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[You] don't wanna wait: A beginner's guide to 'Dawson's Creek'

With its return to the airwaves for the first time in years (ABC Family weekdays, 12/1 CT), and a plum feature at the ATX Festival, Dawson’s Creek is smack in the middle of a second life. So now is a great time to revisit it, or better yet, discover it for the first time.

A late-nineties response to John Hughes, and arguably a blueprint for many WB/CW shows that followed it, Dawson’s follows Dawson Leery (James Van der Beek), a small-town boy with big Hollywood dreams; his lifelong best friend, Joey Potter (Katie Holmes, clad in an endless wardrobe of tank tops and too-long sweaters); smart-aleck sidekick Pacey Witter (Joshua Jackson, channeling George Clooney); and “beautiful girl with a bad past” Jen (Michelle Williams, horribly underused almost the entire show). Everyone’s vocabulary is way too advanced for their age, and the show occasionally ventures into “issue of the week” territory, but at its best, the show is smart and sentimental, portraying feelings of frustration, sweaty palms, and friendship honestly.

While the show has its flaws, it’s much like nachos at the movies: Even when it’s bad, it’s still so, so good. After all, it launched a thousand Vandermemes and gave us the great gift that is Pacey Witter (I should also use this opportunity to apologize to every boyfriend I’ve ever had. Thanks to Pacey, I expect every brunette male with a smart mouth to buy me a wall. If you’re a Dawson’s newb and that means nothing to you, don’t worry; in time, it will.)

Plus, its cast has gone on to a number of illustrious projects: Oscar nominated films, Broadway productions, cult-TV hits, TomKat.

While you could jump in and start watching reruns on ABC Family—they’re still in the first season right now—you can also take a sampler approach. If that’s more your preference, here are my recommendations for your essential Dawson’s Creek education.

Creek Essentials

“Pilot,” season 1, episode 1: This is essential viewing. Not only will you get a kick out of some nostalgic details (Dawson and Pacey work at a video store! The phones are big! The clothes are so baggy!), but you will also get a feel for the tone and style of the show. Bonus points if you watch this side-by-side with the table read from the ATX Festival.

“Detention,” season 1, episode 7: A riff on The Breakfast Club, this episode features one of the first appearances of Abby Morgan, Mean Girl Extraordinaire, and some of Katie Holmes’ best lip-quivering.

“Beauty Pageant,” season 1, episode 12: Four words: On My Own. Braveheart.

“Decisions,” season 1, episode 13: Will Dawson and Joey address their feelings for each other? Will Joey go to Paris? (Hint for that second question: See Lauren Conrad).

“To Be … or Not to Be,” season 2, episodes 14 and 15: No sassy remarks here. This is a thoughtful coming-out episode for one of the characters (though for the sake of the uninitiated, I’ll keep the identity secret).

“Ch-ch-changes,” season 2, episode 22: Parts of this episode are ridiculous, like Joey wearing a wire to catch her drug-dealer father. Other parts, like the scenes focusing on Pacey and his mentally ill girlfriend, Andie, show tremendous capacity for compassion and personal growth.

“To Green with Love,” season 3, episode 16: This is about the time in the series where the show becomes less Dawson’s Creek and more Joey’s Creek. It features our girl protesting to save her principal’s job. Oh, and Pacey gets Joey a wall. Trust me, you’ll melt.

“Stolen Kisses,” season 3, episode 19: A pre-Modern Family Julie Bowen makes a quick appearance. There’s a lot to love in this quirky episode (awkward karaoke, Michael Pitt before he started exclusively playing creepy people). But the best part comes at the end, with a fireside confession of love.

“The Anti-Prom,” season 3, episode 22: When a character is denied the chance to attend his school prom with his same-sex date, the crew throws an alternative prom. This episode also probably caused thousands of girls everywhere (self included) to have unrealistic expectations of romance. Why can’t men remember … everything?

“True Love,” season 3, episode 23: Easily one of the strongest episodes of the series (PERIOD), this is the genesis of the crying Vandermeme, and featured the first same-sex kiss on primetime television. It’s also beautifully moving, a testament to friendship and, yes, true love.

“You Had Me at Goodbye,” season 4, episode 7: This is a bittersweet examination of what happens when friendships change, when people grow apart, and when groups get fragmented. It asks, and answers, a lot of questions about whether relationships can truly be rebuilt.

“Castaways,” season 6, episode 15: I’ll be honest: Spending a night in K-Mart sounds like the stuff of nightmares—but this plotline plays out like a dream. It’s It Happened One Night for the modern age.

“All Good Things … Must Come to an End,” season 6, series finale: I’ve been burned by a lot of series finales before (I’m looking at you, HIMYM), but this finale, set five years in the future, has a ton of payoffs for both the casual and the serious viewer.

So what are you waiting for? Get watching! And for all of my Dawson’s vets, what are your favorites? Anything missing from this list?

TV Families | EW.com
Mark Harris
February 23, 1990 AT 05:00 AM EST

The Bradys are back, with a passel of 90’s hassles. Do they represent the typical American Family? Did they ever? Who does? Stare and compare!

Kind Of Family
TheBradyBunch 1969-74: Blended
The Bradys 1990-: Enormous
Married…With Children 1987-: Postnuclear
Thirtysomething 1987-: Extended
The Flintstones 1960-66: Modern Stone Age

Family Pet
The Brady Bunch: Tiger
The Bradys: Alice
Married…With Children: Buck
Thirtysomething: Grendel
The Flintstones: Dino

Typical Guest Star
The Brady Bunch: Davey Jones
The Bradys: There’s no room
Married…With Children: Sam Kinison
Thirtysomething: Carly Simon
The Flintstones: Ann Margrock

Expression Of Joy
The Brady Bunch: Groovy!
The Bradys: Ritual hugging
Married…With Children: ”Oh, great.”
Thirtysomething: ”Of course I’m happy for you. Really. But what about me? Why does it always have to be about you?
The Flintstones: ”Yabba-dabba doo

Expression Of Rage

The Brady Bunch: ”Hmmm…”
The Bradys: ”If you back away from something you really want, then you’re a quitter!” (the angriest any Brady has ever been)
Married…With Children: ”Aaagh, God, take me from this miserable life!”
Thirtysomething: ”I’m not angry, OK?”
The Flintstones: ”Willllmaaaa!”

Typical Problem
The Brady Bunch: Marcia and her rival both want to be the prom queen.
The Bradys: Bobby gets paralyzed.
Married…With Children: Al doesn’t buy his family Christmas presents.
Thirtysomething: Nancy gets cancer.
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney are staying out too late.

Typical Solution
The Brady Bunch: The prom committee decides to have two queens.
The Bradys: Bobby gets married.
Married…With Children: They hate him.
Thirtysomething: If only we knew…
The Flintstones: Wilma and Betty decide to follow them.

House Style
The Brady Bunch: Conservative but mod, circa ’69
The Bradys: Conservative but mod, circa ’90
Married…With Children: Roach motel
Thirtysomething: Enviable
The Flintstones: Suburban cave

Clothing Style
The Brady Bunch: Early Osmonds
The Bradys: Made in the USA
Married…With Children: Flammable fabrics
Thirtysomething: Eclectic earth tones; nice ties
The Flintstones: One-piece

Most Annoying Character
The Brady Bunch: Alice’s cousin Emma, the substitute housekeeper (too strict)
The Bradys: Marcia’s husband, Wally (chronically unemployable)
Married…With Children: Steve (supercilious)
Thirtysomething: Ellyn (goes through Hope’s drawers, babbles, changes hairstyle every other week, generally mistreats her friends)
The Flintstones: Mr. Slate (bossy)

Attitude Toward Sex
The Brady Bunch: Never heard of it
The Bradys: Omigod — even Cindy does it!
Married…With Children: Peg: Yes. Al: No.
Thirtysomething: They didn’t get all those kids by accident.
The Flintstones: Prehistoric

How Spouses Fight
The Brady Bunch: They don’t.
The Bradys: Infrequently, but it happens
Married…With Children: Tooth and nail
Thirtysomething: They stop talking
The Flintstones: Fred and Barney go bowling while Wilma and Betty max out their charge cards.

How Kids Get Into Trouble
The Brady Bunch: Greg takes a puff of a cigarette.
The Bradys: Carol’s grandson steals her business cards and sticks them in the spokes of Bobby’s wheelchair.
Married…With Children: By committing felonies
Thirtysomething: Ethan plays with a forbidden toy rocket.
The Flintstones: They don’t.

How They’re Punished

The Brady Bunch: ”It’s not what you did, honey — it’s that you couldn’t come to us.”
The Bradys ”Next time, ask.”
Married…With Children: By the authorities
Thirtysomething: It blows up in his face.
The Flintstones: They’re not.

What Family Does For Fun
The Brady Bunch: Takes special three-part vacations to Hawaii and the Grand Canyon
The Bradys: Has flashbacks
Married…With Children: Exchanges insults
Thirtysomething: Talks
The Flintstones: Attends showings of The Monster at the Bedrock Drive-In

Unsolved Mysteries
The Brady Bunch: How exactly did Carol’s first husband and Mike’s first wife die?
The Bradys: What’s with Marcia’s new face and Bobby’s blonde hair
Married…With Children: What kind of hair spray does Peg use?
Thirtysomething: Why did Nancy take Elliot back? What do Gary and Susanna see in each other?
The Flintstones: How does Barney’s shirt stay on if he has no shoulders? Where do Fred and Wilma plug in their TV?

Worst Behavior
The Brady Bunch: The Brady children once made Alice feel under-appreciated.

The Bradys: Marcia’s son Mickey watches Bobby’s car-crash tape for fun.
Married…With Children: The Bundy’s kill their neighbor’s dog.
Thirtysomething: Elliot has an affair and talks about it.
The Flintstones: Characters don’t wear under-clothes.

Best Reason To Watch
The Brady Bunch: This is what life should be.
The Bradys: They’re all grown-ups now!
Married…With Children: Terry Rakolta hates it.
Thirtysomething (Tie) This is your life. This isn’t your life.
The Flintstones: This is what life might have been.

Best Reason Not To Watch
The Brady Bunch: Blurred vision from rerun overdoses.
The Bradys: You’re all grown-ups now.
Married…With Children: She has a point.
Thirtysomething: After a while, you think it’s real.
The Flintstones: The Simpsons

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