Judge Bryan Byun has heard the Paula Cole song "I Don't Wanna Wait" 683 times...not that he's counting.
Our reviews of Dawson's Creek: The Complete First Season (published June 18th, 2003), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Second Season (published January 19th, 2004), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season (published November 24th, 2004), Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fifth Season (published August 10th, 2005), and Dawson's Creek: The Series Finale (published April 27th, 2004) are also available.
Dawson: "Take Felicity, for example. I mean, you've seen one hour of that overacted teen and you've seen them all. Don't get me wrong, she's pretty, but what kind of a heroine is she? She's indecisive, she's basically paralyzed by some romantic notion of the way things should be. And if you ask me, she's kind of chatty."
Eve: "She's you."
Coming into its third season, Dawson's Creek was missing two key players: creator Kevin Williamson, who left to work on the short-lived series Wasteland, and writer Mike White (School of Rock, Freaks & Geeks), who wrote or co-wrote many of the best episodes of the first two seasons. Judging by this lackluster set of episodes, when Williamson and White left, they sent Dawson's Creek sailing over the proverbial shark.
Facts of the Case
Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season kicks off with the Capeside kids returning from summer vacation to start their junior year of high school. On his way back from a summer film program in Philadelphia, Dawson meets a mysterious, sexy woman named Eve, who, like most mysterious, sexy women named Eve, promises temptation and certain disaster for our innocent young hero. Pacey is reunited with his girlfriend Andie, who's spent the summer in a mental institution, but their reunion holds some awkward and disappointing surprises. Joey, meanwhile, is still dealing with the fallout from the previous season's incendiary finale, which saw her father's arrest and the loss of the Ice House. And Jen and Jack, the WB's answer to Will and Grace, are now roommates.
The third season brings some surprising developments for Dawson and the gang. Feminist Jen winds up as not only Capeside High's head cheerleader, but Homecoming Queen as well. Slight, soft-spoken Jack joins the football team. Andie, the academic straight-arrow, succumbs to the temptation to cheat on an important exam. Squeaky-clean Dawson winds up with strippers performing in his house. And Joey and Pacey…well, you know.
For fans of Dawson's Creek's self-referential, self-aware take on adolescence and romance, Season Three poses a thorny question: Can the writers be excused for presenting hackneyed, melodramatic storylines and cheesy dialogue, if they make darn sure that we know that they know that it's hackneyed, melodramatic, and cheesy? Take the Eve subplot, for instance. There's no question that Dawson's creative team are perfectly aware of how obvious and trite the whole "bad girl tempts good boy" routine is. (At one point, Eve actually offers Dawson an apple.) From the meet-cute beginning to the Risky Business conclusion, there is absolutely no attempt to cover up how unoriginal and predictable this all is.
We're expected, naturally, to nod and smirk at the blatant cheesiness, pat ourselves on the back for being in on the joke, then sit back and go with it. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite work. Maybe it's the lack of Williamson's guiding hand, but again and again this season the writers strive for the self-aware irony of the show's first two seasons but just can't seem to pull it off. Instead of seeming witty and sophisticated, the writing comes off as hamfisted at best, and patronizing at worst. The characters just don't have the spark they had before: Dawson, while always whiny and overanalyzing, was at least smart and perceptive, and not merely the petulant wimp he is here; and outside of being a focal point of a love triangle, Joey doesn't have much to do this season except grin crookedly.
So, in the absence of the sharp, clever writing of earlier seasons, what we're left with is Dawson, Pacey, Joey et al. mired in a constantly churning vat of conventional soap opera elements: You love her, but she loves him, and he loves somebody else. Dawson fans just can't win.
Speaking of Dawson fans being let down, perhaps the most controversial aspect of these season box sets is the fact that the musical selections have been changed for the DVDs, due to licensing cost issues. Season Three presents the most jarring change yet, as the opening theme song, Paula Cole's "I Don't Wanna Wait," has been changed to a Jann Arden song used for international broadcasts of the series. Fans who see the DVDs as time capsules of the show for their libraries are understandably outraged by the change, and executive producer Paul Stupin's "we wanted to do something creative and different!" excuse comes off as lame at best. As blasphemous as this alteration is, however, I don't really mind it, since I'm quite frankly sick to death of hearing that Paula Cole song. This and the other musical changes to these DVD editions make for a flawed archive of the series, but the replacement songs aren't bad, and viewers who missed the original broadcasts won't notice the difference.
The 23 episodes of Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio, spread across four discs. The print is noticeably grainy at times, and the colors a bit muted, but the picture overall is clear and clean, and an improvement over the original broadcast quality. Audio is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 surround, and sounds terrific (although there's not really much going on in the rear channels).
Extra features are pretty light this season, with a pair of audio commentaries by Stupin and Kerr Smith (Jack) on the episodes "First Encounters of the Close Kind" and "True Love." Stupin and Smith are pleasantly chatty on both commentaries, and fans will welcome the reunion. The other extra is an "interactive tour" of Capeside that displays areas of the town linked to video clips of that location.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
While Dawson's Creek in its third season is for the most part an artistic failure, it doesn't skimp on the soap operatics, and for those who rooted for a Pacey-Joey matchup, this is where it all begins. At the risk of offending the Dawson-Joey crowd, Joshua Jackson (Pacey) and Katie Holmes (Joey) have excellent chemistry, and with Joey seemingly outpacing Dawson in the emotional maturity department, her pairing with the wise-beyond-his-years Pacey feels more appropriate.
The ongoing storyline involving Jack's coming to terms with his homosexuality is another strong element of the season. Jack's emerging sexuality was dealt with sensitively and honestly in the previous season, and for the most part that carries forward into Season Three, in which Jack takes his first halting steps into dating and continues to face hostility and rejection from both community and family.
The all-too-brief Williamson Era of Dawson's Creek elevated the teen soap to something a couple of steps beyond its genre, but in its third season the series settles down to become a more conventional—though still agreeably snarky—chronicle of adolescent angst. If you're already hooked on the series, there's little reason to stop now, but those looking for the same experience they had before will find that the series has both changed and remained the same—but not quite for the best.
Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season is found guilty of premature shark-jumping, and fans of the show are sentenced to three more seasons of watching Dawson whine…and whine…and whine…about his emotional issues.
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary by Executive Producer Paul Stupin and Actor Kerr Smith for "First Encounters of the Close Kind" and "True Love"
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