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Dawson's Creek

So finally, after weeks of airhorn hype and commercials polluting my
enjoyment of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, comes the WB's new attempt to catch lightning in a bottle: Dawson's Creek, airing after Buffy at 9pm Tuesdays. If the premiere episode is any indication, creator Kevin Williamson not only wants to revive '80s horror -- he wants to re-animate John Hughes teen angst-fests.

The Scream movies aside, I'm rapidly losing my respect for Williamson.
First the depressingly routine I Know What You Did Last Summer (referenced twice in the premiere episode with strategically-placed posters -- once in a video store, again in a film teacher's classroom ... yeah, I'd want to take a film class from a guy with taste that shitty); now this overwritten teen soap opera, which plays the old game of flattering its young audience with the idea that they're so much more intelligent and hip than their hopelessly uncool parental units.

Dawson (James Van Der Beek) is a rabid Spielberg fan who's working on a Creature of the Black Lagoon-type student film. For a self-described Spielberg acolyte, Dawson seems to have memory gaps. In one scene, he's debating sex with his oversexed dad: "If sex is so important, why aren't there any sex scenes in Spielberg's films?" Uh, sorry, Dawsie, there is. Watch Schindler's List again. What's that naked lady doing on top of Liam Neeson? Playing Scrabble?

Dawson has a platonic friendship with Joey (Katie Holmes), who's a clone of The Wonder Years' Winnie Cooper right down to her long straight hair and omnipresent troubled pout. Joey is afraid that Dawson will want to upgrade their relationship to socratic, but instead he falls for new girl Jennifer (Michelle Williams, from Species). Meanwhile, Dawson's geeky buddy Pacey (Joshua Jackson) is warm for the form of a hotsy Mrs. Robinson-esque English teacher.

Williamson's weakness for over-articulate dialogue is indulged here as never before. Joey to Dawson: "I just think our emerging hormones are destined to alter our relationship and I'm trying to limit the fallout." No 15-year-old talks like that. No human being talks like that. A well-written teen character needn't be unrealistically verbose to be witty: Look at any episode of Buffy, created by Joss Whedon, who's ten times the writer Williamson is.

Then again, Whedon also shapes his adult characters with respect. The stuffy Giles and even Buffy's perpetually clueless mom have dimensions, human strengths and frailties. Not so the adults on Dawson's Creek, who are cartoons out of a bad John Hughes flick (Williamson is picking the wrong role model). Jen's grandmother, for instance, is a facile caricature of religious rigidity, and the other "grownups" are more hormonal than the teens in Porky's.

The WB succeeded in recruiting fresh young faces; the actors, particularly Williams and Holmes, make you wish they were in material that deserved their budding talents. (And Holmes actually was -- she appeared in The Ice Storm.) The commercially shrewd characterization and hype may deliver a badly-needed hit for the WB, and if those viewers provide new lead-in eyeballs for Buffy, I'll be glad -- but that's all this glib, shallow series is good for.