The baffling business of raging hormones Preview: WB's 'Dawson's Creek' splashes lightly in TV's sex pool, but succeeds in being snappier than much of the competition.

January 20, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

A TV series in which sex is more talked about than done? In which the teens have better morals than their parents? WB could be onto something.

If nothing else, "Dawson's Creek," premiering tonight at 9 p.m. on WNUV, Channel 54, proves WB is moving aggressively to take over fifth place among the six networks.

Not that the hourlong drama is as revolutionary as the network hype would have you believe. It's still a prime-time soap opera, filled with beautiful people and taking place in a beautiful setting (in this case, a rural, riverfront community near Boston) where things either go beautifully right or beautifully wrong.

It's a formula that's led to oodles of successful TV programs over the years -- from "Peyton Place" to "Dallas" to "Beverly Hills, 90210" to "Melrose Place" -- and "Dawson's Creek" should prove no exception. Adding to its pedigree: The series comes from the pen of hip-screenwriter-of-the-moment Kevin Williamson ("Scream" and "Scream 2"), who ensures plenty of snappy dialogue, pop-culture references and a certain self-awareness that makes you think the characters are as in on the joke as you are.

Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) is a 15-year-old budding filmmaker who lives with his loving folks (literally -- he happens upon them on the living-room couch, pawing each other) in an idyllic community of big houses and picturesque landscapes. His best friend is a girl, Joey (Katie Holmes), with whom he's grown up.

He's puzzled when Joey suddenly decides they've grown too old for the innocent sleepovers they've been sharing for about 10 years. Dawson, who insists he's oblivious to any charms Joey may have, convinces her she's over-reacting. And Joey believes him, until The next day, when a new girl arrives in town, just in time for the opening of school -- and of Dawson's libido. Jennifer (Michelle Williams) takes a similar liking to him, and the two set up their first date, with Joey along for moral support. Bad move: That's right, Joey hates Jennifer, and not just because she's new in town.

But Joey vs. Jennifer isn't the only spark-producing conflict in town. There's Dawson's suspicion that his mom, a TV news anchor, is having an affair with her partner. There's Dawson's friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson), who is convinced the gorgeous woman who just rented "The Graduate" from his video store really longs to play Mrs. Robinson to his Benjamin Braddock. There's Jennifer's grandmother, who insists that her atheist granddaughter go to church. And there's all this talk about some sort of trouble Jennifer had back in New York City.

The show's most interesting aspect may be its social setting. The show has been getting ink as a place to see raging hormones on television, and true enough, these 15-year-olds think a lot about sex (didn't you at 15?). But it's the adults who do the fooling around, while the kids show restraint. Joey tries to cut things off when her feelings for Dawson head south; Dawson admires the films of Steven Spielberg because they don't portray a world where sex is at the center of everything; and Jennifer's not even sure she should be kissing Dawson.

Some parents will no doubt feel uncomfortable about their kids watching "Dawson's Creek." And there's no arguing that tonight's premiere includes a few words you don't normally hear -- not to mention a sexual reference to Katie Couric that hardly fits her image.

But underneath, "Dawson's Creek" seems not so much about sex as about growing up in a culture obsessed with sex. It's a subtle difference, but one that could make this newest %o prime-time soap a cut above the rest.

'Dawson's Creek'

What: Series premiere

When: 9-10 tonight

Where: WB (WNUV, Channel 54)

Pub Date: 1/20/98

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