On a postcard-perfect Wilmington, N.C., dock, the new WB drama Dawson’s Creek shoots a scene that could have been lifted out of any generic teen soap: Tenth grader Pacey is getting dumped by his girlfriend, Tamara. Pacey lost his virginity to her, then blabbed about it to his pal Dawson in the boys’ room, unaware that a gossipy classmate could overhear. Now Tamara’s reputation is ruined!
One fact sets this scene apart from your average Saved by the 90210, though: Tamara is Pacey’s 40ish high school teacher. ”For lack of a better word, it’s gonna shock the s— out of people when I sleep with my English teacher,” predicts 19-year-old Joshua Jackson (The Mighty Ducks), who plays Pacey, of the envelope-pushing plotline.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that the already heavily publicized Dawson’s Creek comes from the twisted mind of Kevin Williamson, who’s become Hollywood’s scribe du jour by shocking the you-know-what out of people with back-to-back slash hits: Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, and Scream 2. Only this time, Williamson’s adolescents are being split open figuratively, as the coming-of-age drama examines what the Clearasil set is thinking and talking about: sex and sex, respectively (in the pilot, topics of discussion include the correlation between finger length and genital size).
Dawson’s Creek stars James Van Der Beek (think Ethan Hawke with better hygiene) as Dawson Leery, a 15-year-old aspiring Spielberg whose lifelong platonic friendship with Joey (The Ice Storm’s Katie Holmes) turns complicated when they hit puberty: The first scene finds them debating whether it’s still okay to sleep in the same bed. Their lives get more confusing when Dawson develops a crush on new kid in town Jen (Species’ Michelle Williams), and Joey grows jealous. ”I know I’m going to get hate mail,” laments Williams, 17, of her other-girl character. ”But I’m trying my damnedest to make people like me.”
Poison-pen letters may be sent for other reasons, since Dawson’s Creek is the frankest depiction of teenage sexuality ever seen on the small screen. (”Think she’s a virgin?” Pacey asks Dawson after they meet Jen. ”You want to nail her?”) But, argues Van Der Beek, 20, ”we deal with the issues responsibly.”
Don’t look for any moral lessons, however. ”There’s nothing preachy about it,” promises Williamson, 32. ”The moment anyone says anything that sounds like a message, the [characters] discard it. They go, ‘So what did we learn from this 90210 moment?’ ”
Such amorality (atheist Jen sasses her devout grandma, ”I’ll go to church when you say the word penis!”) seems destined to rankle the right wing, but The WB isn’t scared. ”I invite boycotts,” proclaims exec veep for programming Susanne Daniels. ”I always think about what happened to Married…With Children. The boycott some woman tried to start attracted more attention to the show than it ever would’ve gotten otherwise.”
The only controversy so far erupted among bluenosed TV critics after the network announced its plans to air the show during the ”family hour” of 8 to 9 p.m. Choosing to nip that scandal in the bud, The WB shuffled it to the more adult hour of 9 to 10 p.m., slotting it after the equally hip sophomore hit Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a new Tuesday-night schedule beginning Jan. 20. Williamson applauds the shift: ”I don’t want to be limited in what I can do, and 9 o’clock gives me more freedom.”