RT25 Flashback First Reviews: Dawson's Creek

An "addictive drama with considerable heart," critics say. Find out what else critics wrote about the very first season of the hit teen drama starring James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, Michelle Williams, and Joshua Jackson.

by | April 5, 2023 | Comments


Rotten Tomatoes launched in August 1998, back in the dial-up days of the internet, and the Tomatometer was born. Certified Fresh became a thing in 2004, and we began aggregating reviews and dishing out scores for TV in 2013. In light of our 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. First on the agenda, is The WB’s game-changing teen drama Dawson’s Creek.

cast of "Dawson's Creek."

(Photo by Warner Bros./Getty Images)

James Van Der Beek played the titular role of aspiring filmmaker and hopeless romantic Dawson Leery; Katie Holmes balanced out Dawson’s wholesomeness with her sardonic Joey Potter; Michelle Williams played the troubled Jen Lindley; and Joshua Jackson rounded out the core friend group as sweet underdog Pacey Witter.

The series arrived with major buzz to the fresh-faced network on January 20, 1998. Writer Kevin Williamson, hot off his Scream movies and teen horror thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer, brought an autobiographical series based on his own teen years to television. Packed with fast-paced, eloquent, and surprisingly frank dialogue about sex, relationships, and the conflicts one faces in that awkward period between childhood and adulthood, the series ended up defining a generation, and its fresh-faced cast became household names.


(Photo by ©Columbia Tristar/Courtesy Everett Collection)

In the six years the series ran (from 1998 – 2003), Dawson’s Creek gave The WB its purpose. The network leaned in and embraced the YA teen genre, premiering shows like Felicity and Charmed soon after Dawson’s hit the air. The show’s beyond-their-years dialogue, and mature subject matter (teens talking about sex on TV was quite taboo in 1998) pushed the genre into uncharted territory.

But Dawson’s Creek wasn’t a hit for everyone.

“What’s striking is the realization that much of Hollywood probably believes that Dawson’s Creek is the way America functions… No wonder so much of prime time is so out of touch,” Howard Rosenberg of the Los Angeles Times said.

Cast of "Dawson's Creek"

(Photo by Warner Bros./Getty Images)

TV criticism was a different beast 25 years ago, and reviewers were predominantly white men who were often far removed from their own teenage years, making them a bit disconnected from what the series’ young viewership was actually looking for in a TV drama.

Looking back, it’s easy to connect the dots from Dawson’s Creek to other shows of its ilk, like Gilmore Girls, The O.C., Riverdale, and even Euphoria.

So to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the teen drama that changed how teen dramas worked on TV, here’s what critics were saying about season 1 of Dawson’s Creek.


(Photo by Courtesy Everett Collection)

Very soon it is overturning all your expectations with dialogue that can only be described as daring… At least the writers know to parody the genre in which they’re working.
Simon Hughes, The Age (Australia)

On and on it goes, monomaniacal to the nth degree, tiresome in its trite attempts to titillate.
Tom Shales, The Washington Post

Fortunately, the blood and guts we’re accustomed to seeing in Williamson’s big screen work are not in evidence here, but those in-jokes he’s famous for are.
Rachel Browne, Sydney Morning Herald

Dawson’s Creek is an addictive mixture of soap opera and coming-of-age saga, one that fans of shows like Party of Five and My So-Called Life — and good TV in general — should certainly sample.
Gail Pennington, St. Lewis Post-Dispatch

Williamson may be a wizard filmmaker who can scare your underpants off or make you sigh with his cinematic derring-do. But he can’t write dialogue. It’s stilted, forced and jarring unnecessarily and unrealistically provocative.
Jonathan Storm, Philadelphia Inquirer

It’s a clever mix of The Waltons and The Big Chill, with a misting of The Summer of ’42 — which is to say it’s one of the most textured dramas to hit TV in quite a while.
Terry Jackson, Miami Herald

Aside from the flaming hormones, Dawson’s Creek could be called a 90210 with brain cells, offering the kind of authenticity you don’t find in teen dramas.
Ken Parish Perkins, Fort Worth Star-Telegram

All the raging teenage hormones are dealt with in a most forthright, provocative, often amusing manner.
Mike Duffy, Detroit Free Press

Its leads are all highly appealing, and despite the utter precociousness of their pop-culture ’90s-speak, their show proves an addictive drama with considerable heart.
Ray Richmond, Variety

Dawson’s Creek offers a lesson in the dangers of overhype. But Mr. Williamson does seem to have written hit all over it.
Caryn James, New York Times

Where to Watch: (Subscription, Seasons 1-6) Hulu, HBO Max, and Prime Video; Buy Seasons 1-6 on Apple TV

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