her father in prison, and the two finally confront their true feelings for each other.

Can you beat me over the head with the proverbial sledgehammer of plot here or what? The show opens with Dawson and Joey discussing the classic television device, The Cliffhanger. Will Joey go to France? Will Dawson get back with Jen or tell Joey how he feels about her and convince her to stay? In an EXTRA CORNY moment, Joey travels for HOURS to meet her inprisoned father to have a heart-to-heart after nearly 3 years without communication and what does her father say to her? Basically, he's used as a voice of reason to spur Joey into action regarding her romantic interest in Dawson. Huh? A father/daughter prison reunion and the only thing on his mind is his daughter's crush? That felt forced and out of place.

At any rate, Williamson himself says the first season is basically about romance and one huge question: Will Dawson and Joey kiss? You get your answer in the season finale/cliffhanger.

Technical Details:

The set is shown in full-frame 1.33:1 ratio and from what I’ve heard, everything is quite compressed. My main complaint about the quality is the transfer just isn’t very good on some of the episodes. While most of the episodes are pretty good and only feature some minor grain in the picture, a couple of the episodes (namely Detention and Decisions) just look like crap. It’s still better than what you’ll get on TV, but when it comes to DVD, you shouldn’t feel grateful for that, as it’s expected. The sound seems fine to me and for a show like this, sounds isn’t the most important thing in the world, since there aren’t any explosions are shoot-outs that you’d want top-notch sound for. The menus are all still and basically the same, which isn’t a bad thing, as they all look pretty sharp.

The Perks:

There isn’t a wealth of extras here, but considering it’s from Columbia Tristar, I guess we should be happy, as most of their other TV sets have been totally barebones. Here, we have a nice little helping of extras which include:

- Audio Commentary by Paul Stupin and Kevin Williamson: Audio commentaries have always been a favorite of mine and I’m glad to see they gave it some effort here. We only get two audio commentaries for the set though, as Stupin and Williamson team up to take on Pilot and Decisions. Both tracks are very informative and fun to listen to, which just makes you wish they had gone the extra yard and given us some more commentaries on other episodes in the set. We’ll take what we can get here though, I suppose. Among other interesting tidbits, Williamson mentions shooting a decapitation scene on his 8mm in his backyard as a young kid (just like the scene they shoot for Dawson’s movie in Dance) and goes on to add that his mother recently found the footage. One would think if they’re going to mention such a thing, that they’d add that in as an extra, as that film just screams, “DVD extra.” Those things aside, these tracks are a big thumbs up and easily the best extra in the set.

- Dawson’s Creek: From Day One retrospective featurette - This featurette clocks in at about eight minutes and is just basically Williamson and Stupin discussing the casting process for the show. Not much of note here, although it is fairly interesting.

- Season One Time Capsule - Another small piece that runs seven minutes and shows interviews and clips from the first season, which is fun stuff to watch as it’s all from when the show was just starting out and no one knew it would become such a hit.

- Trailers - In an extra that I could’ve lived without, we get trailers for Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Go, Dick, and Lone Star State of Mind.

The Bottom Line:

Hey, what can I say? If you’re a fan of the show in any capacity, then you need to run out and plunk down the cash for this set. While it’s supposedly retailing for $39.99, it can be found pretty much anywhere for under $30.00, which isn’t bad at all when you consider how great the stuff on here is. It doesn't matter how weak the past couple of seasons have been, this set comes from a time when the series was all that and a bag of chips. Even if you’ve never watched the show too closely, this is certainly a set that you should check out, as I’ve seen many “non-believers” get hooked on this show right away once they get the asinine “it’s just a stupid teen drama for girls” notion out of their head. If this set doesn’t settle your Dawson fix, then fear not, as TBS recently picked up the show and has been airing mini-marathons from 8-12 P.M. weekday mornings and will be adding it to their regular schedule once they run through the series.

As for this set, minor picture quality issues aside, there aren’t too many TV sets out there of this quality for that kind of price. This one is a no-brainer purchase and if you’ve never seen an episode, this is the best “blind buy“ someone could ever make. So what are you waiting for? You've got Bruiser Chong's Bruise of Approval for this one.

Like Bruiser, I have to say that if you don't another season of the show, this is THE one to run out and put your $27.99 down for. I don't watch the show currently, but if the show ended after Season One, I would've been perfectly content. It pretty much covers everything you care about in these particular 3 months of these 15 year olds lives (despite the abrupt ending to the Pacey/Tamara story. Maybe it was pressure from the network or sensors. Still, it ended almost realistically enough, just too soon). There have been coming of age movies that have covered much less. Season One has the perfect ending and honestly you could just leave the rest up to your imagination. Season One is, in a word, PERFECT. The writing, acting and direction was clicking on all cylinders and did it for 13 straight episodes. That's an awesome feat. One worthy of owning and seeing for yourself. You will NOT be disappointed. Any opportunity to relive even a fraction of your youth should NOT be passed up.

Big up to Bruiser Chong and I'll see you soon!


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