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When the WB network began it had little to no recognition as a full fledged network. Not seen in all markets, it struggled to make a name for itself, and to distinguish itself from the four "big networks". It found what would become its signature show in the form of a teen angst drama called Dawson's Creek.

The Series
Set in the fictitious town of Capeside, Massachusetts, Dawson's Creek revolves around the lives of six high schools students, and the varying situations they find themselves in. At the center of the story is Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek), a would be film maker and Joey Potter (Katie Holmes), a tomboy, best friends for practically their entire life, they consider themselves "soul mates" to each other. They are friends with Pacey Whitter (Joshua Jackson), extremely horny son of the town sheriff, Jen Lindley (Michelle Williams), an outcast who has been sent to live with her "Grams" by her parents, and the McPhee children, Andie (Meredith Monroe), who suffers from mental illness and her brother Jack (Kerr Smith), who has recently come out of the closet and stated to the world that he is gay.

When last we left our troubled teens, Joey, at Dawson's prodding, had tricked her father into admitting he was again dealing drugs and had been responsible for sending him back to prison. She told Dawson that she could never forgive him for what he did and that "he didn't exist". The summer has now passed, and Dawson is returning to Capeside after visiting his mother in Philadelphia. On the bus back he meets an enigmatic woman named Eve. She will be the focus of his life through the first several episodes of the third season as Dawson tries to move past his feelings for Joey, using Eve in the process. Overall, the story arc with Eve seems ill-conceived and poorly executed, and is quickly abandoned.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season
Meanwhile, Andie has spent the summer in an institution in Providence, and when Pacey goes to bring her back, he discovers that she is somewhat distant. Later, he learns that Andie has slept with one of the other patients at the facility, effectively destroying their relationship. Jack is still coming to grips with his homosexuality and, in a surprise, finds that he is a very good football player. He ends up on the team at the urging of the new coach, Dawson's father, Mitch. Equally as surprising is Jen, who in an attempt to show just how unfair and morally opposed she is to the concept of cheerleading squads, tries out for the team and eventually becomes its head cheerleader (and homecoming queen).

As the season progresses, Dawson finds that perhaps Eve is not all she is admitting to be, and may have her own agenda for being in Capeside. When Andie returns to the beach front town, her obsession with being the best and getting what she wants takes some rather dark turns. Pacey realizes that he can no longer have a relationship with Andie and, in another of the shows quirky turns, instead finds himself attracted to the one character he last thought he would fall for. Jack begins taking small steps in his self-discovery from admitting he's gay to actually being gay, and all that implies. It is a remarkable journey which Smith plays well to see that even though he now accepts what he is, to actually act on it is an entirely new and deeply frightening prospect.

Jen discovers more about herself and her mother throughout the season as well. She becomes less detached to those around her and somewhat softer (although not terribly). Still one to be the voice of opposition, she tempers her objections and rejections of social and religious philosophies with more thought and less emotion.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season
Each of the actors does a fine job of portraying they're particular character and all of the flaws which they have. Van Der Beek certainly emits a very boyish naiveté when it comes to certain events that go on around him (normally of the sexual nature), and his continued virginity is a center of the overall storyline. Coupled with Joey, the two are a perfect antithesis of the pair of Pacey and Jen. Not to say that the latter pair are immoral, far from it, in fact, the two do some of the more courageous and noble things in the show, refusing to cave in to peer pressure or overbearing parents. They often are used to tell Dawson and Joey exactly what their character flaws are, while exhibiting their own in sexual escapades or drunken binges. Finally, as mentioned, Smith excellently portrays Jack as a conflicted person who has spent the better of his life denying his sexual
feelings and hating himself, and now faces the more dangerous challenge of letting someone else love him for who he is.

The season ends on twin notes of sacrifice and fulfillment. Dawson sacrifices the one thing he feels truly identifies him, while Pacey and Joey both fulfill their unexplored feelings. Jen and Jack both take giant steps in their relationships with others, with completely opposite results. The final scenes are both heartwarming and heartbreaking and portrayed excellently by all of the actors.

Video
Sporting a full screen 1.33:1 full frame transfer (as it was broadcast), the video in this set is decent enough. Filmed on location in Wilmington, North Carolina (which stands in for Cape Cod), the greens of the grass, the freshness of the ocean air and the blueness of the water all come across in fine fashion. The colors are very vibrant and add to the New England ocean town mystique that the setting is trying to invoke. There is some grain and dust noticeable on some of the episodes however, and during some of the darker scenes there is some bleeding of the blacks into other objects in the frame.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season
Audio
Utilizing a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround track, the overall presentation of the audio is actually rather good. All the dialogue comes across very clear and distinct, and the music is strong but not overpowering. I suppose here is where I should address the issue of much (if not most) of the original music having been replaced. I have to admit that I never watched the show when it was originally broadcast, so I do not know what most of the original music consisted of. It is not new for music to be replaced on DVD editions of television shows, but certainly that does not make it any easier for purists of the show to accept the changes. Many of the changes involved songs by artists such as James Taylor or Smokey Robinson, and their inclusion (and the inclusion of others) probably would have substantially increased the overall cost of the set. Certain songs have been retained (such as “Daydream Believer”), if they were absolutely essential to the overall story. One change I found baffling was the change in the title song. Paula Cole’s “I Don’t Want to Wait”, which had been present on the first two season releases, is replaced with “Run Like Mad” (the theme song used on the European transmission of the first season). Hopefully Cole’s song will return for future releases as it embodies the overall philosophy and identity of the show.

Can one enjoy the series without the original music? Certainly. Will those who have seen the series find it somewhat lacking with the changes? Possibly. Should anyone not buy the set because of the changes? Never. I am a strong believer in the notion that it is the writing and acting the make the overall impact on the viewer, and while the original songs may enhance the experience, the change does not make it any less worthwhile.

Extras
The four disc set comes with only a limited number of extras. The first is an interactive tour of the fictional town of Capeside. You are able to travel to the different locales of the seaside hamlet, from the houses of the main characters to the different businesses and locations where key events have happened in their lives. A neat addition, but in the long run, not very enlightening.

Dawson's Creek: The Complete Third Season
The only other supplemental material is an audio commentary on two of the season’s twenty-three episodes. Executive Producer Paul Stupin and actor Kerr Smith (Jack) spend their two commentaries talking more about what Smith has been doing and about his directing debut (an episode in season six) than actually commenting on the episode they are watching. To be fair, they do discuss what it was like for Smith to portray his character (and how he found out from Kevin Williamson, the show’s creator, that his character would be gay), as well as what was going through his head during the final episode of the season, in which Jack has the first real on screen homosexual kiss between teenage characters ever broadcast. Stupin does throw in some tidbits about the production of the show and acknowledges that some of the changes which are made for the DVD release are for economic reasons.

Overall
Dawson's Creek was cut from the mold of Beverly Hills 90210. However, the WB program was one of the first shows to successfully integrate current popular music into the episodes. For the DVD releases this has proven to be a problem, as the dreaded music copyright demons have once again reared their ugly heads and forced the producers to change most of the music (including the theme song which had been present on the first two season sets). As these types of series go, Dawson's Creek is written in a rather highbrow fashion, which is both its biggest allure and its main detraction. The witty and eloquent banter which is present serves to draw the viewer towards it. The funny moments are made that much more amusing, and the poignant ones are that much more dramatic and heart-tugging. However, no sixteen year-olds that I know speak in this manner, which makes it hit many wrong notes. In addition, for being sixteen, they find themselves in bars with drinks and being courted by individuals over eighteen quite often; again something which seems a bit overly false. However, taking it for what it is, a teen soap opera, Dawson's Creek is overall in the category of "guilty pleasure" for me. As I’ve said previously in these types of programs, if you allow yourself to become emotionally attached to these individuals, you won’t be disappointed.


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