Bruce Fretts says that the killing of Abby has returned the show to its edgy, confrontational best

By Bruce Fretts
May 13, 1999 at 04:00 AM EDT
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‘Dawson’s Creek’ is great TV again

I’m possibly the only TV critic in America who put ”Dawson’s Creek” on my top 10 list last year, but lately I’d been wondering if I’d made a mistake. Everything I had liked about the show — the refreshingly frank depiction of teenage sexuality, the sly pop-cult references, the unmistakable voice of series creator Kevin Williamson (”Scream”) — seemed to have vanished. As the kids’ banter became flatter and the plotlines more banal, ”Creek” started to look like a descendant of its overearnest time-slot competitor, ”Beverly Hills, 90210,” rather than the revolutionary step forward in teen soapdom it had once seemed.

When the producers tossed in a shocking twist two weeks ago — killing off the wonderfully horrendous Abby (Monica Keena), one of the show’s most vital characters — I was ready to throw in the towel. How wrong I was. Abby’s death has brought new life to ”Creek.”

The drinking-and-drowning incident set up last week’s funeral episode, a sharply observed expose of high school hypocrisy. Abby’s only friend, Jen (Michelle Williams), was appalled by her classmates’ sudden affection for their deceased peer and lashed out in a eulogy. While in the pulpit, she also condemned ”the sadistic nature of God,” leading her super-religious grandmother to excommunicate her from the house. All this Sturm und Drang has been a lot more fun to watch than, say, the episode earlier this season in which Jen encouraged her widowed Grams to start dating again.

Abby’s demise also sent Meredith Monroe’s mentally unstable Andie spiraling into depression and dementia. In this week’s superb episode, she started having visions of — and conversations with — her dead brother. This welcome dose of surrealism was well-handled by director Melanie Mayron, no stranger to ghosts from her days acting opposite Peter Horton’s yuppie spirit on ”thirtysomething.”

As Andie has deteriorated from chipper new-girl-in-town to delusional basketcase, Monroe has proven herself a fantastic actress. The underrated Joshua Jackson has matched her as boyfriend Pacey, who had no clue what he was getting into but has shown a newfound sensitivity and maturity.

The show’s dialogue has also begun to sparkle again. ”Is this a French restaurant or a French farce?” Dawson (James Van Der Beek) asked as both of his estranged parents coincidentally showed up at the same bistro where he was eating with Joey (Katie Holmes). ”Did you think that by planning this romantic dinner, we might end up ‘closing the deal’?” Joey inquired euphemistically. This week’s script (by Williamson protege Greg Berlanti) even took a swipe at ”90210” as Pacey tweaked the gang’s chumminess: ”We’re THIS far away from the Peach Pit.” Nope — these days, ”Creek” couldn’t be farther away.

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