November 2023

Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson’s Creek

By Thea Glassman
This survey of seven teen shows explores how they broke ground with creativity, heart and hard work, paving the way for the genre’s progressive and diverse oeuvre today.
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Anyone immediately transported to a riverside pier by the lyric “So open up your morning light” will love Thea Glassman’s Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson’s Creek: How Seven Teen Shows Transformed Television. “Today’s teen shows are leading the charge when it comes to progressive, diverse, and creative storytelling,” Glassman writes, but they wouldn’t exist without the seven predecessors she covers in her impressive debut: “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” “My So-Called Life,” “Dawson’s Creek,” “Freaks and Geeks,” “The O.C.,” “Friday Night Lights” and “Glee.”

In a wealth of new interviews with creators, writers, actors, crew and more insiders, Freaks, Gleeks, and Dawson’s Creek shares behind-the-scenes details that will delight devoted fans and excited newbies alike. While all of the shows drew heavily from their creators’ own teenage years, Glassman points out the unique choices and approaches that made each iconic. For example, “Fresh Prince” subverted typical sitcom format and “painted a nuanced picture of the Black experience. “My So-Called Life” inspired the first online campaign to save a show, and “Dawson’s Creek” had the first openly gay character in the teen sphere.

While Glassman acknowledges controversies that touched each show, she focuses on the creativity, heart and hard work that led to a groundbreaking era of teen TV. After all, as writer and pop-culture maven Jennifer Keishin Armstrong writes in her introduction, “There is no drama like teenage drama, in life and in fiction.”

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