There are a lot of detriments to Dawson's Creek that you may find. It was at times lecture-y and preachy, especially regarding the character Jack. It's later seasons added characters and story lines that never matched its original charm. And above all it often presented things in a loose moral way. The pilot episode alone deals with underage/adult romance, adultery, and a friendship restored by talking about self-impurity.
So I can understand if you, dear reader, are surprised that this show is on this list. If you are repulsed by the presentation of immorality, then I have no complaint to you. I respect your judgment.
But why is this show here?
Because it created one of the greatest love stories I've ever seen on TV.
Dawson's Creek was a show about teen named Dawson (James Van Der Beek) who loved movies, particularly the films of Steven Spielberg. Already, this show spoke to me on a very personal level. On top of that he had a female best friend named Joey (Katie Holmes), who was secretly in love with him while he pine away for another girl (Michelle Williams). This also felt very autobiographical. And it had Joshua Jackson as the loveable screw-up Pacey. Though some may disagree, I maintain that this was excellent casting and all of the actors played to their strengths and talents.
On top of that, the writing was crisp. It was often criticized as being too self-referential and too wordy, but that was part of the show's charm.
However, even with all of that, the show still would not have cracked this list. In fact, after the first season, the show began a slow descent into mediocrity that went into the first part of the third season.
But then the third season did a dramatic turn around.
By this point in the story, Dawson and Joey had dated and then broken up. Joey tried to return to Dawson, but he did not believe it would best for them. Because he still cared for her, he wanted to make sure she wasn't alone. So he asked Pacey to be her friend.
What unfolded was a beautiful love story.
I was amazed by a few things:
1. The show let the title character fall out of the spotlight. The dynamic of the show shifted away from Dawson, and he became a complication to the love story.
2. The subtle build. On a show that was not known for its subtlety, I was so impressed by how slowly the foundation of the romance built. There were so many small clues, but the producers made it so that you weren't sure if it was really there or if you were just reading into the actors' chemistry. That all came to a head in the episode where someone says that you know you really love someone when you can watch them sleeping and be happy.
For these reasons alone, this show is here on this list.
There are a lot of TV tropes that get thrown around the first season. And aside from its bold style, there wasn't much to differentiate this show from other teen dramas. But this episode in which both Pacey and Joey enter the "Miss Capeside" contest is both funny and touching. And as cliche as it is, Joey singing her feelings creates an emotional hook into the rest of the story.
JUMP THE SHARK
"A Winter's Tale"
This was the episode that began to spoil the fairy tale. One of the things that made the Joey/Pacey relationship was that in this show soaked with sensuality, this relationship seemed to be based on purer form of romance. It seemed more based on love than lust. But the change in the relationship occurs here. And I cannot tell if this was intentional on the part of the producers or if it was only in my mind, but the decision to sleep together came off as melancholy, a defeat. And then the entire relationship began to sour. Because of the beauty of what came before, it made it very difficult to stay invested.
This episode has every single cliche thrown into one. The worst part is where they bring on a cop character who begins reading off statistics that feel like they were copied and pasted from the internet. There is nothing organic or human about this episode. It is artificial and preachy.
The finale to season 3. This is the culmination of that great love story mentioned earlier. It is an emotional journey that ends with an absolutely perfect final shot.
There are a lot of problems with this show. But despite all of that, they still managed to produce something truly beautiful.