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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Dawson's Creek: The Complete First Season (1998)

“I'm mad at the world, Joey. I'm a teenager.”
- Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek)

Review By: Joel Cunningham   
Published: June 11, 2003

Stars: James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Joshua Jackson, Michelle Williams
Other Stars: Mary Margaret-Humes, John Wesley Shipp, Mary Beth Peil, Nina Repeta
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVDL
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality including sexual dialogue and adult situations)
Run Time: Approx. 570 min.
Release Date: April 01, 2003
UPC: 043396102392
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

I don't think it's an overstatement to say that Dawson's Creek changed the way teen-targeted TV shows are made. Other adolescent soaps (like Beverly Hills, 90210) got better ratings, but Dawson's formulas and stylistic quirks spawned more imitators. It premiered in 1998 as a mid-season replacement on the struggling WB network amid a flurry of controversy about its mature content, and it quickly became the network's most popular drama among teenage girls. Virtually every subsequent program on the WB, from the vastly superior Felicity (which perfected the formula by adding good writing) to the superhero-themed Smallville bears the mark of the Creek (likely due to the network suits pushing an already proven formula). That it is, how do you say, not very well written, did nothing to impact its popularity or entertainment value (for the first few seasons, anyway).

Created by screenwriter Kevin Williamson, the creator of the Scream franchise that made him a Hollywood hotshot for approximately 23 minutes in the late 1990s, Dawson's Creek is a high school drama that follows the life of introspective 15-year-old Dawson (James Van Der Beek) and his friends in Capeside, Massachusetts. Girl-next-door Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) has been a lifelong friend, but as they enter adolescence, their sleepovers are starting to feel a little awkward. Pacey (Joshua Jackson) is Dawson's other buddy, but Joey can't stand him. Not that he minds, because he's got a thing for his schoolteacher (their ratings-ploy romance garnered lots of media attention before the series premiered). And then there's Jen (Michelle Williams), who has moved to Capeside to live with her grandmother. Her past is shrouded in mystery, but her "bad girl" vibes attracts Dawson like an ant to a dropped M&M. She's not even a (gasp) virgin!

The writers put themselves in the unenviable position of writing a show with a title character that is extremely unlikable. Wannabe film director Dawson is theoretically the center of the show, the sympathetic, sensitive heartthrob, but he comes off more often as whiney, petulant, and big-headed. James Van Der Beek's performance doesn't help, of course. He was 20 when cast, and to play fifteen, he raises his voice an octave and adopts a permanent "woe-is-me" attitude. Also he's literally big headed (that's not a forehead, it's a fivehead!). I find the other characters much more entertaining. Joey is strong-willed and independent, her crush on Dawson notwithstanding, and Katie Holmes is suitably loveable and an offbeat beauty. Michelle Williams does a fine job, though her character is rarely given much to do in these early episodes, and Joshua Jackson, a veteran of the Mighty Ducks franchise, is polished and charismatic as wise guy Pacey (it doesn't hurt that he gets all the best lines).

Plot-wise, the show is nothing original. The more titillating elements (like the student/teacher affair) are quickly dropped in favor of standard teen fair—romances, love triangles, and lots of talk about (but very little actual) sex. Still, the show has its own unique vibe. The way the characters talk is instantly recognizable—all of them, even the purportedly dim-witted Pacey, have absurdly complex vocabularies and the ability to analyze every meaningless development in their lives in verbose detail. As a result, the "Dawson's Speak" rarely feels genuine. It's not only that normal teenagers don't talk like that; no one at all talks like that. They speak like they devoured their word-a-day calendar in one sitting and they want to test out their new vocabulary words before they forget them all. The constant self-aware self-analysis is, I suppose, a hallmark of the series, but I find it cutesy and irritating (especially when it's coming out of Van Der Beek's mouth).

Despite the fact that it's deeply flawed and I can't even say I like it all that much, I do find Dawson's Creek to be eminently watchable. The overblown plots and clunky dialogue somehow capture the awkwardness of the teenage years, and it's easy to get caught up in the soapy love triangles and angst. Proving, I suppose, that good TV doesn't necessarily need to be good.

This three-DVD set collects the 13 episodes of the first season of Dawson's Creek. Note that each episode was originally given the title of a movie with a similar plot. These titles were later changed to avoid copyright infringement.

Episode 1: Pilot
a.k.a. Emotions in Motion
Originally aired 1.20.1998

"You're just looking for conflict. Everything's a potential script to you. Accept your perfect life, Dawson." -Joey

In the first episode ever, Joey tells Dawson that she doesn't think it's cool to sleep over at his house anymore, because they are now teens and they have "more genitals." Ew. Thanks for that image, Joey. Dawson's gaze is diverted anyway when Jen duck-walks into town and captures his heart and his hormones and he instantly invites her to participate in the cheap horror movie he's filming. Meanwhile, Pacey flirts intensely with his teacher, Miss Tamara Jacobs (Leann Hurley). She even comes into the video store where he works to rent The Graduate. Aw, statutory rape is so cute. Joey finds out that Dawson's mom, a weatherperson named Gail (Mary Margaret-Humes), like we get it, is cheating on her husband (John Wesley Shipp). Not a lot of plot here, but the pilot does a good job of establishing the characters, the season arc, and the recurring framing device (each episode begins with Dawson and Joey in his bedroom).

A premiere worthy of 3.5 rowboats out of 5.

Episode 2: Dance
a.k.a. Dirty Dancing
Originally aired 1.27.1998

"I may just be fifteen, but I'm well beyond the age of accountability. Maybe not within the confines of the judicial system, but for me." -Pacey

Joey doesn't want to kiss Pacey in Dawson's movie, so he kills off her character and gives the lead to Jen. He plans to seal the deal with a kiss, so he asks his dad for smooching advice, and then practices on the fake prosthetic head from Joey's death scene. It gets ever more pathetic when Joey catches him doing it and is touched rather than repulsed. Jen gets asked to the dance by another guy, so Dawson decides to stalk her and take Joey along as cover. Dawson makes an ass of himself but still gets the girl. Joey confronts Gail about the affair. Pacey kisses Tamara. Dawson's jealously is difficult to stomach, and his kissing practice is nauseating, but the other plots move along fairly well.

My alternate title? Mannequin. 2.5 rowboats.

Episode 3: Kiss
a.k.a. A Prelude to a Kiss
Originally aired 2.3.1998

Pacey: I got a maybe kind of sort of date tonight.
Joey: Who's the lucky farm animal?

It's "Scenes from the Class Struggle in Capeside" when Joey, working at the popular dockside restaurant her sister owns, is mistaken for a customer by dreamy vacationer and rich brat Anderson (Ian Bohen). She, of course, plays along, letting him think her family is full of millionaires, and they share a touching date of sailing and rolling around on the beach. Sigh. Know-it-all Dawson helps out with the filming of "Helmets of Glory," the football movie written and directed by members of his film class. Never mind that no high school has a film class like this (many colleges don't), and that Dawson is only a sophomore—he gets to show up the director (Felicity's Scott Foley) by inventing an impromptu steady-cam. I hate him so much. After a successful day of showing off, he stages a night shoot for his film and plans a romantic kiss with Jen, but the two are interrupted by Pacey and Tamara, who make whoopee while the cameras inadvertently capture everything.

Joey, here, take these tools. Build a bridge and get over yourself. Then give them to Dawson. 3 rowboats.

Episode 4: Discovery
a.k.a. Carnal Knowledge
Originally aired 2.10.1998

"I don't think there currently exists a word to describe my reaction." -Dawson

Dawson and Joey watch his footage from the night shoot and discover Pacey and Tamara doing the deed. Pacey is desperate to get the tape back, and later jealous when Tamara seems to be flirting with Dawson's film teacher. Dawson finds out about his mom's affair when he takes a trip to her studio to edit his film and sees her kissing a co-worker, and when he finds out that Joey knew what was up, he tells her their friendship is over. Dawson and Jen get together. The Pacey storyline is kind of sweet, and Gail's infidelity allows for much drama.

"Teacher's pet… I wanna be teacher's pet…" 3 rowboats.

Disc Two:

Episode 5: Hurricane
a.k.a. Blown Away
Originally aired 2.17.1998

"Well, just for tonight can we put our rapid ascent into adulthood on hold? Please?" -Joey

A storm rages through Capeside, trapping everyone indoors. Pacey is at Tamara's house with his brother Doug and has to hide his jealously when the two hit it off. Joey and Jen's relationship issues and their respective feelings for Dawson are analyzed as they wait out the storm at Dawson's, while Dawson's father discovers Gail's infidelity. A lot happens plot-wise, but the idea that the physical storm mirrors the characters' turbulent emotional lives is just the kind of ham-handed, obvious metaphor that this show mistakes for brilliance.

Dawson's Creek is like a storm raging in your intestines. 2.5 rowboats.

Episode 6: Baby
a.k.a. Look Who's Talking
Originally aired 2.24.1998

Joey: My sister's having her baby.
Dawson: Cool, congratulations!
Joey: On your lawn.

The only thing worse than the hospital delivery scene is the "baby unexpectedly born at home scene," but this show has never been one to shy away from clichés. So when Joey's sister goes into labor, we all know that she'll be delivering the baby on Dawson's couch. In a nice subplot, the "bastard" child is helped into the world by Jen's ultra-religious grandmother (Mary Beth Piel), who disapproves of premarital sex. Speaking of, Pacey and Tamara's relationship has been whispered about around school, and she is forced to take drastic action to avoid ruining her career. The courtroom aspects of Pacey's story are poorly developed and the baby delivery is boring and populated with peripheral characters.

Poor Pacey. All he wanted was a little illegal nookie. 2 rowboats.

Episode 7: Detention
a.k.a. The Breakfast Club
Originally aired 3.3.1998

"Dawson, you're not a little Oompa Loompa anymore. You're a big, bad, manly Oompa Loompa." -Pacey

All four main characters are in Saturday detention together in this half-baked remake of The Breakfast Club. Like in the movie, instead of just doing homework or sleeping, they decide to have whacky adventures and air all of their emotional baggage. There's even a game of truth or dare that involves the much anticipated Joey/Dawson kiss. This episode is clunky and obvious, but the characters really get a chance to shine, and they have fun with their ludicrous dialogue. From a heated game of basketball to the preposterous revelation of the reason for Pacey getting detention, this is Dawson's Creek at its most odiferously cheesy.

The dumbest episode of the season. Thus, the best. 5 rowboats.

Episode 8: Boyfriend
a.k.a. Escape from New York
Originally aired 3.10.1998

Billy: You are leaving me for a guy who has a ET doll on his bed?
Jen: It's a collector's item.
Billy: It's a doll.

Though I think Jen is a fun character, I'm a little mystified by her constant talk of her shady New York past (so bad that she was banished to Capeside by her parents), particularly after this plodding spotlight episode featuring her former boyfriend Billy (Eion Bailey). Billy wants her back, and tells Dawson he isn't leaving without his girl. Dawson flares his nostrils in response. Joey gets drunk at a party but Pacey defends her honor (though she thinks it was Dawson, and even kisses him later). Jen, annoyed by Dawson's jealously and his feelings of sexual inadequacy, decides she doesn't need to be dating anyone at the moment.

Scandalous? Jen's "New York" past wouldn't raise an eyebrow in my hometown. And I'm from a small town. 2.5 rowboats.

Episode 9: Road Trip
a.k.a. In the Company of Men
Originally aired 3.17.1998

Pacey: Hey there. I'm the drummer from Pearl Jam. You?
Girl: You're dumber than who?

Billy and Dawson, both rejected by Jen, decide to go on a road trip together to a club in Providence to meet girls. Pacey tags along. Joey and Jen think the boys went to a whorehouse, and Joey is devastated by the fact that Dawson would rather sleep with a hooker than his best friend. She has other problems, though, when a jock claims he nailed her after giving her a ride home. She gets back at him by saying she's pregnant. Swift! Ever-noble Dawson has a chance to score with an older woman, but he decides to stay true to Jen. Ah, Dawson, so passive, yet so aggressive.

2.5 rowboats.

Disc Three:

Episode 10: The Scare
a.k.a. Friday the 13th
Originally aired 5.5.1998

"This reeks of Dawson." -Jen

It's Friday the 13th, and Dawson plans a scare-a-thon for his friends. "The Lady Killer," who targets teenage girls, has been spotted in the area, but the kids plan a séance anyway. Everyone arrives at Dawson's to hang out and tell scary stories, including Ursula (Jennifer McComb), whom the gang invites over after they help her escape her abusive boyfriend at the liquor store (plus, she bought them wine!). This episode is packed with dull scares and fake TV gore, and the serial killer subplot is out of left field and handled oddly. Still, moderately amusing for the character interaction.

Ha ha, it's so funny. Kevin Williamson parodies Scream. Hack. 3 rowboats.

Episode 11: Double Date
a.k.a. Modern Romance
Originally aired 4.28.1998

"Who's it going to be? Jen or Joey? Do you like the blonde or do you like the brunette? These questions are not going to go away, Dawson and it's time you provide some answers." -Pacey

After Pacey fails his science midterm, he is required to do an extra-credit project, and it is Joey's responsibility to help him out. Joey and Pacey (and Katie Holmes and Joshua Jackson) have great chemistry, and their scenes together are great. Why the writers decided to waste so much time on the lifeless Dawson/Joey relationship is beyond me. Anyway, Pacey feels something for Joey and gets Dawson's ok to pursue it. But when Dawson is again rejected by Jen, who doesn't even want to be friends with him anymore (probably because he acts like a stalker when he is around her), he reconsiders and asks Pacey not to kiss Joey. Pacey, idiot that he is, agrees. Still, a great episode for the Joey/Pacey interaction alone.

It took three seasons for Pacey and Joey to hook up… why? 4 rowboats.

Episode 12: Beauty Contest
a.k.a. Pretty Woman
Originally aired 5.12.1998

"When guys look at you, they think 'Wow, what a babe!' When they look at me, they think 'Wow! She's really tall!'" -Joey

Joey and Jen become friends and enter a beauty pageant together, competing for a $5000 prize. Dawson gets the chance to cover the event for a local TV network. Pacey ends up entering too, because he wants the cash so he can move away from home. Jen teaches Joey all the usual girly stuff (she even walks with a book on her head… sigh), but she gets jealous when she sees how beautiful Joey looks on the big night, particularly after Joey sings "On My Own" and Dawson is obviously enchanted. Joey turns him down when he asks her out because she wants him to like her for who she is, not because of a fancy dress. Jen tries to get back together with Dawson, but he blows her off. Pacey, sadly, does not win the competition.

Poor, tall Joey. I'll date you. 4 rowboats.

Episode 13: Decisions
a.k.a. Breaking Away
Originally aired 5.19.1998

"Do you really love me, though? Because I'm 15 years old and I go through every day of my life thinking nobody loves me." -Joey

The episode begins with Joey and Dawson mocking a TV show's season ending cliffhanger, so we know that this is the Creek's anvil-icious way of letting us know what we're about to see. Dawson and Joey's relationship comes to a head (no pun intended) after they visit her father in prison. Joey is too upset and leaves, but Dawson stays and tells her father about her. The next day, Pacey convinces her to go back and see him, and when she does, her father tells her that Dawson obviously cares for her. Except she is going to Paris for the summer on a school trip, and she has to decide whether to go or not, and whether to act on her emotions. The Dawson/Joey pairing has been hinted at all season, but it feels awfully abrupt as it plays out, likely because the writers tried to give the show some closure if it didn't get picked up for another season. Thus, we get a non-cliffhanger cliffhanger, and we have to watch Dawson kiss again. Sigh.

Smooch! 4 rowboats for the season finale.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The first season of Dawson's Creek was fairly low budget, and that shows in the video transfer, but there are some problems here that don’t have anything to do with cheap film stock. Many of the episodes look fairly good at a glance, particularly in the brighter scenes, but a closer look reveals some annoying issues. The show is shot on film but edited on video (to save money), and as a result, episodes are a little soft and hazy, and the colors are natural, but they tend to smear and blur. Darker scenes are problematic throughout, showing increased grain and only fair shadow detail. There is some slight digital breakup visible in many darker scenes as well.

Disc Two is particularly bad because it includes five episodes instead of four, and instead of breaking the extra one up between layers, Columbia TriStar has elected to mash three full episodes onto a single layer. Episode 7, Detention is particularly rough, showing drastically increased grain and some artifacting. Overall, this show looks perhaps as good as it would over the average cable connection, but it isn’t great, and not up to the usual standards for recent TV on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: C


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishno

Audio Transfer Review: The audio fares a bit better than the video—these are nice tracks, considering the source. Dialogue is presented clearly, anchored in the center with only a bit of bleeding into the mains. The oft-heard pop songs on the soundtrack sound great in 2.0 and really fill out the main soundstage. The rears are more or less silent throughout, though, and the front mains don't feature much in the way of directionality. Still, an enjoyable enough presentation for a dialogue based series.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 26 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle, Go, Dick, Lone Star State of Mind
2 Featurette(s)
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by executive producers Kevin Williamson and Paul Stupin for Pilot and Decisions
Weblink/DVD-ROM Material
Packaging: Four fold case
Picture Disc
3 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Columbia TriStar has included some nice features with this release, putting them somewhere in the middle when it comes to quality of TV boxed sets. The set isn't as nice as those from Fox, with their featurettes and deleted scenes, but it's better than the overpriced, bare-bones releases from Buena Vista.

Series creator Kevin Williamson sits down with executive producer Paul Stupin for commentaries for the first and last episodes of the series. They are very informative tracks, revealing much about the development of the show, the casting process, and the huge reaction it got when it premiered in 1998. His last few movies have flopped, and Dawson's is now off the air, so it is interesting to hear Kevin's perspective on his former darling (he left the show at the end of Season Two and returned to write the finale). A fun listen for series fans.

Two featurettes are also included, though neither is very substantial. The newly produced Dawson's Creek: From Day One promises to be the first installment of a series that will hopefully run throughout the six season releases. It's basically another chat with Williamson and Stupin, edited together with some old on-set footage. Not a bad piece, but at eight minutes, it's fairly superficial. The impressively titled Dawson's Creek Season One Time Capsule is just a seven-minute EPK featuring bland promo interviews with the cast. Want to see Katie Holmes describe Joey? Want to confirm that, yes, James Van Der Beek's hairline is receding, but his forehead was always that big? This is the featurette for you.

Disc One also includes a few promo spots. Aside from the trailer for the new Charlie's Angels flick, Full Throttle, there are spots for Dick (with Michelle Williams), Go (with Katie Holmes), and the direct-to-video A Lone Star State of Mind (with Joshua Jackson).

On the technical side, each episode includes only two chapter stops (though thankfully the break is right after the theme song, so you don't need to listen to Paula Cole slaughtering kittens every time), and an odd assortment of subtitles including English, Spanish, Portuguese, and Korean.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

Dawson's Creek is the perfect show for teens. It's full of melodramatic plotting, intense emotions, and wild hormones, and in retrospect, it all seems a little stupid. Just like being a teenager. Columbia TriStar's season set leaves much to be desired in terms of video quality and extras, but the price is low enough (around $25 on-line) that you can afford to relive your most embarrassing moments. Especially if your most embarrassing moments include actually watching Dawson's Creek


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