Proof that MTV once popular and served a purpose, Daria (1997-2002) was an animated series centering around the titular Daria Morgendorffer, a smart teen misanthrope and her years in the world of high school. The show is technically a spin-off of Beavis and Butthead, though is that show’s antithesis in nearly every way. Whereas B&B centered around two doofuses with scrawly linework for its art style, Daria is an eloquent, perceptive individual, with art direction focused on solid, bold linework. while I appreciate the art style, this isn’t a show to watch for fluid animation or experimentation. Like Archer, the show’s primary strengths are its characters and script.
The show excels as a scathing critique of high school, from hypocritical administration to cliques. Luckily, Daria is there to give it quite a thrashing. I’ve never quite encountered a TV script as adept with words as Daria‘s, full of smart jokes and insightful commentary, all for a primarily teenage audience. Daria is a role model as an individual with a strong sense of morality and individualism, refusing to cater to trends or her parents, but being able to clearly articulate her positions as well. And perhaps that’s what makes the show so great: Daria isn’t the perfect role model (she gradually overcomes some elements of misanthropy and the limitations of her strict formations of morality), but her faults are illustrative and she grows as a character to admire even more.
The show gets better as it goes along, both in animation and writing. The third season marks a definite turning point in its animation, which I believe went digital, at least with painting, so it’s bright, crisper, and cleaner. Season three also is distinct by its narrative experiments from a musical episode, to a lark where Daria and her best friend Jane have to save the holidays – literally.
The show does runs into some repetition. There are at least three pedophiles appear in the show, usually hypocritical people in power. While I appreciate the show’s willingness to explore darker territory and show terrible people, it almost becomes both monotonous and hilarious when another rears its ugly head. Other repetition occurs in a few conflicts Daria has with her boyfriend, usually resulting from Daria overreacting to something, then reevaluating the situation.
Part of Daria‘s strength is that it feels real. It understands the relationships both in high school and in the home. It’s relatively successful in avoiding high school stereotypes (or outright makes fun of them), while developing nuances characters and relationships that are funny, weird, and inspiring. Daria is a remarkable character because we all relate to her, as we all experiences moments of feeling like an outsider. Daria channels her ostracization with wit and grace we all wish we had. And in that, this teenage misanthrope with a wicked tongue becomes a role model for us all.