Note: As long as you avoid the song videos below, there really aren’t any Dawson’s Creek spoilers in the following.
Dawson’s Creek is my favorite television show. That’s no secret; it invariably comes up in less time than it takes to pee. My life is inextricably linked with my favorite residents of Capeside Mass. While Joey Potter spends her entire life trying to get out of Capeside, I’ve always paddled up the Creek, hoping to get marooned in an idyllic glittering small town filled with big problems and even bigger drama. Of course, if I saw Joey sailing in the other direction, I’d follow Joey and True Lovewherever it went. Because if you’ve watched the Creek, you know it’s almost laughable to think of it as anything other than Joey’s Creek.
My first exposure to Dawson I wouldn’t really associate with the show until years later, and that came in the form of Kevin Smith’s Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back. The film bowed in 2001, smack dab in the middle of the WB show’s prime, at the apex of the Joey/Dawson/Pacey love triangle. I was oblivious to the whole thing, but I remember loving this scene, because Jason Biggs is shit on and that’s one of the best things the world offers. A cocky Beek, an attitude that would prove foreign throughout all six seasons of the Kevin Williamson melodrama, rightfully asserts to the Pie Fucker: “You wouldn’t last a day on the Creek!”
I’ve lasted 10 years on Dawson’s Creek, a show that has changed my life.
She’s so beautiful that every time you look at her, your knees tremble, your heart melts and you know right then and there, without any reservation that there’s order and meaning to the universe. — Pacey
When I was fifteen years old and had my driver’s permit, I was driving my Dad and I to a Mariners game, where I was meeting my childhood best friend John Marsh and his father. I remember it was kind of a big deal, because I had never driven to Seattle before. I was excited, nervous, seemingly ready.
I never made it to that game. Hell, I didn’t make it three blocks from my house. I turned into an oncoming car, momentarily dazed by a blinking yellow stop light. It was one of those horrifying moments where your brain freezes; there was a glitch in the matrix, and even my Dad yelling “Nooooo!” like he was Hayden Christensen in Episode III didn’t fix it. When I finally snapped out of it, it was too late to escape. I managed to speed up and avoid a serious collision, but even so, the white car slammed into our family’s mini van.
I feverishly pulled over, shaking, and my Dad jumped out of the vehicle as nimble as I’ve ever seen him, and went to check on the other car. For a few moments, I considered the possibility that my egregious mistake had cost human lives. There’s not a worse feeling in the world, or at least I don’t want to contemplate one. I started sobbing, pausing when nearby homeowners checked in on me, having heard the noise. They assured me everything was okay, and that it likely wasn’t my fault, assuming incorrectly due to the damage to the rear end of the van.
After it was (thankfully) clear that nobody was hurt (just the cars), and insurance information was swapped, I was asked if I still wanted to go to the Mariners game. The ordeal felt like it had taken hours, but it probably spanned more or less than an episode of Friends, minus the laugh track. Did I still want to go to the ballgame? Despite a lifetime of the Mariners mostly sucking, this was the only time in my life when my answer was No. I called John, awkwardly, holding back tears and embarrassment, explaining our absence. While it wasn’t the last time I talked or hung out with John by any means (our relationship had been fractured well before this moment by his family’s move…only 10 minutes further way; it’s amazing how much a few miles meant when you were a kid), it struck me as a turning point, perhaps because I’m dramatic, and it’s natural to demarcate time based on “tragedy.”
I had had a remarkably lucky and fortunate childhood. I was a tad lonely and shy, not yet coming into my own, but other than my well-publicized failings (only broadcast in my head), nothing bad had ever happened to me. This car accident, no matter how minor, was that thing, as silly as that sounds. I already had a fragile ego and a small reserve of self-esteem, and this didn’t help matters.
Weeks later, after I had passed my driver’s test and had my official license, the DMV sent me a letter revoking it, having just heard about my “Failure to Yield” violation stemming from the accident. I had to wait another six months to get my license, dooming me to another semester on the bus at an age where that spelled social suicide.
While I initially blamed the incident on the confusing light and our recent move to a new house (a move I had been staunchly against), it wasn’t hard to see I was lying to myself. Because I am my own harshest critic (and continue to be), I decided to punish myself. The accident happened right before summer, giving me a wealth of time to do exactly that. My asinine idea? I planned to torture myself by walking and running on the treadmill (the family’s new and “exciting” purchase) every day, while forcing myself to watch what I thought was terrible TV. Enter…
Forget for a moment how prophetic my choice became; it’s pretty telling that my “punishment” was TV of any kind. I wasn’t that hard on myself after all, even if I thought I was subjecting myself to shit. I thought Dawson’s Creek fit the bill, and thanks to TBS airing what I saw as a simpering, sophomoric, trashy soap opera from 10 AM-12 PM everyday, I had a lot of ammo.
It wasn’t very long until I gave up the treadmill and retreated to my room to watch recorded Creek episodes on what became a well-worn VHS tape. If my parents ever got their hands on it, they’d have assumed I was watching the basic cable version of porn: The Man Show, The Howard Stern Show or MTV’s Undressed. That certainly happened, but I stretched this single VHS tape’s capacity to live, recording two episodes daily for several months, luckily discovering Dawson, Joey, Jen and Pacey early in their journey in discovering themselves (I was trying to do the same). I oddly felt ashamed by my growing love of the show, always pausing it when my parents came in, as if I really was watching porn.
While the pilot hooked me hopelessly (I loved the idea of these hyper-literate, smart ass high schoolers who peppered their dialogue with movie references), there are two episodes that stand out to me in the first season: “Detention,” a brilliant reconstruction of Breakfast Club, one of many episodes in the canon directly inspired by a classic movie. The other is “Beauty Contest,” where Dawson finally opens his eyes and realizes that Joey is a Goddess.
It’s also when Pacey cemented himself as Pacey; despite the overwhelming possibility that he’d end up as the town laughing stock (one of Pacey’s biggest fears), he SIGNS UP for an all-woman pageant, and then defies judgment and persecution with a wonderful speech culled from Braveheart. Along the way, he manages to make a rich bitch who loathes him want him by the end of the episode. Classic Pacey.
That Creek summer, which must’ve been 2004, came when I needed it most. It introduced me to Pacey Witter, who became something of my own personal compass. In the pilot episode, with a fresh black eye and a bruised ego (but not that bruised), Pacey notified Mrs. Jacobs (his English teacher!) defiantly and assuredly: “I’m the best sex you’ll never have,” becoming everyone’s hero. Pacey was a perpetual underdog, he was Dawson’s best friend, the sidekick, but He.Was.Better. He was a lover of women, passionate, independent, he spoke what was on his mind, he slept with his teacher, he had honor, a sense of humor, he even FROSTED HIS TIPS, he fulfilled his promises to others and perhaps more importantly, to himself. He was a cook, a businessman, a sailor, a pool shark, Braveheart. He was fearless, and blessed with a gigantic beating heart, much like the one that consistently operated out of the writer’s room.
Pacey had his faults: he had crippling self-doubt, he slept with his teacher, he had a miserable family life and no confidence in himself. He thought he was the town joke, certain that he was never going to leave Capeside, doomed to the existence of a sad townie (“You know, this town is the absolute embodiment of dull. Apart from the occasional sex scandal provided by yours truly, nothing happens here.”).
Instead, against all odds (or so the WB would have you believe), he graduated high school and sailed the world.
This was a guy who knew how to live. This was who I wanted to be.
On the other end of the spectrum was Dawson Leery, the show’s main character, and arguably, its worst. The guy’s self-centered and self-absorbed even by today’s increasing standards. He’s a whiner, a pouter, a man perpetually stuck in his Peter Pan phase, one that his idol Steven Spielberg eventually grew out of, and something that would take the entire show for Dawson to truly evolve from. Dawson doesn’t get the girl; he talks about the girl ad nausea, or ruins it, or is blind to the most beautiful, smart, funny precious girl on the planet (see Potter, Josephine). Dawson is encapsulated in an unfortunate, but no less brilliant gif, an all-timer:
But Dawson had his share of positive qualities. He was a dreamer (a Day Dream Believer?), almost relentlessly optimistic, to the point of vomit. He somehow pulled off sweater vests with white t-shirts on underneath. He was ambitious, he wanted a career in film; he wanted to be the next Steven Spielberg, and was making his own films in high school (and not just shlocky horror stuff; he made a documentary about the indomitable A.I. Brooks, a crotchety filmmaker in the Dawsonverse). He was smart, loyal, and he eventually learned to be a good friend rather than one who had to be the center of attention.
I was closer on the Dawson side of the Dawson-Pacey continuum, a disgruntled fact I couldn’t argue with, but didn’t want to admit. Now, I recognize that both have qualities that I share, and the ideal version is a combination of the two; imagine what their man-child would look like (he/she could save mankind). But at the time, I saw Dawson’s perpetual virginity as a trap I couldn’t escape from.
When applying for colleges, I was gratefully encouraged to try for as many as possible, as far or as close as I wanted. The list included my parents’ alma mater University of THE Pacific, as well as University of Washington, Syracuse University, Ithaca College, Florida State University, NYU and USC. The latter two I was wait-listed for and didn’t get in, likely because I spent too much time on comic-centric message boards of my own design and recreating whole seasons of Seattle Mariners baseball in my front lawn (I even kept stats!). I visited UOP, UW and flew to New York for the first time with my Mom, checking out Syracuse University and Ithaca College.
On the day of the deadline, I had signed my acceptance form to the University of Washington. I would be rooming with my best friend from high school, and going to school with 50 odd people from my high school class, living in a dorm fifteen to thirty minutes away from home, depending on traffic.
Then, in a moment of rare clarity, I ripped the letter up. I decided to go to Ithaca College in upstate NY. Because of my late response, I’d be living in a temporary dorm with four other random (but similarly indecisive) people, and the closest thing I had to another fellow Warrior going to school with me was a quiet Asian girl who lived up to stereotypes and went to Cornell. I never once saw her, not even at Wegman’s.
The decision quite obviously changed my life, and there’s no doubt in my mind it was the right one out of the two finalists (I question the validity of choosing Ithaca over Syracuse if only to have had sports teams to cheer for, but it had gone down to Ithaca or UW). It’d be simplifying the event, with a layer of myth making, if I said that I went to a college in the middle of nowhere across the country because that’s what Pacey would have done, and it probably isn’t even true. Pacey would’ve traveled, something I eventually emulated after college in the form of a three month long backpacking sojourn that was the best decision I’ve made alongside going to IC. But even so, this decision started a pattern in my life of doing what I wanted to do, not what was expected of me, and finding my own path. To be bold, to try new things, a constant struggle because in my heart I’m a gigantic pussy who only wants to watch TV all day. Every day, I’m trying to be more like Pacey, which is akin to a societal version of Sisyphus, but an impossibility I strive for nonetheless.
But… how could it be over? We can’t just say “I love you” for the first time and have it be over. — Dawson
It wasn’t over. Far from it.
The second time I watched Dawson’s Creek was during freshman year of college. It was early in my first semester, and I was taking a piss, or brushing my teeth, or doing whatever it is I did in the bathroom, when all of a sudden I heard the greatest theme song of all-time blaring from a dorm room. Because (surprise!), I’m a man, I was on the men’s side of the dorms, so the aural pleasures of Paula Cole, while welcome, was a startling development.
I followed the noise, and came to an open door, where, sure enough, Dawson’s Creek was playing on a rounded TV that was fashionable when the WB was. There, sitting hunched on his bed, and likely in flip-flops, was Nolan. I believe I uttered in disbelief, “Is this Dawson’s Creek?” He nodded: “You want a beer?” Nolan handed me a Keystone Light, another college love, and after that sacred ritual, we were friends. Through that chance meeting, we bonded, and because he had already befriended that side of the dorm (I was slightly exiled from door-to-door buffoonery living in the temporary lounge), met the rest of the wonderful idiots who lived on my floor.
By the end of the school year on any random weeknight, almost every dude on Clarke 2 (plus 1-2 lesbians!) could be seen watching Dawson’s Creek, drinking Keystone, with at least a few of us crying silent tears, with no judgment from any of the others.
The fellas at Clarke 2 became the best friends I would have at college, the ones that will be forever linked with my best and worst memories through all four years. The guys I lived with throughout my college career and the ones I’ll foolishly spend the next twenty years attempting to relive the glory with at increasingly awkward weddings and reunions. And while I probably would’ve met them eventually, it was Dawson’s Creek that introduced me to them.
Toward the end of Creek (season 6, episode 15, to be exact), I remembered an episode in which Joey shaves Pacey’s beard fairly vividly. At the time, I was rocking a very similar beard (I’ve taken a picture of Joshua Jackson to a barber before), and announced that after an upcoming episode I’d be shaving it off. It was all blustery pomp and circumstance, but it caught everyone’s attention. I was the only one who had seen the show (but not all of it; VHS tapes and my memory in recording the episodes were equally unreliable), so in many ways, I was the host, their guide through Capeside.
Then the scene happened:
Afterwards, I shaved. And so did everyone else, inspired by the awesomeness of that moment and a few too many beers.
While everyone loved the show to a varying degree, it was on a different level for Nolan and I. We still mark occasions with videos, songs or quotes from the Creek, and that isn’t changing any time soon. We’ll always have the Creek.
Before I continue, I just need to note the sheer number of future stars that appeared on this program (if you like to be surprised by cameos and guest stars, skip to the next paragraph). It’s insane. Jensen Ackles, Ken Marino, Scott Foley, Bianca Lawson, Jason Behr, Eion Bailey, Ali Larter, Jennifer Morrison, Virginia Madson, Eric Balfour, Jane Lynch, Ian Bohen, Christian Kane, Oliver Hudson, Monica Keena, Sasha Alexander, Taylor Handley, Seth Rogen, Melissa McBride, Sarah Lancaster, Melissa Ponzio, Julie Bowen, Sarah Shahi and Michael Pitt. It had Jonathan Lipnicki in it, for Chrissakes. The show became a proving ground for other WB shows, with its tendrils ever apparent in shows like Teen Wolf, The Walking Dead and Once Upon A Time.
Why am I doing this? Because once upon a time, we were best friends. And, yes, there’s been a lot of bad stuff in between. But none of that matters right now, okay? You need me, I’m there. Any time, any place, anywhere. — Pacey
The third time I watched Dawson’s Creek came in 2012, two years after I graduated college and a couple months after returning from my backpacking trip in Europe. I had little to no money left, but I had made up my mind somewhere along the way that when I’d get back, the first thing I’d do was buy the Dawson’s Creek boxed set. It just seemed like something I had to have, and besides, I had a friend who needed to watch it.
When I arrived back home, I had decided that I would live in Seattle for one year before finally moving to LA. I’d grown up in the city’s shadow all my life, and had even sublet a place in the University District for a month, but I had never really explored Seattle as an “adult.” I wanted to do that, as a hello and a goodbye to the city I had grown to love. A big part of that was living with Ryan, my best friend. We had lived together for one month at the aforementioned house in U-District, but both of us wanted something more permanent. We wanted a place of our own, where we could host parties and have friends over, and so we could watch Dawson’s Creek.
Ryan and I had bonded during breaks from college over Friday Night Lights, so I knew he had the sensibility and heart to truly appreciate Dawson and company, and I wanted to inhabit the role of guide once again, to jump back into a world I had been without for almost 6 years, but had never truly left me. After all, the myriad tributaries of the Creek are permanently flowing in my bloodstream.
Our first act as roommates was to establish Meatloaf Monday’s full-time, an institution that had its origins in U-District, but took on added significance and substance when we had our own place in Fremont. The night was my favorite of the week, and was oftentimes crazier than our Friday’s and Saturday’s. It was a night given to excess, a turn-back-the-clock to college night, when my friend Alex and I would hatch up unique recipes, put the loaves together, cook them, and then eat the majestic meaty molds with an eclectic and diverse group of friends every week. After we ate, things inevitably devolved into a variety of drinking games, dance parties and dessert (cookie butter and/or more meatloaf). Every night ended with a screening of an episode or three of Dawson’s Creek, complete with a drinking game we created expressly for that purpose. That wasn’t all: we had a scoreboard that kept track of the number of kisses and sexual encounters by each character, while scribbling down our favorite quotes on a busy white poster board.
It soon became clear that Ryan had a different take on Creek. He was no less involved as I, but he was Team Dawson all the way, a notion I believed to be incredulous/impossible. I’ve since met other people who shared the same viewpoint, but this difference of opinion characterized the growing schism that threatened to tear our friendship apart. We’d argue vehemently about the characters, about who deserved Joey, which was a deadly mix when copious amounts of alcohol was involved. We were vicious, personal; I’m defensive and take these things far too seriously to begin with, but it wasn’t really about Pacey and Dawson (okay, everything is about Pacey and Dawson).
We were going in different directions, and it put a strain on our relationship. I was biding time until LA, when I was going to leave Ryan and the rest of the Wolf Boyz behind, a notion as painful to me as it was to them. In the meantime, I started dating someone and my priorities shifted, not wanting to go out as much and growing tired of the rave/drug/party scene that Ryan was embroiled in. In the end, I tried to find a bullshit middle ground, which successfully pissed Ryan off, my girlfriend off, and me off, leaving me resentful, “misunderstood” and soon, single. I handled things spectacularly poorly; I was terrified of moving away, but I was also anxious and impatient to just get going with my life and the prospect of another weekend getting drunk at the same places for no reason became a gloomier and gloomier proposition. All that stress and uncertainty came lashing out, with Dawson’s Creek oftentimes as the symbolic battleground. Luckily, Ryan and I reached a mutual understanding. We talked it out, recognizing the shaky ground we were on, and I think our relationship would’ve been stronger for it, had I not moved away, becoming the John Marsh in this scenario.
Andie: You mean that you guys would rather watch a movie about something than actually doing it yourselves?
Joey, Dawson: Correct.
After we finished Dawson’s Creek, Ryan, Bryan and I devised a list of ten prospective pilots to watch, rate and through an aggregate score, decide on as our next Meatloaf Monday binge show. Beating out the likes of X-Files, Vampire Diaries and Beverly Hills 90210 was a little show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer that would also change my life, but that’s a story for another time.
Like the show itself, my association with Dawson’s Creek wasn’t always a good thing. I could’ve done without Audrey’s descent to madness, or Jack’s freefall into Frat life, or Chad Michael Murray, Jack Osbourne or most of the college years. But I also would benefit from not expecting life to be like Dawson’s Creek. I find myself enmeshed in the same dilemma that Dawson continually faced over six seasons. Life isn’t a movie or a TV show (I know, WHAT?!), but I’m that stereotypical guy who wishes it was, even though the reality of that would likely be a horrible thing. That Dawson-y part of me won’t go away. I can’t help it; I want storybook romances, I want massive declarations of love, I want life to matter, to mean something, if just a fraction of how much it means to the folks living on the Creek. I oftentimes view life as a never-ending blog post, that everything I do in a given day is something to write about, to disseminate out to strangers, that people will give a shit about my random ramblings (case in point). Dawson’s Creek is a show lauded and reviled because it’s a show with characters that talk about sex, but don’t have it. Sometimes living in hopes of writing about it, subtracts from the living part. No more.
As Paula Cole said, I don’t wanna wait, for our lives to be over.
Joey: You never look back, do you?
Pacey: Why would you look back? The future’s out there. And whatever it is, it’s gonna be great.