It has been nearly 30 years since teen TV dramas — and the accompanying teen love triangle trope — came into prominence, thanks to a little show called Beverly Hills, 90210. A few years later, the creation of the WB Network targeted teen triangles even further with the network’s flagship series Dawson’s Creek, which premiered Jan. 20, 1998. The kids of Capeside captivated us, and the complicated bestie bond between Dawson (James Van Der Beek), Joey (Katie Holmes), and Pacey (Joshua Jackson) was the center of the series, a triangle that gave us what could be the greatest cry-face in TV history.
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Dawson’s Creek premiere, we’re taking a look at five of TV’s most memorable teen love triangles — shows that come with passionate fanbases who still argue over which couple should have ended up together. So, tell us: Who do you ship?
The Triangle: Dawson, Joey, and Pacey (Dawson’s Creek)
The Case for Joey and Dawson: Joey’s unrequited love for the boy across the creek included plenty of platonic hang time on his bed. It took an entire season for the besties to kiss — and only after Dawson saw Joey decked out for the Miss Windjammer pageant — but by then Dawson had found his soulmate. Although the couple’s back-and-forth breakups were frustrating, it doesn’t get much better than a first love with a creek setting.
The Case for Joey and Pacey: By Season 3, Joey was firmly cemented in a relationship with pal Pacey, and they stayed that way through the rest of high school, where, after the senior class ski trip, Joey’s virginity went from technical to nonexistent. The couple’s effortless chemistry was undeniable (it didn’t hurt that in real life, Holmes and Jackson actually dated and she described him as her “first love”), and, of course, Joey and Pacey famously ended up together in the Dawson’s finale.
The Triangle: Kelly, Dylan, Brenda (Beverly Hills, 90210)
The Case for Dylan and Brenda: Dylan McKay and Brenda Walsh (Luke Perry and Shannen Doherty) were West Beverly High’s resident Romeo and Juliet. Their romance sparked a huge reaction in the Walsh household, but their teen love story ruled the school (and the Peach Pit), and by the end of the Season 1 “Spring Dance” episode, they’d checked into a hotel room to seal the deal. Nearly 30 years later, Dylan and Brenda remain one of teen TV’s most iconic love stories.
The Case for Dylan and Kelly: We always knew Dylan preferred blondes (remember when, early on, a frantic Brenda disastrously dyed her hair to try to get his attention?), but no one ever dreamed he’d fall into the arms of Brenda’s BFF Kelly (Jennie Garth) while she was in Paris for the summer. While Kelly totally broke best friend code, her fiery romance with Dylan eventually grew on 90210 fans. Fast-forward to the 2008 90210 spinoff, when it was revealed that Dylan was the father of Kelly’s son, Sammy.
The Triangle: Spike, Buffy, and Angel (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
The Case for Buffy and Angel: On paper, Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) hookup with good-guy vampire Angel (David Boreanaz) should never have happened. How does a Slayer end up with a vampire? Turns out Angel had a soul — until he fell in love with Buffy and transformed into the soulless Angelus after they slept together. Like any normal relationship, she killed him, he went to hell, and then he came back an angel. Sure, he went to her prom, but the limitations of this relationship were enough for Angel to leave his beloved after Season 3 because he thought it best. (Plus he got his own show.) Angel’s love for the Sunnydale slayer never died as they both chose the fate of the world over their relationship.
The Case for Buffy and Spike: Fans didn’t want to fall in love with Buffy’s later romance with bad boy Spike (James Marsters), but it was pretty impossible not to. With an Angel romance an impossibility, her love story with bad vamp turned good captivated fans. Spike was only supposed to be on the show for five episodes before being killed off and, instead, he lived on for 97, even going through numerous trials to get his soul back for his girl. Dude was super in love and devoted to Buffy even when he was “plotting to kill her.”
The Triangle: Dean, Rory, and Jess (Gilmore Girls)
The Case for Rory and Dean: Rory Gilmore’s (Alexis Bledel) first kiss came from her devoted high school boyfriend Dean (Jared Padalecki) — at Doose’s Market, no less. Rory later admitted she loved him (more specifically, “I love you, you idiot!”), but this romance was back and forth enough that by the time Rory lost her virginity to Dean, he was married to someone else. Still, this guy built her a car so she didn’t have to take the bus to school anymore, so that earns him major points.
The Case for Rory and Jess: When bad boy Jess Mariano (Milo Ventimiglia) turned up in Stars Hollow, he turned Rory’s world — and her relationship with Dean — upside down. How could she not fall for a guy who reads Jane Austen? Unfortunately, Jess’s communication and follow-through skills weren’t the best, and he lacked the commitment gene. He ultimately ghosted Rory, then later reappeared to ask her to run away with him. Reckless, we know! By the time Jess grew up, his Gilmore gal had moved on with new guy Logan. But that longing look he gave her through the window after they reunited on the A Year in the Life revival? Never forget.
The Triangle: Archie, Betty, and Jughead (Riverdale)
The Case for Betty and Archie: The pilot episode of The CW’s live-action Archie Comics-based series had good girl Betty Cooper (Lili Reinhart) professing her love for her childhood pal Archie (K.J. Apa), but he didn’t reciprocate. But that doesn’t mean Archikins didn’t later wonder if he let a good thing get away. Sure enough, the teen sleuths shared a passionate kiss when they were on the quest to discover the Black Hood’s identity — and fans went ballistic. Diehard comic fans are all about Archie and Betty, but this ship may have sailed.
The Case for Betty and Jughead: Riverdale opted not to use its readymade Archie-Veronica-Betty love triangle (yet!), but no one saw this one coming: Jughead. In a total departure from the comics, Riverdale’s all-American good girl got mixed up with Archie’s motorcycle riding friend, Jughead (Cole Sprouse). While this odd couple fell deeply in love, Jug wasn’t down with his girl doing a stripper dance at the White Wyrm in an attempt to become a Southside Serpent, so he let her go over fears that he couldn’t protect her from his bad-boy world. Now that’s love. Of course, whether you’re Team Barchie or Bughead, the verdict is still out on this love triangle since the show is only in its sophomore season and, fingers crossed, there’s much more to come.
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