Thursday, September 20, 2012

Dawson's Creek: A Family Way (4.5)

Preachy, preachy, preachy. Dawson's Creek hit the zeitgeist at a time in which it was de rigueur to promote earnest life lessons for its teenage audience, sex being a major source for all kinds of finger-wagging. You could always rely on YA television to feature stories about teenage girls pledging that they're "not ready" for sex, or disguise important PSAs as part of the narrative. Here, there are condom talks, discussions of how sex can be *gasp* dangerous, and warnings about what sex really means. But A Family Way is jarring in its messages, not only because it's concerned with Joey's virginity to the point of parody, but also because of two additional subplots that bombard you with preachy statements. It's the show pushing the idea of impartiality, while being completely censored from reality by network meddling.

I had the good fortune to grow up in an environment where sex was discussed pretty openly, so there was never any awkward cover-up when it came to sexual activity, nor horrible encounters with free clinic sociopaths. None of that is mirrored here, Joey lectured by both a nurse (who essentially tells her that her vagina will fall out after its inevitably riddled with evil sex disease) and then later an out-of-character Bessie, who insists that her sister is too immature to sleep with Pacey. Ugh. I get that this show is very 'of its time', but Joey should be praised for at least questioning her own emotions, and thinking about sex and what it represents rather than just leaping into it. Instead she's hit by this barrage of negativity from all the peers around her. It's insufferable and annoying, and only helps leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Similar things occur elsewhere, particularly in the abortion subplot. Gale is pregnant again, and naturally there's a ton of debate over whether she and Mitch should keep the baby -- their age and their financial situation major factors in the decision. But there's no middleground to any of it. Gretchen at first appears to be the face of a stable adult who had an unplanned pregnancy, somebody who thought everything over and eventually decided to not go through with it, but the show flakes out by having her reveal that she had a miscarriage before she could go through with her plans -- leaving her actual decision all ambiguous. It's an example of the show presumably being pressured into not appearing pro-choice, and while this isn't uncommon for television (even now it's this annoyingly taboo subject that is rarely explored on network programming), it weakens any power the story could have had.

Finally, there's Jack coaching a little league team. Five minutes in, I practically begged to the heavens that this not turn into another gay-bashing deal... but it did. He comes out, and is instantly deemed a pariah by a various parents, none of whom trust him around their kids. Ugh. Do we have to go there? Yes, I respect the show for exposing sexual hypocrisy and homophobia, but they've returned to this well so often that Jack is at risk of becoming nothing but a walking victim, every decision he makes guided by his sexuality and every outcome eventually involving prejudiced individuals who think negatively of the fact that he's gay. It's something that affects so many of these teen shows, though. They write in gay kids and then insist on making them nothing but their sexuality. And it's rarely anything positive. It just perpetuates the belief that homosexuality equals a life of fear and oppression. Ugh, once more.

All three stories this week were about important social issues that absolutely need mainstream discussion, but not when truth and honesty is suppressed by preachy whining. While last episode did such a great job at creating relatable representations of senior year trauma, everything is pretty alienating here. Sex is still pushed as something controversial that adults refuse to talk about, abortion is vague and kept hidden and repressed, and being out of the closet only results in further abuse. It's an episode that dances around important subjects without saying anything at all, and that's a real problem. D

Guest stars
Sasha Alexander (Gretchen Witter); Obi Ndefo (Bodie Wells); Harve Presnell (Arthur Brooks); Carly Schroeder (Molly Sey); Bridgett Newton (Caroline Sey)
Writer Maggie Friedman Director Nancy Malone


  1. I love your reviews and find them entertaining. Did you happen to notice the lack of continuity with this episode where Joey and Bessie and the whole sex issue were concerned? In episode 1 of this season, when Joey and Pacey return from their voyage at sea, Bessie seems very accepting of the possibility that the two had sex. She even seems to be interested in hearing all about it. To have her now say she doesn't think Joey is ready seems really silly. Just one of the many things I have noticed that seem to take a backward spin somehow.

    I have watched Dawson's Creek countless times from the beginning and enjoy reading how differently or not so differently others view the show. Your insights are the more thought out ones I have seen so far. Thanks for always being a reliable source of information and amusement where this series is concerned!!

  2. That genuinely means a lot, thank you! I'm always trying to cover shows that are a little less popular online in terms of individual episode reviews, Dawson's being one of them. So thank you for finding the site and reading, it means a lot!

    And, yes, big continuity error. What I liked about Bessie and Joey was that they had a very relatable relationship with Bessie occupying both the maternal side as well as the sisterly side. One thing she never was, however, was preachy and weird. She was, if anything, far more unconventional and 'wild' than Joey ever was. That was the whole point of her character back in the day, with the interracial relationship and the out-of-wedlock baby. For someone so liberal-minded in comparison to the conservative town she exists in, it's weird to see her so out of character here.