Image B+ Sound B+ Extras B-
"The Kiss", "Crossroads", "Alternative Lifestyles", "Tamara's Return", "Full Moon Rising", "The Dance", "The All-Nighter", "The Reluctant Hero", "The Election", "High Risk Behavior", "Sex, She Wrote," "Uncharted Waters", "His Leading Lady", "To Be or Not to Be...", "...That is the Question", "Be Careful What You Wish For", "Psychic Friends", "A Perfect Wedding", "Abby Morgan, Rest in Peace", "Reunited", "Ch...Ch...Ch...Changes", "Parental Discretion Advised"
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. In striving for an original approach to reviewing the sophomore year of a show for which there are already umpteen online episode guides at one's disposal, I've decided to take inventory of "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Second Season"'s seven major players. A series driven by personalities, if far from light on incident, "Dawson's Creek", as executive producer Paul Stupin says in his DVD commentary for the season finale (or is it the premiere?), hit pay dirt with its core ensemble, so let's examine how their roles evolved beyond the preliminary 13-episode run--and meet a couple of interlopers while we're at it.
Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek)
The self-absorbed innocent of season one is martyred in season two as Joey wriggles free from their impending romance, Dad (the incidentally hilarious musclehead John Wesley Shipp) puts forth a miniscule effort to save his formerly idyllic marriage, and Jen milks attention from him with zero regard for his preoccupations. Can be annoying and sympathetic in equal measure, often within the same episode: If Dawson's lament about not having accomplished anything at 16 grates on the nerves, it's only because he is indeed the least upwardly mobile member of his inner circle, someone so unadaptable to environmental change that we share his frustration with the cosmos, i.e., the writers of this show. Dawson's drunken tirade (after ludicrously asking Andie to clarify the meaning of "id"--c'mon, he'd mastered Freud 101 by then) against the revellers at his own sweet-sixteen ("Be Careful What You Wish For" (2.16)) is entirely justified; that it results in Mom and Dad deciding he's too young to drive an SUV and Joey smugly "forgiving" him for allowing her unrelenting emotional abuse to affect his mood is symptomatic of a misguided didacticism that can overtake the conscience of "Dawson's Creek" when social lubricants are involved.
Joey Potter (Katie Holmes)
Regular readers of FILM FREAK CENTRAL may know of my weakness for all things Katie Holmes, but the second season of "Dawson's Creek" makes a Holmes fan feel like Job. First, a chronological gaffe: At the end of last season's finale, Joey was in the midst of deciding whether to go to France for the summer, and at the beginning of episode 2.1, "The Kiss", she declines the trip--yet the schoolyear continues apace, all the way into winter, with nary a justification for the temporal blip. Already a harbinger for things awry, then, Joey infuriates us--infuriates me--by dumping Dawson to find herself--code, as any spurned chap will tell you, for the urge to sow one's wild oats. Into Jack's arms she vaults (who's Jack? See below), provoking Dawson to exorcise his break-up pangs through an autobiographical screenplay (oddly, the only kind that series creator Kevin Williamson can imagine someone writing), provoking much selfish bellyaching from Joey in return on the eventual set of this magnum opus. (In which the beatific but vacuous Rachael Leigh Cook plays her alter ego.) Holmes blossoms as a woman over the course of this 22-episode run (a side-by-side comparison of her physical appearance in "The Kiss" (2.1) and "Parental Discretion Advised" (2.22), the season finale, proves revelatory), but you get the sense that she's resentful of her character's nebulous motivations: she dispenses the crueller dialogue as if the aroma of manure is lingering in the air. While I won't deny that the Dawson-Joey entanglements hit somewhat close to home in season two, it doesn't validate the asininity of it all by any means.
Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson)
Kicking off the season with a brief continuation of the charade that Pacey and Dawson are best friends, the show-runners flail and grasp to furnish Pacey with a better sparring partner. Intended also to spur the class joker towards self-improvement, shrill girlfriend Andie (see below) instead provides the sound effects for a man being whipped. Nevertheless, Jackson, not yet hulking and vainglorious, seizes redemptive moments for Pacey by investing in scorching duets with elder cast members Edmund J. Kearney (as an endemically barbaric Capeside teacher) and John Finn (as Pacey's Great Santini-esque father).
Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams)
Carries a torch for the unavailable Dawson, setting her on a self-destructive path exemplified by an atrocious new 'do. Remembering that her parents tried to put a stop to Jen's wild-child behaviour back in New York by dispatching her to the Capeside home of her Christian grandmother (Mary Beth Peil), it's the old leopard-can't-change-its-spots gambit, but Williams is more engaging in this context than she was as the wise blonde crowbar in season one, and she's rewarded for braving a creepy finger-cuffs scenario with the most subversive action of the season: a nice long upchuck on a white picket fence. Grams thinks she's found the antidote for Jen's hedonism in Ty (the flawlessly cast Eddie Mills), a delivery boy with apple-pie handsomeness and an allegiance to the Holy Book. Williams's face as it dawns on Jen that Ty has suckered her into attending a prayer group is an inspired bit of underplaying, and it might be the first time we simply intuit the feelings of Jen, a character generally overreliant on exposition.
Andie McPhee (Meredith Monroe)
Face like a Cubist painting of Claire Danes. Meets-cute love interest Pacey through a fender-bender. Slowly reveals herself to be valedictorian material both incapable of remembering the agreed-upon meeting place for her first date with Pacey and as crazy as a soup sandwich. Moved to Capeside from Rhode Island with her brother Jack after her other brother Tim died; Mom deals with grief by keeping Tim as an imaginary friend while Dad (David Dukes--not the Klansman) stayed put in RI. (With such a convoluted backstory, it's no wonder Andie's insane.) The one thing you can say for Monroe is that she's a vivid pollutant on the show, a heretofore-unidentified class of annoying--if this is indeed a performance, give her an Emmy retroactively, though her cute façade is a repellent, transparent mask for hostile undercurrents from the start, which, initial impressions what they are, probably explains why Monroe effectively became the show's McLean Stevenson once she left it for good. (Subsequent credits include indie detritus like New Best Friend and a voiceover gig in Minority Report.) Absent for the season finale, she is not missed. Joining the cast at 28, Monroe was, incidentally, the oldest actor to play a teenager on the series.
Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith)
Andie's brother. Swoons over Joey, eventually seducing her away from Dawson (Joey's side of the story would surely differ) and posing nude for her sub-Titanic quality still-life. Protests too much when accused of revealing his inner queer with a poem for English class, but goes from homophobe to Holmesophobe through the inadvertent reverse psychology of his father, who orders him to climb back in the closet and turn out the lights for the sake of the McPhee family name--which has been dragged through the mud enough by mother and daughter's mutual cuckoo's-nesting. The Williamson-scripted coming-out episode, "...That Is the Question" (2.15), is easily the most sensitive in the show's history; Williamson departed the series soon after throwing it this political curveball, and while his successors didn't always handle Jack's sexual orientation with Williamson's savvy, Smith's portrayal maintained a respectful dignity that condescended to no one. Jack is the anti-"Will & Grace" (homosexuality's answer to a good ol' fashioned minstrel show), a gently human creation in a prime-time wasteland of flaming stereotypes.
Abby Morgan (Monica Keena)
Resident Bitch. Strangely adorable, especially with her hair all Björk'd-out. Adept at sussing out potential drinking buddies, thus begins the season by befriending Jen--and ends it in a watery grave, having taken an inebriated walk off a short pier. (That would be a major spoiler were the telltale episode not entitled "Abby Morgan, Rest in Peace" (2.19).) Master manipulator: in "Sex, She Wrote" (2.11), Abby and her male counterpart, Chris Wolfe (Jason Behr, whose Alfred E. Neuman countenance went on to anchor "Roswell"), use an anonymous love letter in a parlour game to determine which of Capeside High's power couples--Dawson and Jen, Joey and Jack, or Pacey and Andie--slept together the night before. Here and in "The Election" (2.9), Abby's spite is over-the-top, though the unbridled masochism of her peers would transform the least meddlesome of teenaged girls into a mini-Mengele: Perhaps in solidarity with the viewing audience, Dawson and co. sit and take whatever she dishes out like businessmen on a lunchbreak at Mistress Ruby's. Since Andie is the only one who ever winds up scarred by Abby's head games, hey, all in good fun.
Columbia TriStar's DVD release of "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Second Season" cuts the usual corners for a TV collection from the studio. Although the 1.33:1 transfers herein exhibit far less grain than the first season's DVD masters (attributable, unless I'm mistaken, to the show switching from 16mm to 35mm in its second year), compression artifacts abound--something predestined with 22 episodes allocated among a paltry four platters. (That's just one more disc than the previous season--which had nine fewer episodes--was allotted.) The Dolby Surround mixes are crystal clear across-the-board but otherwise undistinguished, while the aforementioned Stupin contributes optional yak-tracks to "The Kiss" (2.1) and "Parental Discretion Advised" (2.22). Williamson, his commentary partner on three episodes to date, is sorely missed: the hair-obsessed Stupin struggles to get a rhythm going and prefaces hindsight criticisms or benign gossip in an overly punctilious manner. (It's amusing to learn, however, that the quick fix for editing problems was "cut to Katie.") Trailers for Charlie's Angels: Full Throttle, Go, Dick, and Lone Star State of Mind round out the set, while an episode brochure and a $5 rebate coupon come tucked inside the gatefold packaging. Originally published: December 18, 2003.