3 min

One of TV’s oddest coming-outs ever

On Dawson's Creek, teens don't make out -- they process

None Credit: staff

They sure don’t make kids the way they used to. Once upon a time 16-year-olds sulked over the sex they weren’t having. Now, apparently, they have in-depth discussions of relationships and sexual mores.

At least that’s the way it is on Dawson’s Creek, where the kids talk with the polysyllabic pretensions of characters in Proust. On the surface, this is just another teen drama. Four dreamy teens deal with love and loss in an idyllic New England town.

Dawson (James Van Der Beek) can’t decide whether he’s in love with his coltish best friend Joey (as in Josephine), or reformed urban slut Jen. Meanwhile, best friend Pacey (played by Canadian Joshua Jackson, the homo in Cruel Intentions) covers social insecurities with rakish moves and bon vivant remarks.

Because they’re a group of such shiny, happy people it takes a while to realize just how odd (and anguished) they all are. They’re supposed to be 16 (15 in the first season), but they talk like twentysomething philosophy grads with New Age leanings and several years of therapy under their belts. These kids don’t make out — they “process” their feelings.

Created by Kevin Williamson, the out gay screenwriter of Scream 1, 2 and (coming later this year) 3, Dawson’s Creek feels like a horror film without the obvious grand guignol effects. The setting is so uber-Americana that you just know something weird is going to happen, maybe at the hands of the too-controlled Dawson who, with his long horsy face, looks like a weirdly beatific Mormon patriarch. Any minute now, you just know he’s going to drop that plastic smile and pick up a gun.

Williamson says everything that happens on the show is somewhat autobiographical. It either happened to him or one of the other writers. That’s what keeps it honest, he told EW Online. Actually it teeters back and forth between honestly sappy and honestly pretentious. Either that or I’m not getting the joke.

The dialogue is so bloated it verges on camp, but the acting is so earnest it creaks. So are the writers having a hoot or having us on? Given Williamson’s obvious taste for hip, ironic, self-referential humour, probably both.

The upside to all this fake sophistication is that the kids are hip to gay. When series regular Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) came out, the kids for the most part were anxious, but not judgmental. Even Joey, who’d been dating the guy, was bummed out, but not angry. As usual on this show it was mostly the adults who were dweebs.

As a writer for Entertainment Weekly remarked, this had to be one of the oddest coming-outs ever. Jack didn’t even look at another guy before striding out of the closet. No nods to Dawson’s bum or Pacey’s slack skin tone. He just went straight into angst and one of the strangest crying jags on network TV. I guess that was to show he’s sensitive.

But the story line, which has so far stretched to three episodes, does detail the complexity of coming out. Jack has doubts even after coming out. When a high school vixen put the moves on him (“I wish I’d nabbed you one sexual preference ago,” she coos), Jack, anxious to fit in, falls for her blarney that everyone’s bisexual and starts to make out, at least until Dawson and Joey walk in.

The usually sympathetic Joey is pissed to find her ex necking with another babe just days after telling her he was gay. But she still manages to soothe his feelings of isolation and loneliness.

“Everyone feels alone and wants to be normal,” said Joey, “and I don’t think that anyone every really does.”

As Joey wisely points out, they’re all just trying to grow up. Jack just has one more layer of difficulty to deal with.

That, it seems to me, puts coming out in context: It’s hard, but it’s just part of the age-old process of becoming your own person.

The big question now is whether Jack will stick around. When last seen he’d been relegated to the standard gay role of sexless Best Friend. Instead of trying to expand his own love life, he was advising Joey on hers.

But Williamson says Jack represents his own sexuality and as one of Hollywood’s hottest screenwriters, he has the power to keep the kid around — if he’s not too distracted by other projects. Already he’s producing another show with a gay character. Entitled Wasteland, it might make it to ABC next season.

Dawson’s Creek is on at 8pm, on Fridays, on Global.