When I think about some of the garbage I used to watch on television during my formative years, it's a wonder I'm a productive member of society.
As an elementary school student, I loved wholesome shows like Full House and the entire TGIF lineup, but once I hit middle school, my taste in TV turned real trashy, real fast — tabloid talk shows like The Jenny Jones Show, The Ricki Lake Show, and Montell became my after-school entertainment. Each episode had a provocative title — "I was born to be a stripper!" "They say they're gold diggers, and proud of it!" "I'm 13 and want a baby by 14!" "He's two-timing his girlfriend with her sister!" — and I got away with tuning in because I had a television in my room and I purposely kept the volume low.
I had absolutely no business watching any of these programs, but luckily for the world, I wasn't picking up any tips from the out-of-control kids in need of boot camp or any of the other sensational guests. In fact, I often dutifully did my homework while chanting, "Go Ricki! Go Ricki!" I watched because I was fascinated by these train wrecks, and my friends and I loved talking the next day at school about whatever debauchery we had witnessed.
My tastes did evolve once I hit the ninth grade, and I started faithfully watching the latest teen dramas. Beverly Hills, 90210, was starting to wind down, but a new show that alarmed parents started in 1998: Dawson's Creek. These fast-talking teens from Capeside jumped from relationship to relationship and had parents in jail (Joey), parents who cheated on their spouses (Dawson), and parents who treated them terribly (Pacey and Jen). I remember there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the fact that they talked about sex, had risqué conversations, and used big words, but until a few weeks ago, I couldn't recall much else about the show.
Then my life changed for the better when I discovered that Dawson's Creek reruns air on the Pop network.
Pop runs two episodes of Dawson's Creek every weekday, and I have been recording each one and binging when I have the time. Past storylines are coming back to me, and I'm having so much fun watching the show through older eyes. For a few brief moments every episode, I forget that it's now 2017, not 1998. The past few years have been hard — we went through a bruising presidential election, the crisis in Syria continues to grind on, North Korea can't stop launching missiles, and climate change is causing a global famine. Can you blame me for taking solace in reruns of a show from a much simpler time, when the hardest decision I faced was which shirt to ask my mom to buy me from the Delia's catalog, or what to put as my away message on AIM?
You were either pro-Dawson (James Van Der Beek) or pro-Pacey (Josh Jackson), his best friend. All these years later, I am still as firmly in the anti-Dawson camp as I was back then. Pacey is charming and funny; Dawson whines and takes himself too seriously. Even his hair manages to be annoying — how can something be both floppy and poofy at the same time? He belongs in the creek. The only truly great thing Dawson ever did was make this goofy crying face that turned into a meme and cracks me up every time I see it.
It's probably hard for teenagers today to imagine this was once the most controversial show on television, but the characters really did push the envelope — Pacey had an affair with his teacher, for heaven's sake — and it was groundbreaking when Jack (Kerr Smith) shared an intense kiss with his boyfriend. While watching now, it's actually somewhat difficult for me to remember that this was all a big deal at the time; society has moved forward so much in the last two decades, and most young people today wouldn't bat an eye at this display of affection. In that respect, it's a really nice reminder of how some things have changed for the better.
But, my adult perspective can also see there are some storylines that could have been handled with more grace — Andie's (Meredith Monroe) mental illness, for example. She suddenly started acting differently, dying her hair and thinking her dead older brother was telling her what to do. She then got shipped off to an institution, where she cheated on Pacey. Yes, Dawson's Creek was a soap opera for teenagers, who typically can't recite the latest edition of the DSM, but it felt like a rushed development that could have been used to enlighten and educate teens, but didn't really do either.
I'm not done revisiting Capeside yet, and I'm glad. It's an escape from the big, bad world we live in, a nostalgic distraction. There are so many current TV shows that people rave about — and my DVR does record a lot of them — but I am the opposite of a bandwagon jumper. I cling to the things I've always loved. These reruns offer a familiar diversion, and anything that can make you forget what's going on out there, even temporarily, is a blessed thing.