By the Season: Daria
"Daria" was basically the only reason I tuned in to MTV in the 90's. The animated show really spoke to me even though I was in elementary and then middle school and not high school at the time. I thought Daria and Jane were cool and I wanted to be like them. I could understand Daria's pessimism because her life always seemed to reinforce it. I laughed at her superficial sister Quinn and the fashion club, because I had known girls like that, who had bullied and excluded me for basically being smart and caring about things they didn't while they cared about things I didn't.
Anyway, even though now I understand that, as is pointed out to her sometimes, Daria was sometimes responsible for her own problems because of her attitude, and now I see her as more annoying and less cool, but I still enjoy the show's humorous satire of modern America. It's a show about why it sucks to be different, and it doesn't sugar coat it. For Daria and other misfits, it's just about finding the things that can make the experience not suck too much.
So, let's look at the five seasons that make up a show every out-of-place, sensitive, socially awkward, apathetic smart girl will probably relate to. I will discuss each season and give my favorite episodes in each one.
Season 1 does a pretty good job of introducing the main characters, and contains some very amusing episodes. Some of my favorite episodes:
- College Bored (03): Daria and her sister, Quinn, go out for a college visit to their parents' alma mater. Shenanigans happen and Daria ends up being paid to write people's papers, while Quinn goes to a frat party and becomes the "keg queen". It's like a glimpse into the future.
- Malled (05): In consumer economics class, the mall is suggested as a field trip. Hilarity ensues. I liked this episode because it's not just about Jane and Daria, but it's one of the first episodes that focuses more on their classmates and their personalities, while still giving Jane and Daria a story.
- Too Cute (09): In this episode, Quinn becomes jealous of another girl at their school who got plastic surgery, so she seeks a consultation with the same doctor. Daria helps her come to her senses. I liked this episode because it deals with a very real issue for girls especially; living in a superficial, looks-obsessed culture where "pretty" is never good enough for some people.
- Road Worrier (11): Daria hitches a ride to "Alternapalooza", a music festival, with Jane and her brother Trent's band. Quinn and the fashion club go separately, as well as some of Daria's classmates. For Daria, it's one disaster after another. Nobody actually makes it to the festival, but I'll not give away anything further. It's a good episode because it gets the kids out of their usual routines and environments, similarly to "Malled", but even better in that this time they're more independent of any adult authority figures. It also shows a lot of interaction between Daria and Trent, and the former's budding crush on the latter that will come up again in later episodes.
- Misery Chick (13): A beloved, legendary quarterback returns to the school when they're going to dedicate a goal post in his honor, but he acts like a total jerk to everyone. When said jerk dies at the school, everyone seems to turn to Daria for advice about how to cope with their mixed feelings of anger towards him they had when he was alive and grief over him now that he's dead. I like it because it shows that people like Daria do have a place in society, it's one of the few times that the other kids actually seek her out for advice. But then again, she's still just a kid herself, if a wise one, and it may be unfair to place the burden of their feelings on her shoulders just because they think she's some kind of death-obsessed sad person. I also like this episode because it's the first time Daria and Jane really have a fight, even if it is a small rift that quickly is patched up. It's interesting to see how they handle an extreme situation like that, and manage to stay strong as friends through the whole ordeal.
Season 2 explores Trent and Daria's interaction and Daria's unspoken developing crush on Trent. It also deals a lot with themes of integrity and staying true to one's own values in the face of temptation to stray from them.
- Arts and Crass (01): This one deals with the issue of artistic censorship. When there is an arts contest at school where the principal wants positive images about teenage life, Daria subverts the positivity aspect by making her project about bulimia and body image issues. When Ms. Li (the principal) messes with Daria's art project though, she gets an earful from Helen (Daria's mother), who is a lawyer. I liked this one because it shows that, although Helen criticizes Daria's attitude often, she does care a lot about what goes on in Daria's life and is not afraid to tell off anyone who she sees as violating Daria's rights. In this case, the right to freedom of speech.
- That Was Then, This is Dumb (05): Daria's parents reconnect with their old hippie friends from "back in the day", who judge them for being corporate sellouts. I liked this one because it deals with the parents having an identity crisis and wondering if they have changed for the worse since their hippie days, or if the sensible thing was to grow out of it.
- Monster (06): Daria and Jane have to do a video project, and Daria decides to do an expose of Quinn's superficiality. However, parental intervention and guilty feelings lead her to change the video at the last minute, portraying Quinn in a more positive light. I like this one because it shows that even given the chance to be really mean in revenge against her sister, even Daria has lines she won't cross. It's about integrity, and also about learning to see the good in people.
- Gifted (08): Daria and honors student Jodie visit a school for intelligent students, and both of them consider the pluses and minuses of leaving Lawndale High for a place that might be more intellectually stimulating and not full of idiotic classmates. However, they soon realize that intelligence on an IQ test does not mean someone is necessarily nice, and that a high IQ makes some students turn into elitist snobs who judge other people's worth on test score numbers. It's interesting because I knew plenty of other gifted children growing up and they didn't act like that (in fact most of us are skeptical about the validity of IQ tests, which does wonders for our self-esteem knowing that those tests are basically all we're good at, and we're usually well aware of our crippling deficiencies in other aspects of life), but then again, "Daria" is a show that exaggerates the worst side of nearly everyone. I still like this episode though, mostly for Jodie's heart to heart talk with Daria, and the way she stood up to one of the smart kid jerks. Jodie became one of my favorite characters for her role in this episode, even though in real life I've always had trouble relating to the "overachiever" type. Maybe it's just that I had laid back parents.
- See Jane Run (11): Jane joining the track team puts a strain on her friendship with Daria. It also makes Daria somewhat depressed and questioning her motivations. Like she says to herself, "Am I supporting my friend, or her surrender to the system?". Socially, being a "winner" jock and getting special treatment alienates her from Daria, who knows that everyone is only treating her that way because of the track thing. Daria gets mad about the fact that she gets special treatment, and Jane's guy she admires on the team calls Daria a "loser" and says she shouldn't hang out with her. This disillusions Jane into quitting the team. I like this episode because it carries on the theme of integrity, but this time, it's Jane's integrity that's being tested.
With crazy episodes like "Depth Takes a Holiday" and "Daria!", this season is when the show started to get more surreal and absurd. This isn't exactly my favorite season, but it has a few memorable episodes. It's just that this season is higher generally in absurd comedy but lower than other seasons in social commentary or realities of being a teenager. It's still an enjoyable season, but it feels sometimes like a set of one-shot comic strips featuring the characters more than like it has the depth of story that some other seasons had.
- Depth Takes a Holiday (03): Cupid and a leprechaun show up in Lawndale trying to track down anthropomorphic representations of Christmas, Halloween, and Guy Fawkes Day. Quinn also starts thinking that her parents are trying to have another baby, but it was really just that Cupid was putting them "in the mood" to distract them. The holidays crash at Daria's house, but end up annoying the hell out of her. I chose to mention this one just because of how crazy it is. It's like the show's Big Lipped Alligator Moment.
- The Lost Girls (05): A dumb teen magazine editor shows up at Lawndale High wanting to meet Daria because of her "edgy" essay she wrote. But when the lady sees that Daria is so unpopular, she drops her like a hot rock to try to hang out with the cool kids. I like this one because it shows the absurdity of those teen magazines that try to pretend they know what teenagers want and what they're like, and they don't. It makes fun of adults who try too hard to remain perpetually adolescent.
- It Happened One Nut (06): Daria is forced to take up part-time employment she hates at a nuts shop at the mall. Quinn is also forced to get a job and chooses a pet shop. This is a funny take on the old "learning responsibility" lesson found in a lot of TV shows geared towards kids and teens.
- Daria! (7): In this absurdly musical episode, Daria, Jane, Kevin, and Britney get stuck up on the roof of their school during a hurricane. Daria's dad and Trent went out trying to rescue them, but crashed into a tree. They make it home fine anyway.
- Speedtrapped (10): When Daria gets her driver's license, she has to drive to get Jane and Mystik Spiral, Trent's band, out of jail. Quinn insists on coming along too. She picks up a hitchhiking cowboy who is also a country singer. In jail, the band meets a guy who claims to know famous musicians, and Jane finds a potential career in tattooing. Daria thinks the cowboy stole their money when they get there, but the truth is Quinn spent some and "lent" the rest to him "for bus fare". But Quinn is able to convince some other cowboy wannabes to donate to their cause. They get back to the jail and find out Jane and the band were given a way to work off their debt to society: them playing at and Jane doing temporary tattoos at the deputy's kid's birthday party.
I liked this episode because it's about Daria and Quinn working together to solve their problem. Even if it was a problem caused by Quinn being stupid.
- Just Add Water (12): The classmates and teachers of Lawndale High are forced to go on a casino cruise as a mandatory school fundraiser. Mr. DeMartino is afraid of re-awakening his latent gambling addiction, Daria's parents try, and fail, at mingling with the boat's owners, and Daria's classmates have other various shenanigans, while Daria and Jane try their damndest to avoid everyone.
- Jane's Addition (13): I don't particularly like this episode, but it's worth mentioning that this is the episode where Jane starts dating Tom, a boy she meets at a Mystic Spiral gig. She sneaks off from said gig with him, ditching Daria. Thus starting the Tom saga that will continue to create drama between Daria and Jane over the next two seasons.
To me, this is when the show bounces back after the relative crumminess of season 3. These were some of my favorite episodes during the original run, even if I think Tom is a boring character and that their fighting over him is kind of stupid. Other than that, this season brings back a lot of the depth, focus on character relationships, and character that season 2 had.
- The "F" Word (05): Mr. O'Neil decides to assign an unorthodox project to his students; they have to pick something they know they'll fail at and try anyway. It was an interesting episode, pushing various characters to their breaking point, but I also remember this one from the original TV run because it made me hope to God that no teacher would try doing this kind of thing in real life!
- Mart of Darkness (09): Various characters get plot-based reasons to go to a new big-box retailer in town, hilarity ensues. I like this one especially for DeMartino's parts, which are very funny, as well as the fashion club's weird disdain for the idea of buying in bulk.
- Groped By An Angel (11): This episode, wherein Quinn believes she has a guardian angel watching over her, is one I appreciate a lot having lived through that particular craze. I like it because Daria and Quinn have a good conversation about the supernatural, even if the conversation is limited by Quinn's limited capacity for reason.
- Dye! Dye! My Darling (13): Jane convinces Daria to try dying Jane's hair with platinum blonde hair dye to form a tiger stripe pattern, but Daria, having never done anything like that before, botches it. Jane accuses her of doing it intentionally, but then realizes she probably didn't mean to. Tom and Daria are talking in his car when they spontaneously start kissing, culminating romantic tension between them that has been ongoing throughout this season. Daria gets Tom, but is worried that this means she's losing her best friend.
Season 5 just isn't as good to me as 1, 2, or 4. I think it's because in fiction, the saying "wanting is better than having" is definitely true. In that, in season 4, Daria and Tom wanted to be together, but he was with Jane, so that made their feelings for each other awkward and something they were reluctant to admit. Then when they do, and they can be together, they seem to find that being in a relationship isn't all that easy. Daria is very restrictive, reluctant to allow herself to be vulnerable, which was pointed out by Tom in the "Daria" film "Is It College Yet?". She is a low maintenance girlfriend compared to her shallow sister, but she worries that this means that Tom will take her for granted. Anyway, what we all learn in high school is, one heated make-out session in the car does not mean someone is your soul mate. Some of my favorite episodes of this season:
- Fizz Ed (01): The school gets a sponsorship deal from a software company, but Ms. Li takes the whole thing to ridiculous extremes. It's funny, and it makes a statement about the potentially corrupting role of marketing in education.
- Lucky Strike (06): The teachers go on strike, and Daria is recruited to be a substitute teacher. I like this because Quinn decides to take the mature route and stand up for Daria for once, and because the scene with DeMartino arguing with Ms. Li is comedy gold.
- Life in the Past Lane (09): Jane gets a new boyfriend who's really into dressing up in costumes from various decades of the 20th century. Jane goes along with it, but starts to doubt if the clothes are more important to him than... well, basically than anything else on the planet. This dude doesn't show up again, but I think it's a neat episode because it's a cautionary tale for us nerds about how our obsessions, if not grounded and kept in a healthy balance, can ruin other important aspects of life such as friendships and relationships.
- My Night at Daria's (12): When Tom falls asleep at Daria's house one night, it leads to rumors that they had sex (obviously). They start to wonder whether they should actually do it or not, but Daria isn't quite ready for that. I like it, because while many teen shows have this type of episode, it's handled maturely with Daria, which I liked. Tom also showed Daria respect, no matter what her decision.
Daria is a funny, intelligent, satirical show about a misfit non-conformist and her struggles with suburban, middle-class, American teenage life. While every episode has some good parts, here I listed some of my favorite episodes from each season. I prefer the episodes that either explore important social issues and controversies, or those dealing with important moments of character development. Which were your favorites? Let me know in the comments and poll!