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Daria: The Complete Animated Series

(MTV; US DVD: 11 May 2010)

Welcome Back to Lawndale High

Trent: You know Daria, sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re in high school.
Daria: I find the situation unbelievable myself.


Daria: How come even in my fantasies everyone’s a jerk?


Running for five seasons from 1997-2002 and spawning two television movies, MTV’s Daria was spun off from Beavis and Butt-head. A quintessentially ‘90s show filled with apathy, sarcasm, and pop culture laden dialogue, Daria was the perfect encapsulation of the time period. 


Daria is smart, cynical, acerbic, and wise beyond her years. Despite her quick wit and obvious intelligence, Daria is still just a high school student, and one who has to contend with all that her world encompasses, including her trendy younger sister, Quinn and a range of great high school archetypes. From the popular couple: clueless jock, Kevin, and cheerleader, Brittany, to Quinn’s fashion club cronies to Jane, Daria’s artsy best friend, the series leans heavily on Daria’s social commentary and frequent exasperation with those around her to showcase the absurd.


The best parts of Daria come from her interactions with her fellow students. She’s a “brain” and they all recognize that she is not interested in all the rites and rituals that make up high school life. Here is where things could have gone a more predictable route and had Daria just be an outcast. Instead, she may be on the fringes of the high school caste system, but she is undoubtedly a real part of her classmates’ lives.


She is not hated and teased and tortured. Rather, she is seen as different and dark, but still accepted overall. In fact, most of the rejection she faces at school comes from her sister (who frequently refers to Daria as her cousin or “that girl that lives in her house”) and her pathological fear of being associated with Daria in any way. 


Daria’s relationships with the adults in her life, her parents and her teachers, also adds another dynamic to the show. While she is clearly almost always smarter than her those around her, she is also usually more aware and quick to point out the many hypocrisies and misplaced social niceties they exhibit. Daria’s mother, Helen, a high-powered attorney, and her father, Jake, clueless, yet quick to overreact, offer her opportunity after opportunity to cement her cynical views. Her teachers run the gamut from enraged to overly sensitive to power hungry. They, again, serve as foils for Daria’s dry commentary and reinforce her contempt for most of the human race.


The series goes out of its way to emphasize the pressures of high school, albeit in frequently outlandish fashion. However, in some ways, what really stands out is the emotional element of the show, adding depth to what could have easily been strictly a satirical look at high school life. Daria certainly holds up very well and the humor and wit is still just as biting and funny as it ever was, but it also has a resonance that is somewhat unexpected. 


Daria also excels in the clever details that make up the show. For instance, the repeated use of Daria and Jane’s favorite television show, Sick, Sad World, is brilliant with its quick shots of headline stories and tabloid reporting. Daria’s room is literally padded as it was the former room of a “schizophrenic shut-in” – a more perfect environment for her couldn’t be possible. Trent’s off-the-cuff songwriting, usually inspired by some ridiculous situation, is also a highlight. 


The only drawback to the release of this set is that the original music has been replaced with nondescript incidental music—a real blow to fans that have been waiting for this release for some time. As Daria was always so pop culture heavy, the original music reflected that by more often than not consisting of contemporary popular songs. Issues of copyright and music royalties have prevented other series from releasing DVD sets (The Wonder Years is probably the most obvious case of this) and the decision to release Daria without the original music is unfortunate, but also understandable.


Bonus features include the two Daria movies: Is It Fall Yet?, airing between the fourth and fifth seasons, and Is It College Yet?, which served as the series finale; as well as Daria Day intros to select episodes, interviews with cast and crew, an MTV Top Ten Video Countdown show hosted by Daria and Jane, among other extras.

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J.M. Suarez has been a contributing writer at PopMatters since 2008. She's happy to talk about TV any time, any place. Really.


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