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The angst ridden teenagers of Dawson’s Creek return for their senior year of high school. This of course means proms, college applications, graduation ceremonies and the thought of separation from each others.

The Series
When last we left the quaint seaside hamlet of Capeside, Massachusetts, Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson) and Joey Potter (Katie Holmes) had just left and embarked on a summer long cruise of the Atlantic Ocean. They return as the fourth season opens and the gang is starting their senior year.  As a reminder, here are the main characters and where they are in their lives: First is Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), perpetually in love with Joey, he has let her go so she can be with Pacey. In a strange twist, Dawson will instead fall in love with Pacey's college age sister Gretchen, although Dawson's still unresolved relationship with Joey will cause problems for both his budding romance with Gretchen, and Pacey and Joey's relationship. Through a series of circumstances, Dawson meets and develops a working relationship with Arthur Brooks, an elderly Capeside resident who Dawson later learns was a Hollywood movie director. They form a friendship which is tested when Mr. Brooks turns out to be seriously ill.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season
Joey Potter has had the summer of her life on board Pacey's boat "True Love". She returns unsure of how to act around Dawson and the pressures of maintaining her grades, working part-time, applying for college and keeping her love life on track begin to take their toll. Her significant other, Pacey, has his own problems when he returns to find out that instead of sailing on the high seas he should have spent his entire break in summer school. He is in serious jeopardy of not graduating after this year. During the season Pacey will study hard to make headway towards graduation, suffer through an embarrassing birthday party, get arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, and face the realization of what opportunities lay ahead for him after graduation. Oh, and Joey and Pacey also have sex for the first time, which causes more friction in the Dawson/Joey/Pacey triangle (once everyone is told the truth).

Jack McPhee (Kerr Smith) is still feeling the ramifications of his "coming out". When he attempts to coach a youth soccer team, several of the parents band together to get him fired from the position because of his sexual orientation. His best friend, Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams), drags him to a gay rights activist group where he meets Tobey, the individual running the meeting. At first the two seem to be worlds apart, but as the season progresses, the pair come to find that they are not so different after all, and develop a close relationship. Meanwhile, Jen has procrastinated to the point where she has not filled out any of her college applications. Jack takes it upon himself to fill them out for her and the two are accepted to Boston Bay College. First though, Jen has two problems to deal with. The first is her unresolved issues towards her father. With the intervention of a psychiatrist, Jen starts to deal with her feelings and finally confronts him on their past. The second issue is the unexpected arrival of Drue Valentine, an individual from her New York past with whom she has shared many occasions of alcohol and drug related experiences with. He appears as someone who is destined to continually tempt Jennifer throughout the season, temptations which Jen finds difficult to resist.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season
The final member of the Capeside Six is Jack's sister Andie McPhee (Meredith Monroe). Offered early acceptance to Harvard, she finds that she is not as excited as she had thought, and, at the urging of her father, decides to take the remainder of her senior year off and travel to visit relatives in Italy. She returns for the graduation episode but her character is for all purposes written out of the show (the producers would admit that they had written everything they could about her and found it difficult to develop new storylines).

Dawson's parents, Mitch and Gail Leery, also play an important part in the fourth season as they find themselves becoming parents again. Gail gets pregnant and eventually Dawson has a new baby sister. Lindley Leery will help to quell the empty nest syndrome the Leery's may have feared when Dawson decides to go to USC Film School. Joey is accepted into the prestigious Worthington College, located in Boston, while Jack and Jen decide to go to Boston Bay College (and drag Jennifer's grandmother with them). Finally, Pacey, instead of going to college, agrees to spend the entire summer working on a yacht sailing around the Caribbean.

The season ends with each of the main characters going their individual ways. The previously inseparable group will have to deal with the reality of an entire continent physically between some of them. Through the last four years they have learned that emotionally and mentally the chasms can be much wider. Always going for the heartstrings, this season of Dawson's Creek is really a watershed for the show, as it is determined to break the mold of having the entire group move from high school and attend the same college. The creators fully intend to put Dawson on the west coast (in the storylines) and see what ramifications that has on the dynamics of the group. Andie decides not to attend Harvard right away and instead returns to Italy after graduation. Jack begins a true homosexual relationship for the first time in his life. Joey will have to find out if she is strong enough to survive without either Dawson or Pacey.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season
As in the past seasons, the acting in the show is strong, if at sometimes overbearing. These truly are angst ridden characters, and each of the actors portrays that angst to the hilt. One of the knocks on the show is also one of its greatest allures-the writing. There are few, if any, high school students who actually speak they way these characters do, and in that sense the show is somewhat unbelievable. However, it is also the crisp writing that is one of the shows biggest draws. Smartly worded with true emotional depth, the show continues to hit many of the right notes episode after episode. In this fourth season, there are a few standout episodes, including one entitled "The Unusual Suspects", where Principal Peskin (played hysterically by Harry Shearer) attempts to get to the bottom of who pulled a school prank and put his sailboat in the gymnasium pool. Also of note are episodes dealing with Jen finally confronting her father and the final episode of the season as the characters bid farewell to each other at the conclusion of their senior year.

Video
With a full frame 1.33:1 presentation (the way it was broadcast), the video of the set is good as far as DVD television sets go. The colors are all vivid and vibrant, and the show really captures the seaside scenes very well (although set on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the show actually filmed in North Carolina). The blues of the water are bright, and there is much to like about the scenery surrounding the actors. One of the only issues I found with the set was the very obvious film artifacts and grain which appeared in one scene during a particular episode. It is so noticeable that it is difficult to believe no one else saw it.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season
Audio
Sporting a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, the set sounds great. There are not a lot of storyline items that would call for anything more than the 2.0 found here, no great car chases or bullets that would benefit from a great use of five channels. The music included does sound fine in the presentation, even though it suffers from the phrase most purists fear most-“containing new music specifically selected by the producers”. Included here is Jann Arden’s “Run Like Mad”, which, while a fine song (and the one used in European broadcasts), does not even remotely compare to the original theme, Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait”. Not having seen the episodes during their original airing I cannot accurately testify to whether or not the show loses something by the music change, I can only say that the songs included here do the show justice and seem to fit the ongoing storylines in good fashion. I don’t think that the change in music should stop anyone interested in the set from purchasing it.

Extras
Much like the other Dawson’s Creek season sets, the extras are few and far between. Once again, executive producer Paul Stupin is along for commentary on two episodes, although this time around he is flying solo. As compared to the previous season (where actor Kerr Smith joined him), it is safe to say that it is much more enjoyable when there is interaction and banter between two individuals. Although Stupin is a likeable enough person, it seems at times that he is repeating himself during his commentary (both between episodes and between sets). Nevertheless, he does have some decent insight.

The other set extra (besides previews for other Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVDs) is a trivia game. Broken into eight different sections (each one titled with a high school subject), viewers are invited to answer four different questions. If you can successfully answer all four, you are then eligible for a fifth, which, if also answered correctly, allows you to see a deleted scene. Doing the math, that means that you can see eight different deleted scenes (a great perk). The deleted scenes alone are a reason to go through the trivia challenge.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Fourth Season
Overall
I have said time after time that these types of genre shows are only as satisfying as the time one devotes to the series. If you give yourself the chance to really watch the series, you will probably become hooked. I’m not sure that I would stick with the show if I had to watch only one hour a week (in fact, I never did watch when it was broadcast), but having the opportunity to sit down and watch episode after episode in rapid succession, it is much easier to invest some emotional capital in the characters. If you do so, you won’t be disappointed.


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