10 February 2009

Ode to Old School

Do you remember a time when TV teens weren't over the top loquacious and their conversations weren't filled with repartee and sarcasm? Probably not because the past few years have presented us with any number of TV shows starring hyper aware teen protagonists. Our current TV super teens are invariably quick of tongue, prone to emotional diarrhea disguised as self psychoanalysis, and full of witty one-liners that reference obscure pop culture. Well, there was a time when this wasn't de-rigeur. In fact, that time was pre-1998, or rather, pre-Dawson's Creek.

Over my past weekend in Seattle, I was cruising a used record store (yes, they still have those, especially in Seattle) and found myself purchasing Season One of Dawson's Creek for the low low must buy price of $15. Fifteen dollars to relive my sophomore year? Absolute steal. When Dawson's Creek came out, it was ridiculed for any number of things. James Van Der Beek's giant head, Michelle Williams' not-hot-enough hot girl, Joshua Jackson's Mighty Duck past, and well, nothing was wrong with Katie Holmes -- she's proven to be a late bloomer in the crazy department obviously.

The big controversy over Dawson's Creek was how much the fifteen year olds talked about sex. Rewatching the pilot, even I'm a bit surprised at how often the young teens are openly obsessed with the topic. I must have overlooked it because, at the time, I was more focused on Kevin Williamson's dialogue and how fast it moved. Critics said it felt unreal. They accused the writers of writing dialogue that was too articulate for teenagers; stuff the writers would have liked to say back in high school, instead of what teenagers actually sounded like.

"The vocabulary of the teens can be a bit much, so many four-syllable words; for example, in one episode, heard from Dawson, 'Is the proposition of monogamy such a Jurassic notion?' How many fifteen year olds do you know that speak like that? Add to that the fact that every situation is analyzed so minutely, far more than can be realistically expected between teen to teen, teen to adult and adult to teen."
-Television Heaven review-
As it turns out, Dawson's Creek was just leading the way for the next generation of teen soaps. It laid down the framework -- with a big nod of appreciation to 90210 -- for everything from The O.C. to Gossip Girl. Before Dawson's Creek, teens were more likely to be mumbly and stumbly on the outside, even if they were quite observant and coherent on the inside (cue Kevin Arnold, cue Angela Chase). Dawson's Creek gave teens the power of adult speech and we're all the better for it.

Well, maybe only slightly better for it. The explosion in teen-adult speak probably led us down the dark and dirty path of using friends as pseudo-therapists but hey, whatever. It's about the DDTs anyway right?

I think Dawson's Creek is actually way underrated in retrospect. I rarely ever hear it referenced as a classic, probably due to how fast interest in the show waned. I mean, after Dawson and Joey finally hooked up (and broke up, and hooked up, and broke up, etc.) there just wasn't that much to see anymore. But the show went on for six seasons, probably losing prominence with each successively melodramatic season, to the point where it started to become an automatic channel flip. But without Dawson's Creek -- and Buffy -- the WB would have probably collapsed that much sooner and a whole generation of kids would have suffered. Thanks Dawson. And what the hell are you up to these days? K.I.T.!

For the record, watching the pilot episode was a musical time warp too. Paula Cole's "I Don't Want to Wait," Sophie B. Hawkins' "As I Lay Me Down," and Chumbawamba's "I get knocked down. But I get up again. You're never going to keep me down." This may have been the best fifteen dollars I've spent so far this year.
"Girl: You party?
Jen: Party as in do I like to have a good time or party as in drink and use drugs?
Girl: It's subjective."