Right upfront this will probably be a bit more rambling than a few of my other posts, as I found it’s hard to talk clearly about something you’ve loved for so long. There will also be some spoilers, so be warned.
Daria, for those who don’t know, is an animated TV show from the 90s, about the day to day life of social outsider Daria and the eccentric mesh of people in her life. And it is one of the best sitcom-Coming-of-Age, comedy drama thingys ever; or a teen-angst cartoon, as some call it.
A spin-off of a character of the far inferior Beavis and Butthead (a show I have never understood the appeal), who thank god never have a cameo. Now what set Daria apart from other shows about people on the outside of the norm, was that Daria was there by choice. She didn’t have overly strange interests, nor had one incident that left her unpopular.
She was just too smart to care what people thought, and didn’t care letting people know what she thought; leading to one of the sharpest wits in television.
It got what I felt a lot of teen shows didn’t, that some people didn’t have heaps of friends because the general populares found them too strange, but because they didn’t want the general populares as friends.
But Daria wasn’t friendless; enter Jane Lane, the spunky artist who can match wits with Daria without being as openly antisocial. And it’s there we have the heart of the show, something woefully lacking in fiction, a straight-up great female friendship- a hoemance if you will.
This isn’t Mean Girls, this isn’t Clueless, there’s no vindictive undertone to them; they are great friends who get each other, through the lows and the highs and the many many middles. And they teach us the lesson that anything can be solved by pizza.
Daria also got high school (or secondary school as us Brits call it), well it got middle class suburban high school. It was depicted as dull, but not without its moments of great fun. It was a breeding ground of hormones and terror, but not without those moments of maturing clarity. But what really made it different was how it dealt with teenage issues.
Having a sarcastic lead that could always bring the chuckles no matter the situation, the show didn’t try to throw them into overly wacky situations (well not all the time), instead dealing with more mature stories in funny ways. Like the death of an asshole student and how people should feel about his death, dealing with your parent’s morality, working out your future, coming to terms with your past mistakes, all that good stuff. And it’s in those moments that Daria isn’t just funny, but offers startling insight into growing up and becoming comfortable with yourself.
But the show isn’t constantly heavy with its plots; it has plenty of lighter episodes, like Daria and her family getting lost in the woods, the derogatory camping trip, Jane becoming an art forger, The X-files, the musical episode and many sillier things. But the show never loses its voice of the under spoken, unheard teen.
Another thing that made it different from almost every other high school set…well anything, there was no real antagonist. No anti-Daria trying to make her life miserable or out to get her. Yeah, the fashion club and Daria’s sister Quinn can be bitches, but they rarely take focus.
And the so-and-so popular kids who always seem to fall into the villain slot are anything but here. They’re dumb but there is not a vindictive bone in their bodies; they’re just lovable. The ditsy cheerleader Britney is one of my favorites of the show, who behind her genuine airhead demeanor is surprisingly scheming, if only towards her on and off again BF Kevin.
Beyond Daria and Jane, the rest of the cast are well defined too, with the next most focus falling to Daria’s family. From her parents, the hapless father and hard working mother (who I’ve realized were stolen for Rick and Morty), who desperately just try to work out their eldest daughter. To her bitch Sister Quinn who has one of the best arcs of the series, growing beyond a shallow hub of well moisturized skin to a real person, though that doesn’t really kick in till season 4.
Then there’s Jane’s slacker elder brother, the perpetually jobless musician Trent, and then….you know what, it has a sodding big cast so I’m not going to go much further, I’ll just say all characters are well put together and even the smaller ones get their time to shine; so go watch it.
But I will talk about….Tom, who a lot of fans hate, but I honestly I liked; he’s like a male Daria but less cynical. Introduced at the start of season 4 as Jane’s new boyfriend, that season follows the gradual break down of that romance, and the build of one between him and Daria, ending the season with them cheating on Jane behind her back. And for something that a lot of people didn’t like and could have really been done badly, I kind of love it (though I do have a taste for teen bullshit).
Yes it’s falling back into more typical teen drama tropes, but after four seasons of building up these characters as anything but typical, seeing them have to deal with these problems I was completely behind, and as I said they did it well. A lesser show would have done the whole arc in 2-4 episodes or less, but Daria took a whole season to develop Tom and Daria’s romance out.
It’s always there in the background; Daria and Tom getting closer while he and Jane drift apart. It then of course leads to Daria having a boyfriend throughout the final season (5), and I refer back to what I just said, a typical story can work when done with none typical characters.
Actually, that’s not a bad description of the show as a whole, so I’ll end it there. If my rambled thoughts have sold you on the show, then go watch it (where ever you can 😉 ) and if this hasn’t, GO FUCKING watch it anyway, it’s great!
Anyway, next week I’ll try to cover something none animated (but promise nothing).