Dawson’s Creek vs. Gilmore Girls: 34 Ways These Shows are Exactly the Same
Coming of age in the early 2000s, it was hard to miss shows like Dawson’s Creek and Gilmore Girls on the WB (now the CW). I was an avid Gilmore Girls fan from the start, and Tuesday nights (other than the first season, when it aired on Thursdays) were my teen-angst therapy. For me, the witty banter and small-town drama was self-care before self-care was something every single piece of content demanded you do, like, right now.
I watched the series finale of Dawson’s Creek when it aired in 2003 and I remember thinking it was incredibly well-done. Without ever having seen the show prior, I felt like I was a part of Capeside. It was the mark of a great finale, I thought, that it could stand alone, like a super-dramatic chick flick.
Fast forward to 2020, and my life hasn’t turned out like Gilmore Girls or Dawson’s Creek. Still, I have watched the former series about 800 million times in its entirety since my teen years, including several times with my at-first-reluctant, but now-converted-to-fandom husband.
As a 30-something struggling with getting older, parenthood, economic uncertainty, and the COVID-19 pandemic, the arrival of Dawson’s Creek on Netflix proved extremely well-timed. In the last month or so, I watched the entire series. I’m embarrassed at how sucked in to a cloying teen drama I was able to become, again, because I am twice the age of the protagonists.
But the show provided a much-needed escape from the stressors of real life, as well as some hilarious haircuts (largely from Dawson and Jen) and a tremendous number of Pacey Witter bowling shirts. This nostalgic romp has left me feeling oddly satisfied, though watching the show left me with a gnawing sensation that I had heard this story before.
In many major, major ways, Gilmore Girls is the same show as Dawson’s Creek. Don’t get me wrong, I know there are differences. I also realize that Dawson is the “true” protagonist of the latter series, but I’ve decided to overlook that for the list below, because I think we can all agree that Joey Potter is the real focal point.
I know both shows aired on the WB around the same time and had some writer overlap (like Gina Fattore), but how in God’s name did anyone approve this blatant plot theft? Some elements of the stories are oft-used tropes throughout teen drama, but I defy you to tell me that Gilmore Girls didn’t basically steal everything great that it has to offer from Dawson’s Creek, in some way or another.
Allow me to explain the 34 ways in which Dawson’s and Gilmore Girls are the same show.
1. We begin with a bookish brunette from a small New England town (we’ll call her Protagonist). She is raised exclusively by a female role model, due to a mostly absent father.
2. Protagonist has huge, expressive eyes, a vocabulary beyond her years, an impatience for the emotional immaturity of her peers, and a tremendous knowledge of pop culture.
3. In fact, referencing books, movies, and other elements of popular culture is one of the most common activities the main characters engage in.
4. After a shaky, teen-romance-typical start, Protagonist dates a tall, nice boy with an awful haircut (we’ll call him First Boyfriend). Her boyfriend is kind and generally treats her well, but he gets pretty jealous/possessive and has some old-fashioned ideas about gender roles. Ultimately, he doesn’t challenge her to grow and the relationship lacks passion.
5. After a period of denial, Protagonist finally realizes she’s in love with a “bad boy”-type, someone with darker, sexier hair who engages in better banter. This is the relationship fans of the show will ship. It’s with this boy the thoughtful, cautious Protagonist will first experience her sexual awakening and begin to wonder if taking her relationship to a more physical place is right for her.
6. However, she still has to ford the river of Bad Town Traditions, where the two boys will fight over her in a misogynistic and dated fashion, whether it be by way of a basket bidding contest or a sailing race.
7. Protagonist and Bad Boy finally get together, ruining her friendship with First Boyfriend and causing concern among other friends and family members. The couple is happy for all of five minutes before trouble starts brewing. This usually relates to the deep-seated insecurities of Bad Boy, who feels unworthy of the Protagonist’s beauty and brains.
8. Sometimes, Bad Boy and Protagonist fight because she has resumed her friendship with First Boyfriend, and old jealousies persist. Bad Boy and First Boyfriend often exchange tense words and sometimes even have altercations.
9. Bad Boy struggles in school and may not graduate. Even though he’s secretly brilliant, he isn’t college material, either. Sometimes, Protagonist tutors him. However, when it comes down to it, he doesn’t tell Protagonist how badly he’s doing in school, and he ends up running away to a sunnier locale to escape his problems. Their relationship ends suddenly, not because they aren’t in love, but because he needs to Find Himself.
10. Protagonist gets into a great college but has no money to pay for it and has to borrow money from someone who makes the situation awkward for her.
11. Right after her relationship with Bad Boy ends, Protagonist speaks at graduation about moving on, and that season of the show ends on an optimistic, but extremely unsatisfying, note.
12. Protagonist goes off to college, and somehow nearly every major character from her high school years is still involved in her life, either at her new college, in the same city, or constantly calling her and coming to visit. A new character (like a roommate) may be introduced to add spice to the plot, but they never have significant story lines that anyone likes.
13. Protagonist wants to Focus on School, since she wasn’t born rich and Came a Long Way to Get Here. She resists the advances of nice guys who talk to her in class. Finally, someone says something profound to her and she decides to go on a date with a Nice Guy, but it doesn’t work out.
14. Even though First Boyfriend lives elsewhere, he’s still a significant part of the story. Later, he and Protagonist will sleep together when he’s in a relationship with someone else, and that storyline won’t really go anywhere other than to prove once and for all they shouldn’t be together.
15. Bad Boy pops up from time to time with sexually charged scenes, but Protagonist generally acts like she’s totally over him, even though their relationship ended in a very unresolved way.
16. There’s a College Boyfriend who’s kind of a douchebag, but for some reason, Protagonist seems to like him. College Boyfriend has commitment issues at first, but Protagonist wins him over with her faith in him. It doesn’t work out.
17. At one point, Protagonist has the chance to make a choice between College Boyfriend and Bad Boy, and she chooses College Boyfriend even though his recent behavior has been pretty despicable. Bad Boy looks like he’s going to cry, but he lets her go because he really loves her.
18. A business that is someone’s livelihood burns to the ground and then that person opens a bed and breakfast.
19. A male love interest participates significantly in financing/building the new bed and breakfast, which inexplicably turns out to be wildly successful. This helps build the relationship between said male and a major female character.
20. A male love interest is gruff-but-lovable and owns a restaurant.
21. Someone gets into a serious car accident while eating an ice cream cone. (Like, how is this something that can be recycled?! When does this EVER happen in real life?)
22. Bad Boy has a complicated relationship with his parents that is kind of touched on but never really dealt with.
23. Despite frequent gaslighting and a refusal to see Protagonist as a person with her own need for growth, First Boyfriend continues to be viewed as a Good Guy by most of the other characters, who constantly laud him for his morals and values.
24. Sherilyn Fenn plays either one or two very irritating and unlikable characters.
25. Chad Michael Murray plays a jerk who everyone likes at first because they think he’s hot. The Protagonist is the only one who really connects with him on a deeper level, but he has to be written off the show for self-development reasons.
26. There’s a pond/creek with a dock that is the setting for many Serious Conversations.
27. The Protagonist’s dad comes back every once in awhile and messes some things up, but it’s okay, because he really loves his daughter and wants what’s best for her.
28. There’s a school friend who is super smart and extremely motivated, to the point of coming across as insane and hyper. Ultimately, her drive to succeed is addressed by her having mental health difficulties.
29. Breakups happen at dances.
30. The present-timeline of the show ends with Protagonist alone, but in a good place personally, surrounded by great memories she made with the people who love her and made her who she is.
31. The entire story may or may not have been a retelling of the events of Protagonist’s teen years, which is very meta and maybe was avant-garde at the time.
32. In the real end of the show, which happens 5 to 10 years in the future, the characters have more or less not moved on in any way from where we left them at the present-timeline-end of the show. Relationships that were unresolved remain unresolved, despite the immense passage of time. No one who was dating has gotten married, even if they’re still together. Somehow, all of the characters that caused tension and drama are still in touch and pick back up immediately where they left off, with old feelings and jealousies intact, despite so much time passing and everyone living in different cities.
33. Protagonist ends up with, or it is heavily implied she ends up with, Bad Boy, the only one to ever really love her.
34. The show is very meta and ends in some sort of circular way that the writers clearly thought was profound.
The parallels are staggering, right? Re-read that list with either show in mind and it’s all still applicable. And yet, if you Google “why do Gilmore Girls and Dawson’s Creek have the same story,” it seems like no one else has noticed.
All this said, both series are well worth watching for the nostalgia factor alone. If you can think of any other parallels, feel free to drop them in the comments!