Rotten Tomatoes launched 25 years ago in August 1998, bringing the iconic Tomatometer into households nationwide. Six years later, Certified Fresh was born, and in 2013, we began aggregating reviews and dishing out scores for TV series. To recognize the site’s 25th birthday this year, we’re taking a look back at some of the most impactful TV shows that premiered the same year we did. In March, we shined a light on The WB’s game-changing teen drama Dawson’s Creek and now we’re taking a look at Felicity.
Felicity premiered on September 29, 1998, and was another title in The WB’s growing lineup of teen-focused dramas. Before television shows like Alias and Lost brought J.J. Abrams success and fame — and long before Matt Reeves turned Robert Pattinson into The Batman — the duo brought this character-driven college drama to television.
Keri Russell starred as Felicity Porter, a shy high school student who, after graduation, decides to scrap her plans to attend Stanford and follow her high school crush Ben (Scott Speedman) — a boy she hardly interacted with — to the University of New York. Throughout its densely plotted four-season run, Scott Foley’s Noel Crane offered the additional conflict as the third corner of the show’s central love triangle. Smart writing and unexpected cinematic storytelling made Felicity an outlier.
Drawing comparisons to the likes of Ally McBeal, which premiered a year earlier, Felicity set itself apart by exploring the often confusing and emotional time period between high school graduation and college life when a young person transitions between their teenage years and being an adult. If Dawson’s Creek gave The WB its focus on YA programming (a thing that was brand new, at that point), Felicity helped to expand that idea by exploring a part of life that, up until that point, lacked dramatic representation on TV.
It wasn’t all rave reviews, though.
“Felicity is phony,” wrote Jonathan Storm of The Philadelphia Inquirer. “It presents a fantasy world, pretending it’s real. A lot of people criticize Ally McBeal for the same thing, but there’s a big difference. The people in their 20s who would take life cues from ‘Ally’ should be old enough to know better.”
TV was a different beast 25 years ago, as was television criticism. Most of the critics who reviewed small screen programming at that time were white men who had trouble connecting with smartly-written stories led by young women, and geared toward issues and experiences this female demographic would relate to.
The series found its demographic, though, and ran for four seasons (mirroring the average four-year college attendance) and launched the careers of its three leads.
Russell earned three Emmy nominations for her performance as Elizabeth Jenkins on The Americans and can currently be seen on Netflix’s new drama The Diplomat; Speedman played Michael in the first two Underworld movies, James in the home invasion cult hit The Strangers, Matthew in season 3 of Netflix’s hit thriller You, and Dr. Nick Marsh on Grey’s Anatomy; and Foley played memorable TV roles like Henry Burton on Grey’s Anatomy, Patrick Devins on True Blood, and Jake Ballard on Scandal.
Here’s what critics said about season 1 of Felicity when it first arrived.
Virtually everything here is perfect: crisp, smart dialogue, scenes that pulse with emotion, and an artful weaving in of notes and letters to give it all that extra, this-is-how-I-really-feel resonance. –Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune
Felicity is the best drama of the year, a quality show of substance and intelligence, something worth watching. –Marvin Kitman, Newsday
Felicity needs to lighten up just slightly… The allure of the show, however, remains in the freshness of the emotions and the poignancy of first loves and taking risks. –Terry Jackson, Miami Herald
Felicity depicts the turmoil of early adulthood very well. The viewing, however, is very far from being comfortable. –Simon Hughes, The Age (Australia)
Felicity is a warm, enjoyable and believable slice of life. –Ross Warneke, The Age (Australia)
The most absorbing and entertaining youth soap since the fall 1994 premieres of Party of Five and My So-Called Life, it’s sure to send fans of the genre into a state approaching bliss. –Matt Roush, TV Guide
While the cosmic events that sets this universe in motion may skirt credibility, what follows seems reasonable enough, if one remembers that the show is an idealized amplification of a time of life when the smallest things drip with serious soul. –Robert Lloyd, L.A. Weekly
Television-critic protocol says that I should at least pick the best of this genre and pronounce it watchable, so I’ll opt for the soft-core porn of Dawson’s Creek over the Ingmar-Bergman-meets-McGruff-the-Crime-Dog formula of Felicity. –Robert David Sullivan, Boston Phoenix
A sweet-but-manipulative little show… that was already being declared the best new show of the season before most critics had even seen the pilot. While this turned out to be reasonably prophetic, it does not make Felicity the next My So-Called Life. –Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News
Felicity’s one-dimensional parents need some depth, but thoughtful writing, an engaging cast and beautiful photography makes this the class of fall 1998. –Bill Keveney, Charlotte Observer
In this case, the glory is in the details. The plot and setup matter less than the overall charismatic acting and the sensitively written script. –Rick Kushman, Sacramento Bee