PHOTO: COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT.
Earlier today NBC Universal announced the shutdown of long-running sites, Daily Candy and Television Without Pity. While both sites have loyal followings, the loss of Daily Candy came as the biggest surprise. But, in my opinion, the greatest loss is Television Without Pity — or rather, Dawson's Wrap.
Before TWoP existed in its current incarnation, before it was even Mighty Big TV, it began as a blog called Dawson's Wrap. Founded in 1998 by Sarah D. Bunting, Tara Ariano, and David T. Cole — known by their avid readership as Sars, Wing Chung, and Glark — the blog was home to some of the most innovative humor on the web. Devoted entirely to "recaps," a new form of television criticism, which, if they didn't entirely invent, then they certainly perfected. The writers recapped Dawson's Creek, then seen as a semi-scandalous teen drama on the WB network. While we early millennials all tuned in with desperate glee, the Dawson's Wrap team cut right through the earnestness and Lilith Fair soundtrack, recognizing the show for the pubescent hormone hissy fit that it was. Bunting told The New York Times that the "insidious, sexist, lazy writing had us apoplectic, not least because we're supposed to identify with a character who, on his best day, is an obnoxious, self-absorbed twit." On Dawson's Wrap, she said much the same thing — but in a way that made me crack up so loudly I was asked to leave the library.
I have no idea when I discovered the blog, or even if the word "blog" existed in my 9th grade consciousness at that time. But, by the second season of Dawson's Creek, I was heading to school early every Wednesday morning, just so I could hit the library and devour the Wrap's long-form, smart-mouthed recap. When I say long-form, I mean it. These posts went on for thousands of words, long past the attention span of today's Internet reader (and by "Internet reader," I suppose I mean "everyone on earth"). And, as I neared the end of each one, I'd consciously try to slow down, savor it, make this recap last. They had a way of targeting these beloved characters with such sharp sarcasm and wit that I found myself trying to describe the mean-but-righteous humor of these articles to my friends. It was another word I was looking for but which hadn't yet seeped into the general lexicon of the suburban 14-year-old: "snark." Another thing that, in my opinion, the Dawson's Wrap team gets both the credit and the guilt for.
PHOTO: COURTESY OF SONY PICTURES HOME ENTERTAINMENT
Sars, Wing Chung, and Glark inserted themselves lightly throughout the recap in that now-familiar tone that any good web writer does, letting us feel them as both the professional critic and the friend sitting on the couch with us as we watched these shlocky story arcs unfold. When jaw-dropping twists happened, I was equally excited for their commentary on it. When characters behaved like jerks, they not only took note of it, but raked the writers rightly over the coals. Here's an excerpt from Season One finale recap:
"Dawson says hi to Joey and, noting her distracted expression, asks whether everything's okay. Joey says, by way of answer, "How do you go about getting a passport?" Dawson chuckles — because where would Little Joey Potter From The Wrong Side Of The Creek (which is, legally, her full name) get the money or the wherewithal to travel anywhere that would require a passport? — and asks where she's going. Joey says that Mrs. Tringle (WHATEVER, Williamson!) just told her that another student just turned down a scholarship to spend the next semester in France "because she doesn't want to leave her boyfriend," and Joey was next in line for it. Jen squeals, "Dawson, isn't that amazing?" and at this juncture, she actually seems more jubilant at the honor bestowed upon Joey than she is excited about having Joey out of the picture so that she can get her hamhocks on Dawson. Dawson is momentarily stunned silent, and then busts out one of the least supportive things he could say: "Wait. Slow down. You're going to France?" Joey beams, "I don't know yet. I have two days to decide." Dawson's selfish motors are running at 5000 RPMs as he pouts, "If you did go, when would you leave?" Joey says she'd leave in two weeks. Dawson stares morosely back at her, and Joey, now that her good mood is fully deflated, slinks off, saying she'll see them later. Jen and Dawson stand silent for a moment, until Jen, a little too cheerily, says, "I definitely think she should go, DON'T YOU?" Dawson hesitates and replies, "Um. Yeah. Why not?" Jen broods. Jen, shouldn't you be a little more interested in your grandfather's sudden and pretty miraculous recovery, and a little less fixated on the prospect of (ugh) deflowering Dawson?"
I could go on about how this website became the bane of the TV industry as it grew. Aaron Sorkin personally jumped into the message boards, later writing an episode of The West Wing that directly lambasted the Internet writers that had so wryly critiqued him. But, that all came later, after Dawson's Creek faded into nostalgic late-'90s memory and the website exploded into the recap and review juggernaut it is today — but won't be after April 4. I didn't keep up with its progress after those beloved founders left, but I always clicked back to reread some my old favorite DC recaps. Frankly, this post would have gone up an hour earlier if I'd been able to pry myself away.)
Dawson's Wrap is what taught me how to hate-watch. It's what showed me that TV writing, even when it's about loathsome, cheesy teen dramas, can be great. It pointed me toward the possibility of being funny, smart, and smart-mouthed as a career. For that, I'll always be grateful. And, I'll also be binge-reading for the next eight days.