R29 Rewind, ’90s Teen TV Edition: Felicity Vs. Dawson’s Creek

Photo: Getty Images.
The small screen, like so many other aspects of pop culture, seems to be enamored of the '90s lately. From Full House to Twin Peaks to The X-Files to the (thankfully cancelled) Coach reboot, TV shows from our formative years are coming back with a new twist. Nostalgia is in, now and forever. But a few of those classic '90s teen shows are notably absent from the radar of network executives searching for “new” material. And, this is a good thing. Every few years, I settle down to rewatch of one of my favorite late-'90s series, Felicity. The drama premiered on September 29, 1998 on The WB, the predecessor of The CW. It launched Keri Russell out of guest-star (and former Mickey Mouse Club) obscurity and into the ranks of Golden Globe winners. Russell played a high school graduate who follows Ben (Scott Speedman), a classmate she had always admired, to college in New York City. There she meets Noel (Scott Foley) and begins a four-year love triangle, complete with the usual college antics, anxiety, and heartbreak that are synonymous with burgeoning adulthood. Though my opinion of the show's plotlines and its heroine's choices have changed over the years (I find myself agreeing with Felicity's mom more than Felicity — ack!), the series remains a lovely examination of the challenges of becoming an independent, mature grown-up. Sure, the sweaters are enormous, and the candy-colored iMacs scream "outdated technology," but the show’s issues still resonate with me as an adult viewer. The same cannot be said, however, for another WB staple that premiered the same year as Felicity: Dawson's Creek. I realize that this might be a blasphemous opinion. After all, Dawson's Creek unapologetically addressed the true-to-life sexual relationships of teens, which was a refreshing change from the WB’s Christian-themed 7th Heaven. After rewatching Felicity multiple times, I recently decided to give Dawson’s another go as well. The series follows a set of high school friends in a Cape Cod-like small town as they embark on their sophomore year. It stars James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, and Michelle Williams. I watched it obsessively as a 15-year-old, but this time, I found myself yawning when I wasn’t cringing or rolling my eyes. The characters on Dawson’s are annoying teenagers who whine about their every struggle — a drawback of the series not helped by the cast's amateurish acting. The characters all eventually find their stride (well, all but Holmes), but they can still be painful to watch today. The fact is, Dawson's Creek just doesn’t hold up. Here are five reasons why.
1. The dialogue on Dawson's is ridiculous.
Shortly after premiering, Dawson's Creek was criticized for its unrealistic teen speak. Indeed, every other word out of the characters’ 15-year-old mouths make them sound like they just left an SAT-prep course. The pilot includes Dawson spouting phrases like "mounting sexual theoretics," and Pacey describing himself as having a "thesaurus of emotions." These kids sound like pretentious phonies who love to hear themselves use big words. Meanwhile, over on Felicity, it's the characters' very struggle to articulate their emotions that makes their angst more realistic. There is, after all, the running gag that every other word on the show is, "Hey."
2. Dawson's Creek is overly concerned with creating "moments," while Felicity focuses more on feelings.
There's a scene in the pilot of Dawson's Creek when Dawson (James Van Der Beek) first meets Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams). Jen struts in slow motion across a lawn while BoDeans' "Hey Pretty Girl" plays unironically, Dawson's eyes following her every move. Dawson's Creek luxuriates in these manufactured moments every episode, as if trying to capture the blurry-eyed emotional replay of teens’ minds. Which is great and all, but they feel like calculated plays to sell soundtracks. Felicity, on the other hand, does not depend on visual or musical cues to convey characters’ emotions.
3. Felicity is actually concerned with how its characters do in school.
In the entirety of Dawson's Creek, the only plotlines dealing with academics are allusions to Joey being super smart, Pacey being a bit dumb, and Dawson being really into film class. There is a great episode in season 2 called "The All Nighter," where the gang decides to cram for a difficult English test, but most of the episode focuses on a tense game of Truth or Dare. I know what you're thinking: Schoolwork and studying don't make for good TV, right? Wrong! Felicity manages to make schoolwork interesting. From Elena's (Tangi Miller) hilarious method of studying with M&Ms to Felicity's back and forth between committing to pre-med or art to various cheating plots, Felicity manages to include the college part of college without making it dull.
4. Season 2 hair mistakes: Felicity's cut vs. Pacey's frosted tips.

History may blame Keri Russell's pixie cut for Felicity's ratings dip in season 2, but looking back, it's actually quite chic. Compared to Joshua Jackson's trendy '90s dye job, it's no contest. Exhibit A:
Photos: Everett Collection.
5. The student-teacher relationship on Dawson's Creek is way grosser than the one on Felicity.
Felicity's driven fellow pre-med friend, Elena, engages in an inappropriate relationship with her professor, Dr. McGrath (Chris Sarandon), but at least she's 18 and can make her own (poor) decisions. The affair in Dawson's Creek is just gross. A 15-year-old Pacey pursues the almost 40-year-old Tamara Jacobs (Leann Hunley), and at first it seems like their flirtations are going to be just that. But Pacey's truly cringe-inducing "best sex you'll never have" speech, which is often cited as a highlight of the series, pushes the relationship into skeevy territory. If that’s not proof enough that Dawson’s is inferior to Felicity, all I can say is… "Hey."

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