When You Give a “Nice Guy” a Show

Dawson’s Creek: A series named after the wrong character

The late 1990s and early 2000s were big for the teen genre as television networks took center stage on the teen soap opera. One of the most notorious and seminal was Kevin Williamson’s 1998 show, Dawson’s Creek, which starred heartthrobs of the time like Katie Holmes. The show followed Dawson Leery, your typical lovesick, small-town movie buff, who was hopelessly unaware that his best friend and resident tomboy, Josephine “Joey” Potter, was in love with him. The two best friends, along with class clown Pacey Witter and a new girl from New York City, Jennifer Lindley, struggle with the pressures of growing up and falling in love in the coastal town of Capeside.

When Dawson’s Creek When it premiered, the writers thought they had the perfect protagonist in Dawson Leery. He was innocent but emotionally intelligent, and actor James Van Der Beek had a charming smile that seemed to influence youthful audiences of the time. Unfortunately, Dawson’s character was riddled with unintentional character flaws that reflect today’s “nice guy” discourse.

Dawson was the most insufferable character, yet he existed on a show that found him incapable of misbehaving. Throughout the first season, Dawson constantly shamed his love interest Jennifer for her past sexual experiences caused by severe over-sexualization by older men in New York. Still, the show just painted him as an insecure kid still learning how to interact with women. While it’s true that he was young and inexperienced, that doesn’t excuse his behavior. He may apologize for his bad deeds, but that doesn’t stop him from getting worse as the series progresses, and he and Joey begin their romance in subsequent seasons.

Another “nice guy” moment from Dawson is when he reads Joey’s journal and then yells at her for writing down her anger at him after a previous argument. He felt he had the right to read her innermost mind, and his lesson was brushed aside by the end of the episode. Later, when Joey and Pacey develop feelings for each other in the show’s third and most popular season, Dawson attempts to emotionally blackmail Joey by revealing his true feelings for her. He sees her as his property and deserves to be with her because he’s a “nice guy,” unlike his supposedly messed-up friend Pacey.

As the show follows Dawson as he makes mistakes and learns the wrong lessons, his sidekick Pacey Witter evolves as a character each season. Pacey has been hailed as a fan favorite for his charisma and respect for his love interests, as well as being a more compelling character all around. Since this show has been on longer than I’ve been alive, I’m not the first to say Pacey would have made a better main character. Dawson’s attitudes toward women and dating have aged extremely poorly. He has a habit of expressing ownership of the women in his life and shames anyone with more sexual experience than him. Dawson was intended to be the cute and angelic lead character of the teenage soap opera, but turned out to be the most disliked among fans as his actions reflect the toxic “nice guy” behavior we’ve come to recognize. The show should have been called Pacey’s Creek.

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