Film: Catcher in the wry

Dream on: this is how you wish it had been when you were a teenager. John Lyttle checks out the latest import from the States

In retrospect, America was the right - the only - place to invent the teenager, just as the Fifties was the right decade for the creature to walk amongst us. Where else but in a land that pursues happiness while demanding success could kids really get to be crazy and mixed-up? No where but over there; the home of the brave and rebels without a cause, of hep cats, hippies, hackers, slackers, brat packers and Generation X; successive pop phenomenon worshipped for youth, courted for income, feared for delinquency.

A rich and dramatic mix, especially when the demographics are dropped in: three and a half million teenagers are added to the American population per annum, with numbers already running at around 90 million. Small wonder the US has produced throbbing pulp masterpieces like Party Of Five, Beverly Hills 90210 and My So-Called Life while we have the plodding Hollyoaks: the difference between the cult of personality and the plot-driven, between subculture and soap.

Or, to put it another way, there's Shit Creek and then there's Dawson's Creek. Don't worry if you haven't heard of it - yet. Despite being one of the two hottest new shows on American television - the other is the feminist-dividing Ally McBeal - Dawson's Creek snuck onto Channel Four last Saturday as if the channel was ashamed of its latest import, or at least determined not to duplicate its Stateside controversy; the shock- horror of discovering teenagers masturbate ("Walked the dog?"), are obsessed with sex ("Do you think my breasts will come between us?") and detest grown-ups. As the eponymous Dawson says to his randy Mom and Dad: "Don't you people ever stop?"

Which sounds glib. And is meant to. Kevin Williamson is the man at the typewriter and as Scream, Scream 2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer prove, Williamson has an ear for adolescent verbal swagger and the faux sophisticated rites and rituals of those actually desperate to do nothing but fit in. The Screams having helped remind Hollywood that the teen audience wasn't dead but merely bored comatose, he's ideally positioned to pilot, pen and produce DC and exploit the surprise ratings the TV version of Buffy The Vampire Slayer scored.

And to turn autobiography into something beyond zit-com. Dawson (James Van Der Beek) wants to be the next Spielberg. Video camera at the ever ready, he is determined to live his life as a film - except it's a weekly series instead. Thirtysomething for fifteensomethings, in fact: a show that takes teenage feelings/stirrings nearly as seriously as teenagers do and at the same time is a fantasy of being teenage. Retorts tooled a decade too late, Dawson and friends get to blurt out. How smart: Dawson wants to be a director, best friend Pacey (Joshua Jackson) works, pace Tarantino, in a video store, tomboy Joey (Katie Holmes) behaves as if she's seen one too many episodes of Saved By The Bell, new girl Jennifer (Michelle Williams) has apparently lifted her moves from Amanda on Melrose Place. As the cast smirk, the moment anything or anyone drifts towards the preachy, "So what did we learn from this 90210 moment?"

Perfect sense: when you're at the age when mood and behaviour can't always be labelled, what else is there except the shorthand of rock lyrics, favourite film scenes and hitting your imaginary marks? The air not only smells of teen spirit, but is thick with pop references and wet dream dialogue. Cue Pacey, addressing his curvy English teacher, destined to claim his virginity come episode three: "You know, lady, I'm the best sex you never had." It's exactly right - just what a horny smartmouth would say if he thought he was Christian Slater in Heathers.

There's a risk, however. The danger here is that once advertisers are tied up, what was hot amongst the fickle yesterday might be stone cold today. The fledgling WB network is willing to gamble, though, if only for the merchandising spin-offs. Another 22 episodes are under order and Miramax, eager to gatecrash the party, have hired Kevin Williamson to develop WasteLand. In the meantime it behoves middle-youth to tune in tomorrow and remember the way it was. Or the way it wished it was: smart but naive, brutal but sweet and oh so cool: when existence was a voyage of discovery and not a trip down memory lane. Life as a movie, movie as life: in an era where faked teen documentaries are called The Real World, who's to say which is mirror and which is reflection?

'Dawson's Creek', Channel 4, Saturday, 7pm.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

    £20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

    Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

    War with Isis

    Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
    Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

    A spring in your step?

    Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

    Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

    Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
    Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

    Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

    For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
    Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

    Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

    As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
    The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

    UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

    Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

    Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

    Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
    Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

    Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

    If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
    10 best compact cameras

    A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

    If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
    Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

    Paul Scholes column

    Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
    Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

    Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
    Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

    The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?