tek's rating: ½

Daria, MTV
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Caution: Spoilers!

This was a spin-off from Beavis & Butt-head, a show I hardly watched at all and never particularly liked. But Daria, now that show was so incredibly cool and brilliant. I loved it, and I was sad when it ended. Um, I should also say I dig the theme song, "You're Standing on My Neck," by Splendora. Anyway, Daria Morgendorffer is a very smart girl, very disaffected and cynical and sarcastic. Her family moves to Lawndale at the start of the series. Her mother, Helen, is a lawyer, and always quite busy, always trying to prove her worth to her bosses at the law firm (mostly a guy named Eric). Daria's father, Jake... is a business consultant or something. But he's stressed out a lot of the time, mostly about money, or about what a lousy childhood he had because of his father. But he can also be really goofy and clueless. I should also mention that Helen and Jake are former hippies who perhaps feel a bit guilty at times about not maintaining their old ideals. Meanwhile, Daria's younger sister, Quinn, is basically pretty shallow, only really interested in dating and being cute and popular. When her family moves to Lawndale, she immediately joins a clique called the "Fashion Club," which also includes Sandi, Stacy, and Tiffany. There'll always be a sort of rivalry between Quinn and Sandi, who's the president of the club. (We also occasionally see there's a similar rivalry between Sandi's mom and Helen.) Stacy and Tiffany basically just agree with whatever Sandi or Quinn say. I can't really think of anything to say about Tiffany except thaaaaaat... sheeeeee... taaaaalksssss... reallyyyyyyy... slowwwwwlyyyyyy. Meanwhile, Stacy's always really nervous. I feel bad for her because of the way Sandi treats her (but really she treats everyone pretty much the same, Stacy just constantly makes herself the easiest target). But she can get annoying with her neediness and lack of self-confidence. Still, the whole Fashion Club disdains pretty much everyone who's unpopular... like Daria, for example. And so, Quinn constantly avoids calling Daria her sister, pretending instead that she's a cousin or a foreign exchange student or any number of things like that.

But also when the Morgendorffers first moved to Lawndale, Daria met an aspiring artist named Jane Lane, who's almost (but not quite) as sarcastic as Daria, and just slightly less cynical. The two of them quickly became best friends, since they were pretty much the only ones at Lawndale High with remotely similar personalities to each other. Anyway, Jane comes from a fairly big extended family, though we rarely see any of her relatives except her older brother, Trent. He's in a band called Mystic Spiral, though they're not really very good (and they're always thinking of changing their name). The songs they write are kinda out there. I think Trent's picture is in the dictionary next to the word "slacker." He's cool... funny... kinda wise, in a way... But he doesn't do much of anything except sleep. He has a pretty good relationship with his sister, and he also really likes Daria, but even though she had a crush on him for like the first few seasons, they never became more than friends. Anyway, Jane and Trent's parents are hippie types who pretty much let their kids raise themselves. Um, the other guys in Mystik Spiral are Jesse, Max, and Nick, though I can't say anything about them really. Jesse is the one seen most often, and he seems kind of... I dunno, like maybe he'd done too much weed or something, though I don't think he was ever actually high while onscreen. *shrug*

There's a fairly large cast of supporting characters, including various students and teachers at Lawndale High, etc. Most of them were weird, in their own ways, but they were all funny, in their own ways. Probably the most popular kids at school were Kevin Thompson (the quarterback) and his girlfriend Brittany Taylor (the head cheerleader). They were both... ridiculously stupid. And they may have disdained Daria for being a "brain," but somehow that didn't stop them from interacting with her (and Jane) fairly often, and treating them in a vaguely friendly way (even when being insulting, though I really don't think they actually meant to be mean or anything). There was also a token African American couple, Michael Jordan MacKenzie and Jodie Landon. Michael's nickname was "Mack," though Kevin usually called him "Mack Daddy," which really annoyed him (you'd get it if you were a teenager in the 90s, when the series first aired). Anyway, Mack was on the football team, but he was a lot smarter than Kevin. Jodie was also quite smart, and her father was a successful entrepreneur, who basically forced her to become an overachiever... so she was often stressed about a lot of stuff. Mack and Jodie were popular, but also somewhat friendly with Daria and Jane (though Jodie also often called Daria on her sometimes unfair use of sarcasm and cynicism as a defensive mechanism; not that Jodie herself always lived up to her own ideals). There was also a kid named Charles Ruttheimer III, though everyone called him "Upchuck." He was a really annoying guy who was always hitting on any girl in sight (including Daria and Jane). And there was a goth girl named Andrea (pronounced On-draya), who was fairly cool I thought, though kind of an outcast. Unfortunately, she was seen more often than she was actually heard; I wish she would have had a speaking role more often, become a more important character. There was also this trio of boys, Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie (people almost always got Jamie's name wrong, though) who were constantly hovering around Quinn, offering to do stuff for her in the hopes she'd go out with them. They sometimes fought with each other over that. I think Quinn probably went out with all of them at different times, but she went out with tons of guys, most of whom are never actually seen.

Lawndale High's staff included its "administrator," Angela Li, who was obsessed with raising funds for the school and raising the school's prestige in any way she could, to reflect well upon herself (whether it was good for the students or not). There was a history teacher named Anthony DeMartino, who was constantly stressed and angered by the fact that most of his students were just plain unteachable, and had no interest in learning at all, and by the fact that he made so little money. All this frustration gave him bulging, bloodshot eyes, and made about half of every sentence he uttered come out as a strained shout. He always seemed on the edge of some kind of psychotic meltdown or something. There's an English teacher named Timothy O'Neill, who's a very sensitive guy, always talking about feelings and stuff. Not very good at coping with reality and rather timid and meek. There's a science teacher named Janet Barch, who hates all men because of her ex-husband. This leads her to treat her male students completely unfairly. However, in season two she starts a relationship with Mr. O'Neill. And there were at least a couple other teachers, though they never made much of an impression on me. Anyway, there are also a number of other recurring characters or significant one-shot characters we see in the course of the series, but I've probably mentioned all the really important ones (for now).

Um... so, most of the episodes were pretty self-contained stories. It was all kind of silly and sarcastic, but also really witty, clever, insightful. It said a lot about high school, about family, about friendship, about society, about life in general. A lot of the humor was very dry (Daria and Jane's humor, that is), but that's my favorite kind, in this show. The other characters, as I've mentioned, are all funny in their own ways, which tends to be a bit wackier. And really, I like that, too. It's neat that in spite of how over the top the various characterizations could be, there was also a lot of realism underlying the whole series. And in spite of how episodic the show could be, over time we do get to know a lot about some of the characters, especially the Morgendorffers themselves, occasionally seeing (and often enough hearing about) other family members, and learning about the main characters' relationships with these people, their backstories, maybe getting to know how they came to be who they are today. While a lot of the supporting characters are basically just caricatures, some characters (again, mainly the Morgendorffers) really are more complex than they seem on the surface. And in spite of how much they may argue or ignore one another, there are also a fair number of moments when it's clear they really do care very deeply about each other (even Daria and Quinn, who for the most part can't stand each other). I really do love some of the characters... Daria, Helen, Jake, Jane, Trent... and I really like some of the others. And I like that deep down, Quinn isn't as dumb or shallow as she normally acts. And because everyone's so preoccupied with their own lives... well, Jake and Helen want to be involved parents, but most of the time they just aren't. (Jake can also be kind of scared of involvement, but he does occasionally try.) But Helen often demonstrates a real knack for parenting (ironically, this usually seems to be because of her lawyering skills). Actually... it's pretty common in the series for someone to give advice to one person about a problem that person is having, and then someone else points out that the advice could apply to the advice-giver's own situation, as well.

Aside from character development, there is eventually a plotline that develops over the course of season four. Actually, at the end of the third season, Jane started dating a guy named Tom Sloane, who was a pretty decent and intelligent guy, who was also drily humorous and sarcastic. He obviously had a lot in common with both Jane and Daria (except that his family was rich, a fact that Tom himself didn't care about). At first Daria didn't get along with him, resenting the fact that this relationship meant Jane had less time to spend with her. However, in season four, Daria slowly grew to like him. By the end of the season, Jane was actually getting jealous of the time Tom spent with Daria, and resented the fact that Tom actually had more in common with Daria than he did with her (at least in terms of intellectual interests; though I'd say Tom and Jane were both much more well-adjusted socially than Daria). Though even before that, it was clear to both Jane and Tom that their relationship had run its course. In spite of that, Daria and Jane's relationship became strained, and Daria was in total denial about the possibility of anything happening between her and Tom. But by the season finale... there was a dramatic change. It was all hard to watch, because I really loved Daria and Jane, and I really liked Tom, and the three of them all really cared about each other, no one wanted to hurt anyone, and everyone just felt pretty terrible... but it became impossible for everyone to keep lying to themselves. I think... they all ended up handling a really difficult situation in a really mature, reasonable way... but that still didn't lessen the pain or drama. It didn't make things any easier.

And the aftermath of all that played into some of the plot threads in the movie Is It Fall Yet?, which aired between seasons four and five. (Btw, as I mention in the movie review, the end of season four and start of five are both on disc 6 of the series DVD set, and both movies are on disc 8. So make sure not to watch the last couple eps on disc 6 before watching the first movie.) And before you read any more here, you should go read that review, then come back. Don't worry, I'll wait...

Back? Great. So, about season 5... hmmm. Well, it consists largely of the kind of stuff that went on throughout the series, but there's the additional plot element (sometimes) of Daria and Tom's relationship. It's often clear that Daria isn't very comfortable or confident dating. A lot of the time she and Tom do get along quite well, but also a lot of the time she may get upset with him and not quite know why; or if she does know why, she doesn't like it about herself, because it's really not like her. And sometimes she just expects Tom to be upset with her over some little thing, and... well, I dunno. I don't want to say too much. Their relationship is just kind of strained sometimes, usually for no good reason. Still, it always turns out alright by the end of the episode, I think. Um, I should mention perhaps that the penultimate episode of the season deals with the question of whether Daria and Tom will or won't have sex. And Daria's feelings about the situation are a lot like mine... which kind of started me wondering if she might have a condition like Asperger's or something. Then the final episode involved flashbacks of repressed memories of Daria's that were suddenly resurfacing, about an incident when she was much younger. I won't say much about it, except that part of it had to do with Daria not socializing well with other kids, which again made me wonder if she had Asperger's. I don't remember whether this occurred to me the first time I saw the episodes, though it must have been two or three years after it had first been suggested that I have Asperger's, so it's hard to imagine it wouldn't have crossed my mind. But whatever, that's not something the show ever actually addressed, so I won't worry about it, I guess.

Of course, there's plenty of stuff going on that's not about Daria (or Daria and Tom); plot threads for all the characters, as usual. And it's also the senior year for Lawndale High students Daria, Jane, and a bunch of others. So there is a certain degree of thought about college, and then after the season ended, there was a second TV movie, Is It College Yet? (which aired half a year after the end of season 5). The movie served as the series finale... so I guess, go check out my review, and that should pretty much be all I have to say about the series. But anyway... yeah, "Daria" was a very clever, funny, insightful, sarcastic, awesome show with characters I loved, and stuff. As I said.


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