The best night-time teen/adult oriented animated series to ever exist…..is Daria. And here’s why.
MTV needed Daria like Daria needed MTV. Yes, that sentence will trip you out if you read it slowly to yourself from the middle outward, but let me tell you something — the late ’90s are no laughing matter. 1997 was crucial. Grunge was a couple years dead, pop was in (cough, boy bands were in), plaid was out, shopping at Contempo Casuals was in. Let’s face it: girls were trading Chuck Taylors in for platform heels; the novelty of the early ’90s had corroded. Blame it on Hootie and the Blowfish and accept the transition. College-quad-hippie-heroine-chic had to get made over by Alicia Silverstone eventually.
My point is, Daria was the anti-1997. Daria Morgendorffer and Jane Lane traipsed through Lawndale High with a justifiable disdain for the institution of all things high school, mainstream, fun…and otherwise cliche. Somewhere in the back of a Mystik Spiral set (…but they’re changing their name), it seemed obvious Daria and Jane were fastened to simpler times, a time when Angela Chase’s crimson hair was possibly even cooler than Jane Lane herself. (My So-Called Life trump card, even though I love/idolize/worship Jane Lane.)
Anyway, the thing about Daria that made it so agreeable were the ironic moments that ricocheted off the show’s satirical undertones. (I think I just had a deadpan Daria camera zoom moment.) I.e. Daria in the backseat of the car on the way to their Aunt Amy’s wedding going, “Red-rum” with her finger when they see the giant sprawling estate. Another genius concept was the use of ‘alter egos’, the character drawings shown next to the end credits. For instance, Quinn, Jake, Helen, and Daria as The Brady Bunch with the blue background. It’s fitting because Quinn and Daria have a Marcia/Jan relationship, and Helen and Jake are like Mr. and Mrs. Brady on acid. “Gold medalist” Ms. Li for her gluttony, “Statue of Liberty” Daria because she’s so stoic, “Overweight/middle-aged” Kevin being a direct reflection on exactly how he’ll stereotypically turn out, “Giraffe” Up-Chuck…since he’s orange and gets in people’s faces. “Peter Pan” Trent Lane never wants to grow up and face adulthood. (And uh, Trent might add that, just like Peter, he digs the color green, and some other verses that would make a killer new Spiral song.)
Here’s something else to applaud, because, like most things on Daria, it wasn’t about the plot, it was about how it was handed to us. If Quinn wasn’t in her *three-quarter sleeve pink t-shirt, with that yellow butterfly in the middle, what would become of this episode?! If Daria’s in her pajamas and socks, and has her glasses off, her misanthropy is in question. If Brittany’s hair is black, she and Kevy are going to for sure break up and the team’s going to lose their next game. If Jane’s dressing in…er…dresses, and talkin’ jive with some dude she met over ink pens, we’re never going to see the black abyss of brutally blunt Jane Lane again! Costume changes equaled character deviances equaled intrigue.
After years of investing many a Saturday night into the antics, pitfalls, and comic relief Daria gave, the characters were all still the same in the end, their every move was reliable, their every goal and desire was as it always was, and it had the dignity to maintain something bold: The outcasts were filing through the chaos of high school instead of the popular kids. In a world of ‘As-Ifs’ and pom pom pens throughout the late ’90s, Daria said: if you want to wear combat boots every day, you lace those puppies up and take no prisoners. Be proud that smart and weird are better than being ignorant and popular; wave your freak flag.
*Footnote. Quinn originally wore a pink midriff baby tee with a smiley face and halo on it in the first few seasons, only to be updated later on with the butterfly ensemble.
Other little facts: Daria was the spin-off to MTV’s previous hit cartoon, Beavis & Butthead. The voice behind Daria Morgendorrfer is not Janeane Garafalo (it’s Tracy Grandstaff, former MTV staff member). Wendy Hoopes was the voice behind three main characters: Helen AND Quinn Morgendorffer, and Jane Lane. Take a moment to consider that. How one goes from “Nnnalright,” to “Mah-ommm!” to anything that comes out of Jane’s mouth, is downright brilliant.