Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dawson's Creek: The Bostonians (5.1)

The transition from high school to college is rough for any young adult series. That original location becomes part and package of what makes the show what it is, the school hallways safe and standard, the presence of family and older adults something stable and warm. But, at the same time, the show needs to evolve with time, following the young characters as they grow from immature kids into hopefully secure adults. It's even riskier for Dawson's Creek, the writers deciding to split most of the characters apart and allowing them to flourish as individuals removed from the incestuous romantic plotting that provided the narrative skeleton for so much of the past four seasons. There's obviously a lot of the same angst still there, lurking beneath the surface, but The Bostonians really looks and feels like a whole different show.

Most noticeable here is how much Joey anchors the story. Her personal drama opens the show, her relationship with Dawson is suddenly told exclusively from her perspective, and most of the Boston-based cast seem to be supporting players in her own little bubble. I get why this would aggravate, but I've always sort of liked Joey, so it's not a huge deal. Plus, Katie Holmes was far and away the show's breakout star at this point, so it makes sense for the writers (and the WB) to capitalize on her fame.

Much of Joey's story this week involves her reluctance to completely jump in to the college experience. She comes off a little prissy at times, merely distracted by work at others, but it's easy to understand where she's coming from. As she articulates so well at one point, part of her is still trapped at age fifteen and living in Capeside, still haunted by that last kiss she shared with Dawson at the end of last season, the kiss that subsequently went nowhere romantic. It's not at all a sense of longing, but it's a memory of who she once was, and the realization that she can't allow Dawson to constantly disrupt any emotional growth on her part. She makes attempts to cut him loose via an expertly melodramatic voicemail message, but he unexpectedly shows up at her dorm room, all giddy to see her. These two inevitably cycle back around to each other, time and time again.

A lot of The Bostonians is sort of annoying in terms of plotting, but there are definitely fibers that intrigue. Dawson is in Hollywood, interning on the set of a sci-fi movie, and instantly clashing with the obnoxiously overblown asshole director. This is a misfire of a story, something becoming increasingly cliched the more it goes on, but it was important to showcase how rough life can be, especially when you catch what you think is a huge break and quickly discover it's actually pretty underwhelming. It's lame on-screen, but promises some success for the future.

The rest of the characters are given mostly filler dialogue, Jen and Jack settling into college life and Jen flirting with one-time WB staple and professional smug monster Chad Michael Murray. Busy Philipps makes a stronger impression as Joey's scatterbrained roommate Audrey, somebody snarky and aggressively sexual, who winds up bonding with Joey over failed teenage romance. It's generally cute, and Philipps has a fun presence that has sustained her well since DC went off the air. We also catch a short glimpse of Pacey, secretly hiding out at the Boston docks, but not in a hobo-ish way like that sentence seemed to imply. Only Jen knows he's there, and he seems remarkably drama-free... but that probably won't last for long.

This is as decent a start to the college years as you could probably ask for. Parts of it are lame and most of the plotting is generally predictable, but the Joey/Dawson saga is handled well -- I particularly liked Joey's creative writing assignment at one point ending with their kiss, but then having her get inspired to make the kiss the beginning of her story. I always approach a new Dawson's Creek season with more than a little trepidation, but so far this is fine. It's just nice seeing all the cast in a new environment, seeking out fresh experiences. B+

Guest stars
Ken Marino (Professor David Wilder); Busy Philipps (Audrey Liddell); Chad Michael Murray (Charlie Todd); Hal Ozsan (Todd Carr); Nicole Bilderback (Heather Tracy); Alan Fudge (Officer Langer); Ned Brower (Elliott Sawyer)
Writer Tom Kapinos Director Greg Prange

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