'Daria' was a show that I didn't like for a long time. At some point during that time it attached to my unsuspecting self and grew on me like a leech. I found that it is a show that is unable to fully articulate itself in isolated episodes. Instead, 'Daria' is more about it's tone and an attitude that works more than any story it can come up with. It throws together a small world of conflicting characters and lets the sparks fly. As all their adventures begin to pile up the show's real vision comes together. I wonder if even MTV got it. 'Daria' mocked fads & shallow teenagers (and the culture that feeds off them), regularly taking aim at the heart of everything the network makes a living on.
The world around Daria Morgendorffer is filled with ditsy cheerleaders, brain-dead jocks, zit-faced nerds, miserable artists, touchy-feely teachers, favorite siblings, condescending or aloof parents and teenage garage bands trying to hit it big. If your willing to buy that Daria and the show share the same vision (not a big leap at all) you're one step closer to getting the show's great, subversive running gag: that the show is depicting what it believes are real teenagers, and that teenagers have been influenced and conditioned by the culture into acting out the stereotypes that come with their position in the high school caste system. It's art imitating life imitating art.
And in the middle of it all is Daria - our central axis to call everybody out. She knows her place in the world and stands outside it all. Daria herself is as daring a lead as TV gets. So (intentionally) abjectly dull that she sucks the air out of every room she enters. She rarely changes the bland expression on her face or raises the pitch of that monotone voice. It's not entirely clear if she has a low self-esteem or thinks she is above everybody. Even the most exciting weekend adventures are a nuisance to Daria. Everything just gets in her way and keeps her from lying around on the couch watching 'Sick Sad World' (a show within the show apparently based on the idea that there is an entire untapped niche of Daria Morgendorffers around the world).
The best and most admirable thing about this show is its unflinching guts to let Daria be Daria - in all her faceless, bland, monotone, personality devoid glory. It is also the only show in my memory (apart from occasionally 'Seinfeld') that was content to reduce it's leads to taking the role of spectators to the story. They never grew, they never learned a lesson, they never swoop in and save the day, they rarely even impacted the world around them. The show was not worried with contriving phony problems and solutions. Whether it was being dragged to camp or dragged to the mall with her sister Quinn, Daria and Jane where content to spend entire episodes hanging on the sidelines watching everyone else makes fools of themselves.
Picking up the slack where our heroine can't was a well constructed cast of supporting characters. Jane's deadbeat brother Trent, would-be Casanova Charles Ruttheimer the 3rd & Daria's rage-filled father Jake (who longs for his hippie days) all walk off with the biggest laughs.
'Daria' was a sharp, sardonic, timely, funny and substantive series that dared to bite the hand of it's own demographic on a network that is to dumb to know the difference. It had a learning curve, but if you can get over that hump it can be rather addicting. A contemporary classic that ranks with 'The Sifl and Olly Show' as one of the few really great MTV offerings.
* * * ½ / 4
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