Image B Sound B+
"The Bostonians," "The Lost Weekend," "Capeside Revisited," The Long Goodbye," "Use Your Disillusion," "High Anxiety," "Text, Lies, and Videotape," "Hotel New Hampshire," "Four Scary Stories," "Appetite for Destruction," "Something Wild," "Sleeping Arrangements," "Something Wilder," "Guerilla Filmmaking," "Downtown Crossing," "In a Lonely Place," "Highway to Hell," "Cigarette Burns," "100 Light Years From Home," "Separate Ways (Worlds Apart)," "After Hours," "The Abby," "Swan Song"
by Bill Chambers SPOILER WARNING IN EFFECT. A little over a month ago I had all of my wisdom teeth plus their four adjacent molars extracted, and I honestly can't decide what I'd prefer: going through that ordeal again, or suffering the fifth season of "Dawson's Creek" a third time. This, friends, is where the shameless apologist who reviewed seasons one through four for this site throws up his hands in defeat--I got nothin'. Interestingly, the series predicted its own fall from grace the previous year by having Joey (Katie Holmes) deliver one of the show's trademark po-mo diatribes:
Maybe I'll just go to one of those fictional colleges. You know, like the ones on those lame high school TV shows that go on for way too long. And then, just in time to save the franchise, all of a sudden it turns out there's this amazing world-class college that's right around the corner where all the principal characters are accepted.
It's hard to say whether the powers-that-be were striving for self-flagellation there or genuinely hoping to pre-empt a cliché, but how clumsily ironic that three of Capeside High's graduating class of 2001 would be accepted into institutes of higher learning a hop, skip, and a jump away from their old stomping ground and the rest would follow. That they're each satellites orbiting Joey instead of Dawson is another misstep that was foreshadowed in the fourth season, albeit one with an airtight, double-barrelled rationale: When your demographic is mostly comprised of teenage girls, it makes sense to lean on the female lead--and because Holmes has always been poised for bigger stardom than co-star James Van Der Beek, it would seem prudent to flaunt her for posterity's sake. Still, despite my embarrassingly well-documented predilection for Tom Cruise's latest beard, I can't abide Joey's ascension of the ranks: from the standpoint of a Holmes fan, it's simply too much of a good thing; and from the standpoint of a "Dawson's Creek", er, connoisseur, it throws the character's essential passive-aggressiveness--probably the least enticing quality a protagonist can possess--into abrupt relief. Aggravating matters, the writers turn every episode into a Joey love-in, and the equal and opposite reaction of the editing room credo "cut to Katie" going from stopgap to ethic is that Joey's moments of angst become princess-and-the-pea-isms, however valid they might be from a narrative standpoint.
This is the season that contains the single-worst episode in the show's history, "Downtown Crossing" (5.15), perhaps not coincidentally the only hour of "Dawson's Creek" that features none of the regular cast members except, drumroll, Ms. Holmes. Words cannot convey the execrable nature of this Sweeps ploy, wherein Joey is robbed at an ATM by a hilariously loquacious mugger (Samuel Ball, writing large that guy in L.A. Story who says, "Hi, I'm Bob, I'll be your robber for this evening") struck by an automobile during his getaway. As he lay dying (apologies to Faulkner), Joey learns all about his wife and daughter and decides to spend the night at the hospital with him so he can bask in her moral superiority. In fairness, "Downtown Crossing" has a solid Freudian foundation (Joey's father is in prison, meaning she feels at once protective and resentful of the criminal element), and its premise would probably work well as an A-plot, but its "Very Special 'Dawson's Creek'" affectations demand contexts great and small that are nowhere in evidence: the episode that directly precedes this one, ostensibly part one of two, was about commotion on the set of Dawson's student film, while the ostensibly tragic outcome of the hold-up has nary a half-life on the show. Between our heroine's kickboxing moves, her relentless wisecracking, and the fact that she serenades her would-be attacker to sleep with The Carpenters' "Close to You," I fear that "Joey's mugging" serves as a damningly comprehensive summary of this series low point.
Were that not merely the tip of the iceberg. Best described as skin-crawling, the season has mascots in new cast members Busy Philipps, Chad Michael Murray, and Ken Marino. Philipps migrated to "Dawson's Creek" following the unjust cancellation of "Freaks and Geeks", and although teenybopperish Murray immediately cancelled-out the street cred she brought to the show, it was only a matter of time. Given a paint-by-numbers character to play, Philipps's limited palette of petulant colours gets the better of her--she all too effortlessly fills the "shrill peroxide blonde" slot left vacant by Meredith Monroe. Meanwhile, it's apropos, though no less dubious, that the itch to molest androgynous Charlie (Murray) spreads from Jen (Michelle Williams) to Joey's roommate, Audrey (Philipps), to Joey proper in Murray's 12-episode tour of duty, since the WB staple ("Gilmore Girls" and "Dawson's Creek" stints led to his starring role on the network's "One Tree Hill") has all the charm of a yeast infection. And what of Marino? Fans nicknamed his Professor Wilder "Professor Creepy" for a reason: One of the many "Dawson's Creek" alumni inexplicably compelled to greet Joey Potter by her full name*, he's Joey's openly flirtatious English instructor, the kind of guy to whom "freshman" is a malapropism for "fresh meat." For a show that never lets someone get drunk without a hangover, the producers are remarkably lax when it comes to Wilder's thinly-veiled chops-licking and the romantic signals Joey sends out to him--but then, the real reason we shrink from this potential coupling is not so much the hovering spectre of "Oleanna" as Marino's thoroughly concealed humanity. I kept waiting for Joey to uncover a pod carcass in Wilder's upstairs closet.
If this were a CHICAGO READER review, would the headline contain one of their patented "has redeeming facet"s? Possibly. Dawson's brief fling with Jen following the distasteful death of his father (see review of "Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale") is gratifying for proving the wisdom of the first and second seasons' writers in keeping them apart, and his subsequent one-night stand with the film critic (Natty Gann herself, Meredith Salenger) for the Boston Weekly is a barrel of admittedly esoteric laughs as Dawson dismisses Todd Solondz's Storytelling (from which Van Der Beek was cut) and the reviewer's trite philosophies come to the fore. (On a related note, the new boyfriend of Dawson's widowed mother agitates Dawson by soliciting his opinion on "that Matrix movie"--a well-observed passage that demonstrates how frustrating it is for cinephiles to have as their passion the only democratized artform.) Likewise, the storyline that finds Jack (Kerr Smith) joining a fraternity trying to liberalize its image by pledging a gay brother is fitfully inspired, especially as the emphasis shifts from Jack's hearty partying to the repressed sexuality that manifests itself as homophobia within the frat house.
Alas, the old adage "a stopped clock is right twice a day" bears repeating here, as none of this is enough to counterbalance the direness of the whole shooting match. All things considered, I think the biggest problem with season five may be its revisionist tendency to treat everyone, not just Joey, as casually superhuman: overnight, 19-year-old Pacey is transformed into a master chef with unparalleled people skills; Dawson enrols in a film program and within days has shot, reshot, edited, and screened a feature film and landed an agent with it; Joey fronts a rock band (did I forget to mention that?); and Jen hands out one piece of advice on her radio show and before you know it she's a latter-day Dr. Laura. The powers-that-be may think they're at least flattering the constituents of "Dawson's Creek" or indulging their vicarious needs, but anyone who grew up with/on the series will be overcome by the noxious fumes of laziness and iconoclasm. Guilty of the worst kind of condescension, "Dawson's Creek"'s fifth season sends its ensemble hurtling over the proverbial great white with reckless abandon.
Sony presents "Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fifth Season" on DVD in a four-disc set that returns the video quality to the peak performance of season three's package. The Dolby Surround audio is, as usual, strictly functional. Reneging on an informal promise to dish the dirt about the nosedive his baby took, executive producer Paul Stupin has jumped the commentary ship, resulting in the first supplement-free release the series has seen on the format. Shame they didn't use whatever they would've paid Stupin to renew the rights to the show's theme song (Paula Cole's "I Don't Wanna Wait" is again substituted with Jann Arden's "Run Like Mad") and/or license out "Jesse's Girl" for the sake of leaving Joey's dive-bar debut intact. Disc 1 also includes "Dawson's Creek" weblinks plus previews for The Brooke Ellison Story, D.E.B.S., "Bewitched" (TV), and "The Partridge Family". Run like mad, indeed. Originally published: May 9, 2005.
*Sample Professor Creepy dialogue:
- "The problem with your story, Joey Potter, is that it ends at the very moment it should begin."
- "No, Joey Potter, I think that hush you're hearing is the silence of five people simultaneously asking themselves, 'Why didn't I think of that?'"
- "So, who gives you flip-flops, Joey Potter?"
- "You know, Joey Potter, I--I don't think I've ever met anyone like you." return
You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.