Michelle’s Top 5 TV Shows: #5 – DARIA

Daria (MTV)

DARIA: Snarking Her Way through High School and into My Heart

I’ve been asked to write about my all-time favorite television shows, but when you’ve watched as much TV as I have, it’s hard to choose because the list can change according to mood, phase of the moon, or what I had for breakfast. I finally wrote a list and promised myself to stick with it no matter what, so let’s start with number five: MTV’s DARIA.

A spin-off of Beavis and Butthead, Daria is a cynical, satirical, and insanely witty take on high school and suburban culture focusing on the smart, sarcastic, and pessimistic title character, her family, friends, and classmates. The animated series follows Daria through her time at Lawndale High, ending with her graduation and acceptance into college. It ran from 1997-2002 over 65 episodes and two movies, skewering everything from teachers’ strikes and malls to omnipresent advertising and reality television (“They were brought back to life, but they never were told how to cross a road with the green light. Zombies being knocked down: next on Sick, Sad World.”).

One of the best written shows ever, Daria tackled high school and teen angst with humor and depth but without moralizing or melodrama. With her sarcastic monotone and blunt delivery, Daria is the perfect outcast to show high school life and suburbia exactly as it is and the fact that she is just as flawed as everything she derides only makes the show resonate more. Daria’s friendship with fellow outcast Jane is the heart of the show and it is one of the most realistic friendships I’ve seen on television. Daria’s relationship with her well-meaning but often clueless (but occasionally too insightful) parents and shallow and smarter than she acts sister has surprising depth and the secondary characters from Jane’s slacker brother and a teacher on the edge to the star QB and his beyond ditzy cheerleader girlfriend add humor, color, and infinite layers. The straightforward, boldly colored animation isn’t remarkable, but its very simplicity works by keeping the stories and characters front and center. The voice talent is awesome: every character is perfectly cast and each actor knows just how to get the most laughs. It’s also one of those rare shows where the characters and relationships actually grow and evolve, keeping me invested even as I’m laughing.

Daria was finally released on DVD this May, and since it had been years since I even saw an episode, I was both excited and nervous. Would I still enjoy the show or would I cringe and wonder what I had been thinking? I’m thrilled to say I love Daria as much now as ever (even without the amazing original music) and that it has held up amazingly well. It’s as funny, relevant, and, yes, touching now as it was when it aired. In the “I Don’t,” episode Daria asks her aunt, “Amy, is life always tawdry, stupid, and humiliating, or is it just a phase?” Amy replies, “Just a phase. I’m expecting to grow out of it anytime now.” It’s time to embrace the tawdry, stupid, and humiliating and make fun of it, and no show does that better than Daria. If you haven’t seen it, find the DVDs and check it out. If you have seen it, share your love (or hate) in the comments and please let me know your favorite episodes. My top five are below.

Top Five Episodes:

5. The Misery Chick (Season 1)-After a former star quarterback/all around jerk dies, Lawndale High is in mourning and everyone goes to Daria for advice on being sad.

4. Boxing Daria (Season 5)-A refrigerator box stirs Daria’s memories and makes her wonder if her childhood might have been even harder on her parents than it was on her.

3. Road Worrier (Season 1)-Daria and Jane go to Alternapalooza with Trent and Jessie.

2. Dye, Dye My Darling! (Season 4)-The Jane-Tom-Daria triangle comes to a head after Daria botches Jane’s dye job.

1. Monster (Season 2)-Daria and Jane film Quinn for a class assignment, wanting to show her as a vapid, shallow twit, but Daria has second thoughts.