Thursday, April 5, 2012

Dawson's Creek: Alternative Lifestyles (2.3)

Mike White's episodes always seem to have an irresistible hook to them. Detention had the cast locked up in a room together; The Scare was a Friday the 13th horror show; and Alternative Lifestyles pairs the ensemble off as part of an elaborate school project, along the lines of that standard TV trope of 'taking care of an electronic baby', only this time with the more believable idea of having the cast plan the finances of various types of couple -- so Pacey and Andie are the blue collar couple; Dawson and Jen are the upper middle-class suburbanites, and Joey is the single mom. Of course, this is all just a jumping off point for various romantic tribulations, and White once again creates vivid sparks.

Jen's infatuation with Dawson is producing both trashy thrills as well as viewer discomfort. Her behavior here, in which she tries to seduce him repeatedly, is incredibly embarrassing -- Jen failing to realize that Dawson has entirely moved on, despite her insistence that she can win him back again. I'm not sure that all of this is particularly believable, especially when Dawson is like stale wheat bread most of the time, but Jen's nightmarish downfall is weirdly absorbing, while Abby remains hilarious. Her treatment of that poor nerdy guy following her around is so horrible and dismissive, yet Monica Keena's comic timing are so on-point and perceptive that you can't help but still love her.

New layers arrive in the character of Andie, too, with her brother telling Pacey that while they were rich, they're certainly not anymore -- which sort of explains why Jack is working at the Ice House. Andie and Pacey's class project involves more of the same sniping and romantic hesitation, but their chemistry is off the charts and the financial revelations at the end seem to bring them closer together. But, major oops, isn't that ol' cradle-snatcher Tamara prowling around on school grounds? That can't be good for anyone... especially us at home.

Dawson and Joey's relationships thankfully takes a backseat here, allowing Joey to spend time away from that drama. She seems to reach a new arrangement with Bessie, which is only fair considering how overworked she's been; while her experience with 'professional businesswoman inspiration' Laura shows her how positive her life could eventually be. I only wish that somebody would explain where Bodie has gone. I'm assuming he's still working out of town, but Bessie literally comes across like a single mother here -- especially when she actually states that she's a good example of the woman Joey is investigating in the class project.

The Parents Leery saga remains in that awkward hole that isn't at all interesting, despite the show's best efforts to inject some 'sexy sexiness' into their downward-spiraling union. Ooh, they're having an open marriage! Kinky! Only, you know... not.

Alternative Lifestyles contrives a situation to throw a spanner in the works for our cast members, but the script is layered, funny and moving at separate junctures, meaning contrivance doesn't hurt this time around. The season is still firing on all cylinders. A

Guest stars Meredith Monroe (Andie McPhee); Kerr Smith (Jack McPhee); Monica Keena (Abby Morgan); Tamara Taylor (Laura Weston)
Writer Mike White Director David Semel

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