Bruce Fretts
April 03, 1998 AT 05:00 AM EST

Everybody’s talking about Dawson’s Creek, but not everybody’s saying nice things. It was inevitable that the insanely hyped teensploitation sensation from Scream writer Kevin Williamson would inspire a backlash. What’s surprising is how quickly it’s happened. People didn’t get sick of Friends for more than a year after it premiered, yet in our current hyper-speed media culture, a show can seemingly wear out its welcome before it ever hits the air. Among TV critics and normal people alike, the rising tide of anti-Creek sentiment flows from the idea that its four small-town teens — Spielberg freak Dawson (James Van Der Beek), goofball pal Pacey (Joshua Jackson), Manhattan transplant Jen (Michelle Williams), and antisocial misfit Joey (Katie Holmes) — are too good-looking and well-spoken to be believed. To which I reply: This is a problem? If you’d rather watch unattractive, inarticulate youngsters, go rent Kids.

Okay, so maybe your average adolescent doesn’t traffic in verbiage like ”deconstruction,” ”sexualization,” or, well, ”verbiage.” Still, I’ll take Dawson’s SAT-ready vocabulary (”I don’t think I’ve exceeded the statute of limitations on angst,” Dawson brooded two days after Jen broke up with him) over the banal conversations on Beverly Hills, 90210 any day. Has Tori Spelling’s Donna or Ian Ziering’s Steve ever said anything clever?

The other unfair rap against Creek is that its teen characters have an unhealthy obsession with sex. While it’s true they talk about it constantly (and if you want the show to be realistic, you can’t complain about that), their behavior has hardly been irresponsible. Dawson and Joey are virgins by choice. Jen was scarred by her early sexual experiences and is currently celibate. And Pacey’s first time — with one of his high school teachers — wasn’t without consequences; it nearly resulted in the woman’s arrest. (To anyone who says that plot lacked verisimilitude, I have three words: Mary Kay LeTourneau.) Frankly, I’m more concerned about America’s youth aping South Park‘s foulmouthed cartoon hooligans than the comparatively wholesome Creek kids.

If anyone on the show is a sex fiend, it’s Dawson’s local-newswoman mother (Mary-Margaret Humes), who cheated on her perpetually horny hubby (The Flash‘s always-underrated John Wesley Shipp) with her coanchor. Dawson’s repulsion at his mom’s reckless immorality has only underscored his own impossibly idealistic view of romance.

The show has even taken to making fun of Van Der Beek’s clean-cut lead. Jen’s sleazoid ex-boyfriend, Billy (Eion Bailey, better here than as one of the supposedly sympathetic whiners on Fox’s Significant Others), declared, ”I can’t believe you’re dumping me for a guy with an E.T. doll on his bed!” That’s Kevin Williamson’s genius — just as Scream did with slasher flicks, Creek simultaneously works as a teen soap (you can’t help but get caught up in the Dawson-Jen-Joey triangle) and comments ironically on the genre (witness the digs at the overly earnest 90210 and Party of Five). The trouble is, some people aren’t getting the joke.

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