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The reigning Teen Drama of the late 90's/early 00's. Revolved around a bunch of teenagers who live in the small fictional town of Capeside, Massachusetts.
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The eponymous Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) is The Idealist and The Movie Buff with a long-standing platonic friendship with The Cynic Josephine "Joey" Potter (Katie Holmes), the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, whose Disappeared Dad and Missing Mom have left her and her older sister Bessie (Nina Repeta) running a restaurant by themelves. When not attending high school, Dawson works in a video-rental store with Book Dumb Bromantic Foil Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson). When the elderly Evelyn Ryan (Mary Beth Peil) ends up hosting her granddaughter, Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams), a New York Hard-Drinking Party Girl who Really Gets Around and was sent away to break her of her habits, Dawson's life gets thrown for a spin. Add to this the shaky marriage between his parents Mitch (John Wesley Shipp) and Gail (Mary Margaret Humes), and we have all the ingredients for a Coming-of-Age Story. Later additions to the starring cast include Tall, Dark, and Handsome Naïve Newcomer Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith), his Cute Bookworm sister Andie (Meredith Monroe), and Genki Girl Audrey Liddell (Busy Philipps).

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Its gimmick was to show teenagers as well-spoken individuals with vocabularies that would make Calvin dizzy, rather than resort to the usual TV teenspeak. Fans of the show praised its respectful portrayal of how teens talk and think. Others were less enthralled by the characters' habit of twisting every minor thing into a soliloquy on life's mysteries. It was also accused, especially at the time, of being obsessed with sex, though it's fairly tame today (which may or may not prove aforementioned accusers correct).

Everybody can agree on one thing, though. No other works of man, past or present, can ever top the maudlin madness of Dawson's Creek. The show inspired such passionate feelings that it indirectly spawned Television Without Pity, which was originally named "Dawson's Wrap".

Famous both for its actors being much older than their on-screen counterparts and the infamous Dawson/Joey will-they-won't-they storyline. Also a notable example of the Fan-Preferred Couple getting together in the end.

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Also has the distinction of being the final thing to ever be aired on The WB before the launch of The CW. The end credits for the pilot, in particular, were literally the last thing to be seen on The WB, not even a promo or The WB's standard Credits Pushback.


Tropes:

  • Aborted Arc: The entire first half of Season 3 was disregarded, getting only a passing mention in the finale.
  • Actor Allusion:
    • In the Season 1 episode "Detention," they're discussing the movie The Breakfast Club, and Pacey (played by Joshua Jackson, one of whose earliest roles was as Charlie Conway in The Mighty Ducks) disagrees with the others that Emilio Estevez is languishing in TV obscurity.
    Pacey: No way! Emilio Estevez, he was in those Duck movies, remember? God, those were classic. So funny!
    (Pacey laughs to himself, while the others look at him blankly.)
  • Aesop Amnesia: At the end of the Season 3 finale, Dawson gives Joey and Pacey his blessing after angrily keeping them apart for the past few episodes. Once Season 4 begins, however, he seems to have forgotten about this moment of forgiveness, as he acts frosty toward Joey and flat-out shuns Pacey for much of the season.
  • Alpha Bitch:
    • Subverted: Abby Morgan acts like a stereotypical Libby...except she isn't popular at all and has no friends whatsoever aside from her on-again, off-again friendship with Jen. Strangely enough she's briefly seen with a Girl Posse in "Be Careful What You Wish For" but later in the same episode Abby herself admits being an outcast and that no one likes her.
    • A straight example was Nellie Oleson, but even she wasn't as bitchy as the typical example (she explicitly had nothing against Dawson) and disappeared after the first few episodes.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Deputy Doug, played with until the end of the series.
  • Ascended Extra: It's believed that Jack and Andie were not meant to last past the second season originally. In later seasons, Audrey in Season 5, who was added to the opening credits the following season.
  • Author Avatar: Dawson and Joey's initial friendship was based off the (platonic) relationship Kevin Williamson and a female friend had as children. Their personalities are derived from them in part as well.
  • Backdoor Pilot: three of the last four episodes of Season 3 serve as one for Young Americans, with lead character Will Krudski dropping in.
  • Back for the Finale: Andie, though the scenes were cut in the original broadcast.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Revealed when the bickering Joey and Pacey attempt to take a ballroom-dancing class together. Both deny it. (Attention is drawn to Dawson and Jen, who are able to dance together because they trust each other despite their history.)
  • Better Than Sex: Audrey once says that the one thing she misses the most about having a boyfriend is snuggling, which is, in her view, better than sex.
  • Betty and Veronica: Dawson between Joey and Jen is the most straight example.
  • Big Applesauce: Where Jen hails from.
  • Big, Screwed-Up Family: They're not that big, but the McPhee family otherwise fit this perfectly.
  • Book Dumb: Pacey.
  • But Not Too Black: Nikki, aka Principal Green's daughter.
  • Character Blog: One of the first shows to feature character diaries on the show's official site. This allowed the fans to find out what the characters were doing during the Summer breaks. Occasionally the writers would use the diaries to hint at upcoming characters or storylines for the Fall season. During the Fall season, fans could also access e-mail conversations and online chats between the characters.
  • Character Tic: When Joey speaks she's usually shaking her head, especially at dramatic moments.
  • Closet Key: Jack for Doug, although he had to, y'know, actually reach adulthood first.
  • Cool Old Guy: Mr. Brooks, a crotchety Yacht Club member who befriends Dawson (sort of) after he steals Brooks' boat.
  • Cool Old Lady : Evelyn "Grams" Ryan.
  • Dating Do-Si-Do: Joey dated all three of the main male characters, Dawson dated Jen and Joey twice each (and would have hooked up with Andie per Word of God), Pacey dated all four girls that were in the main cast (if his friends-with-benefits deal with Jen counts), and they were trying to hook up Jack and Jen in early Season 2 before he went for Joey.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Mostly Pacey. Joey has her moments too.
    • Abby Morgan as well, she's arguably the biggest snarker.
  • Did Not Get the Girl: Dawson
  • Did They or Didn't They?: The show gets an entire episode out of this, the second half of a Season 2 two-parter in which all six mains end the first episode in situations that mandate a Sexy Discretion Shot. In the following episode, Alpha Bitch Abby Morgan and local hunk Chris Wolfe find a dropped note confirming that sex did, in fact, ensue, and Abby sets out to discover whodunnit.
  • Distant Finale: The finale took place five years after the previous episode.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Dawson perceives himself to be this.
  • Dumb and Drummer: Over the noise of a pool bar, Pacey approaches a blonde and tells her, "I'm drummer for Pearl Jam." She replies, "You're dumber than who?" He slinks away.
  • Egocentrically Religious: Barbara Johns.
  • Engineered Public Confession
  • Enter Stage Window: Joey's primary means of entering Dawson's bedroom was by scaling a ladder which was left leaning against the first-floor roof for that express purpose, and then ducking in through the always-open window. (She was not the only one — in one episode Dawson enters his room and finds Abby there, having picked the location to spy.)
  • Fag Hag: Jen for Jack.
  • Family of Choice: Jack is taken in by Jen's grandmother when he needs a place to live, even though she barely knows him. She and Jen treat him like family for the rest of the series.
  • False Rape Accusation: Andie puts one on a Romantic False Lead as part of her Operation: Jealousy attempt to get back together with Pacey.
  • Fast Forward to Reunion: How the series ends.
  • Femme Fatale : Eve, annoyingly so.
  • Four-Girl Ensemble: Season 2 has The Ingenue Andie, snarky tomboy Joey, boy-crazy Alpha Bitch Abby, and wise, experienced Jen.
  • Freudian Trio: The main trio of the show: Hot-Blooded and impulsive Pacey (Id), Smart Girl Joey (Superego) and Dawson who has aspects of both opposites sides (Ego) had this dynamic in the earlier seasons. More later as the Love Triangle progresses, wise Dawson became the Superego in constrast with the passionate Pacey (the Id) and Joey became the Ego stucked in the middle as mediator and love interest of both.
  • Friends with Benefits: Pacey and Jen at some point, or at least they tried.
  • Genki Girl: Andie, and in later seasons Audrey.
  • Girl Next Door: Zigzagged. Though the Betty and Veronica dichotomy definitely placed Jen on the wild side and Joey with the Girl Next Door personality, Jen was factually Dawson's next-door neighbor.
  • Good Bad Girl: Jen.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Zigzagged. Though Gail is initially determined to terminate her pregnancy in the 4th season on grounds of "We need money to send Dawson to college" and "We're founding our own business" and "I'm in my 40s," and the show makes it clear that she has a right to do this, she and Mitch eventually decide to keep it. In the very same episode, we learn that another character has faced the same issue: Gretchen Witter, Dawson's first crush and Love Interest for the season. While she had a Convenient Miscarriage the next week, she still reveals what her intentions were, and Dawson — and, by implication, the show — does not judge her for them.
  • Gym Bunny: Jack, in the later seasons.
  • Has Two Daddies: Jack and Doug raise Jen's daughter Amy.
  • Hetero Normative Crusader: Barbara Johns, Capeside High's resident battleaxe.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Subverted as Jen is a genuinely nice person.
  • Hollywood Nerd: Joey Potter.
  • Hotter and Sexier: as mentioned above, the show had a reputation for being preoccupied with sex: in addition to the Will They or Won't They? between Dawson and Joey, Jen explicitly lost her virginity at 14, Pacey wanted a Teacher/Student Romance, Bessie was pregnant out of wedlock from an interracial relationship, and Dawson's parents were recovering from Gail cheating on Mitch. And that's just the first season! Having said that, the show, for all intents and purposes, deconstructed these things: Dawson's waffling between Jen and Joey causes him no end of trouble, Jen's use of Sex for Solace shows her insecurities, Pacey's relationship with Tamara Jacobs led to completely predictable repercussions, Bessie and Bodie face scorn, and Mr. and Mrs. Leery spend more than a season wrestling with their marriage. Besides, high-schoolers caring about sex is merely Truth in Television. The public objection to Dawson's Creek wasn't so much that it admitted to teen sexuality, but rather that it refused to glamorize it.
  • I Just Want to Be Normal: Poor Jack has trouble coming to terms with being gay. Though his various boyfriends make it abundantly clear that he's got it comparatively easy.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: In Season 3, Joey is one of several students to paint murals illustrating important facets of life at Capeside High. When it is unveiled, someone has defaced it by covering it with so much black paint that nobody can tell what it was supposed to be. The culprit's alibi falls apart when he protests that he's never been near "that stupid Chinese mural" — which draws the attention of both Dawson and the principal, since even they didn't know what Joey had painted.
  • Informed Ability: Dawson's directing skills. Although many of the show's plotlines revolve around Dawson's genius directing ability, what the audience primarily sees are rough or rejected projects. However, we know he is talented because an unseen breakout film will land him an award or his final gig as a TV series director.
  • Informed Attribute: Joey's "It"—beginning with the college years, Joey went from merely being seen as very pretty to an absolute knockout whom no heterosexual male in her vicinity could resist falling in love with.
  • Ironic Echo: Joey's first breakup speech with Dawson and Gail's explanation of her affair to Mitch.
  • Jerk Jock: Averted with Jen's boyfriends Cliff (Season 1) and Henry (Season 3), and Jack himself when he joined the school football team.
  • Lampshade Hanging:
    • Early in Season 4, the central six are preoccupied with applying to college (which, in America, is done in one's final year of secondary school). Book Dumb Pacey is convinced he won't be admitted anywhere, and concerned that the gang will break up, but Joey counters with the "California University" trope:
    "I mean, you know, maybe I'll just go to one of those fictional colleges. You know, like 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 sudden it turns out that there's this amazing world-class college just right around the corner where all the principle characters are accepted."
    • This is done in a subtle and tragic way in the finale. A dying Jen tells Jack that she felt like she never really fit in, encapsulating her own role in the first season:
    "From the moment I stepped out of that cab and onto the creek, I was the instigator. The one who caused problems, rocked the creek and disrupted the delicate emotional balance of Capeside. And I don't want [her daughter] Amy to be that person. I want her to belong. I feel that I never really did."
  • Last-Name Basis: Pacey towards his girlfriends (Mc Phee and Potter).
  • Master of the Mixed Message: Dawson and Joey (to each other as well as their rebound dates).
  • Missing Mom: Jack and Andie's mother made appearances early in the second season, but was later sent to live with relatives due to her mental instability and was seldom mentioned again.
    • Joey and Bessie's mom died of cancer before the series began. (Coincidence: her name was Lilly Potter, one letter off from Harry's.)
    • Jen's mother appears in two episodes, three seasons apart, played by different actresses.
  • Mock Millionaire: In the episode "Kiss", Joey pretends to be wealthy to avoid looking like a small-town girl when she pursues a handsome stranger named Anderson.
  • Monochrome Casting: Aside from a few minority extras, pretty much the only important black character was Principal Green.
  • Moral Luck: When Joey's mural is defaced, Pacey pins the blame on local Rich Bitch Matt Caulfield primarily because one of the episode's extras suggested he did it. Nobody has any evidence aside from the fact that he's a jerk, and Pacey would've come out looking like a Knight Templar if Caulfield hadn't accidentally implicated himself.
  • Most Writers Are Adults: On purpose.
  • Most Writers Are Male: lampshaded by Jen in The Longest Day.
  • My Girl Is a Slut: Dawson's philandering mom. His father, Mitch, proposes an open marriage as the solution. Well, this is The WB.
  • My Girl Is Not a Slut: Dawson had a hard time reconciling his near-angelic view of Jen with what he knew of her past in New York, which ultimately led to their breakup.
  • New Transfer Student: three in the first two seasons alone (Jen at the start of Season 1, Jack and Andie at the start of Season 2). This would probably be less noteworthy if both seasons didn't take place during a single school year.
  • Odd Friendship: Joey and Audrey.
  • Out of Focus: Jen's role in the series was diminished in the later seasons, with Michelle Williams even going from second to third billing.
  • Parental Abandonment : At the beginning of the series, Joey's mother was dead and her father was in prison, leaving her sister Bessie as her primary caretaker.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Jack and Jen.
  • Popular Is Dumb: Chris Wolfe, the resident Big Man on Campus.
  • Pretty White Kids With Problems: The inspiration for the Trope Namer.
  • Promotion to Opening Titles: Jack, Andie, Audrey.
  • Put on a Bus: Andie is written out of the show halfway through Season 4, and only returns in a few (cut) scenes in the Series Finale. Also, Audrey doesn't appear in the finale despite being a major character since Season 5.
  • Really Gets Around: Jen Lindley.
  • Relationship Upgrade: The love triangle, square, dodecahedron... whatever one chooses to call it, persists right up until the series finale. Only then is the matter finally settled: Joey chooses Pacey over Dawson, citing that Dawson will always be her "soulmate" and best friend, but not her romantic partner. Jack and Doug likewise get together, although their relationship only existed in the finale itself and not the previous seasons.
  • Remember The New Girl: Gretchen (Pacey's sister that we've never heard of before Season 4, although he did mention having at least two sisters in Season 3).
    • Will Krudski, Pacey's childhood friend, from Season 3.
  • Secret Relationship: Joey and Pacey during "The Longest Day." Jack and Doug for most of the finale.
  • Self-Parody: The Time Skip finale shows Dawson grudgingly at work on an overwrought teen drama entitled (wait for it) The Creek, based on his own life.
  • Second Year Protagonist: Joey explicitly states in the pilot that she and Dawson are starting high school, and Dawson is classified as a freshman by Mr. Gold, and yet they are also stated to be fifteen and in 10th Grade. Granted, graduation didn't come until the end of Season Four, but that was only because Seasons One and Two covered one school year; Season One's finale states very clearly that it had only been three months since the pilot, and Season Two picks about about 30 seconds from where Season One left off.
  • Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness: As mentioned in the introduction. the main characters were very articulate for... anyone. This is lampshaded often, most clearly in "High Risk Behavior"
    Pacey: What's with all the psycho-babble insight? How many kids do you know that talk like that? (in reference to Dawson's film script)
  • Simultaneous Arcs: "The Longest Day" features four of them as Joey and Pacey discuss their Secret Relationship and figure out how to tell Dawson about it.
  • Shoo Out the New Guy: Each season introduced new characters (love interests, old friends, antagonists etc) who would be involved with the main cast, only to disappear and never be seen again by season's end. Notable examples include Nikki Green, Drue Valentine, Gretchen Witter, and Charlie Todd. And, of course, the infamous Eve.
    • Drue was essentially being setup to return for a another season (as evidenced by the fact that he even told Jen that they were going to the same college after graduation). Unfortunately for Drue, The WB forced Chad Michael Murray onto the show after failing to find a starring project for him (this was right after his "Lone Ranger" pilot failed) which meant Drue was out and Drue-clone Charlie Todd was in.
  • Society Marches On: By modern standards, the show does not seem particularly racy, which is very different from how Moral Guardians reacted to it when it came out. Additionally, the Season 3 Finale, "True Love," is famous for its landmark gay kiss, the first "passionate" one to air on primetime televison... which lasts all of half a second and truly does not seem exceptional. (It may also be overshadowed by the "Dawson crying" Memetic Mutation, which is much more relevant to modern viewers — even today, it's the trope picture for the Live-Action TV section of "Narm".)
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: Pacey had this dynamic with Andie when they first met. Also, in the long run, Pacey and Joey.
  • Take That!: A number of them in the finale (written by Kevin Williamson, the show's creator who left after the second season):
    • Dawson's semi-autobiographical show, The Creek, is used to poke fun at the overwrought, overly verbose melodrama the main show often indulged in.
    • Several plotlines and characters from the later seasons are mocked, including Dawson's rejection of Joey at the start of the third season and Eve. Audrey, the only regular character that Williamson didn't create, is also absent from the finale outside of a passing mention despite the fact that a good friend of hers is dying.
    • A pretty unsubtle one at Kerr Smith, who never really hid how uncomfortable he was with playing a gay character - one of Dawson's minions reminds him that he still needs to tell one of his actors that his character is going to come out, and warns that he's going to hit the roof.
    • The last regular episode before the finale gets in on the act. Not only is there another dig at Eve, but Jen's mother's response to Jack reminding her they met at a Thanksgiving Dinner once is that no-one wants to remember that day. (The episode was not well-liked by the producers.)
  • Teacher/Student Romance: Pacey and his English teacher Ms. Jacobs. Joey and Jack also attempted this with their college professors, though neither went any further.
  • Their First Time: Joey losing her virginity to Pacey was such a beautiful scene that it caused girls everywhere to get wildly unrealistic expectations.
    • Although the next episode, "Four Stories," reveals that it wasn't entirely perfect—it's implied that Joey didn't enjoy herself as much as she might have—but she's still glad it happened and eager to do it again.
    • Dawson has his own first time with Jen a season later. Neither of them seems entirely repulsed by the experience.
    • Dawson and Joey's first time together comes at the beginning of the last season. It's also their only time together (give or take the strong possibility of seconds the next morning): Things self-destruct pretty soon afterwards.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Mitch, who takes his eyes off the road for a good 5 seconds, while driving at night, approaching what is later revealed to be a relatively sharp bend. Why does he do this? To pick up his dropped ice-cream. His death is blamed on the fact that the driver of the other car was asleep at the wheel, but honestly, he kinda had it coming.
    • Abby Morgan, who decides to climb to the top of a tower overlooking the harbour while paralytically drunk on champagne. Guess what happens next.
  • Tomboyish Name: Josephine "Joey" Potter
  • The Unfair Sex: Averted—Gail was having an extra-marital affair in the first season, but was not especially sympathetic, and the excuse she told Joey when she was discovered was treated as just that.
  • The Un-Favourite: Pacey, to his family.
  • Unlucky Childhood Friend: Dawson himself
  • Unrequited Love Switcheroo: It's sometimes easy to forget that most of the first season had Joey pining over Dawson, since for much of the rest of the series it's the other way around. (The most prominent switch back is in mid-Season 5, when Dawson is back dating Jen and a whole episode is taken up with Joey finding out and getting upset.)
  • Uptown Girl: This is how Pacey views Joey, though it's mostly in his head.
  • Waxing Lyrical:
    • In the Season 3 premiere, Jen tries out for the cheerleading squad, and we get an establishing shot of a fellow auditionee chanting, "I don't want to wait for this cheer to be over!" (That's as far as she gets before she's disqualified.)
    • In the finale, a character in Dawson's show-within-a-show says to her love interest "I don't wanna wait for our lives to be over! I want to know right now, what will it be?"
  • Will They or Won't They?: Again, Dawson/Joey and later Pacey/Joey. Both did, though Joey ended up with Pacey for good in the finale.

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