Monday, December 15, 2014

Revisiting ‘Daria’

‘Daria’, for those who have never seen it, was an animated series for MTV about ‘Daria Morgendorffer, a smart, acerbic, and somewhat misanthropic teenage girl’ (Wikipedia).  Because of its cynical, ‘whatever’ attitude I remembered it as being around in the early to mid-1990s, but actually it did not debut until 1997, and ran until 2002. Although something I did not know before today: the character of Daria actually debuted earlier in ‘Beavis and Butt-Head’.

The first few episodes are a bit patchy, but from the midpoint of the first season the quality picks up. This is despite many of the characters being primarily one-note jokes. Kevin the quarterback, and his girlfriend Brittany the cheerleader, are empty-headed. Quinn, Daria’s pretty, popular, fashion-conscious sister, is shallow. Charles, otherwise known as ‘Upchuck’ is a flirtatious creep. Daria’s mother is a workaholic; her father overreacts over things he doesn’t understand. Daria and her best friend Jane come out with the smartest lines, though even that becomes their defining characteristic. You can pretty much guess how any given character is going to react in any given situation. Though one thing that struck me watching it again years later – none of the high-schoolers are particularly vicious. Daria may be unpopular, but she is rarely bullied.

Apart from Daria, Jane, and Jane’s brother Trent, the character that I enjoy most is actually Quinn’s ‘friend’ and Fashion Club President Sandi Griffin. Her voice, done by Janie Mertz, is the perfect expression of manipulation and contempt. Her defining characteristic is her snootiness, but her put-downs can be clever and dry, as when she tortures Fashion Club Vice President Quinn in ‘Too Cute’:

Quinn - It's cute.
Brooke - Just cute?
Sandi - Quinn has very high nose standards.
Quinn - I said it was cute!
Sandi - Oh, like you meant it. "Oh, it's cute."
Quinn - Well, at least I thought about it. I didn't just say it was cute without thinking.
Sandi - Excuse me? Are you saying we're shallow?
Brooke - Wait, you guys were just saying it was cute?
Sandi - No, Quinn's just so deep, she thinks we would say something's cute when it's not cute, which we wouldn't.
Tiffany - No way.
Sandi - Example: I would never tell Quinn that she looks cute in that thing she always wears.
Quinn - I don't have a "thing" that I always wear.
Sandi - If you say so.
Quinn - I have lots of things which I wear at different times, far apart in time.
Sandi - As you wish.
And in this exchange:

Quinn - I'm really mad at you guys.
Sandi - Oh? Why is that?
Quinn - Because you all went to get nose jobs without me!
Sandi - But you would never get a nose job. You're not that shallow.
Quinn - How do you know?
Sandi - Because a really deep person like you has too many important things on her mind, like the news or something, to pay attention to her appearance.
Quinn - That's not true.
Sandi - But Quinn, what else could possibly account for your showing up at school in such a dated outfit?
Quinn - But you helped me buy this outfit!
Sandi - That was days ago. Weeks, if memory serves. Of course, so much time has passed, I could be wrong.
If Quinn had said that last line she would probably stop after the first sentence, with the point that Quinn is shallow having been re-made. But Sandi doesn’t let it go, taking three witty stabs in quick succession at Quinn, and leaving her no room for a comeback. And in her comment that Quinn probably has the ‘news or something’ on her mind, which of course Sandi would know that Quinn wouldn’t, she almost seems to be making fun of the entire clique that she is in charge of. That is, while Quinn throws herself wholeheartedly into being part of the Fashion Club, Sandi can see the absurdity behind its existence and the shallowness of her followers.
Anyway as a satire, ‘Daria’ is not quite among the very best, but it’s still enjoyable years later. A lot of the coolest women I have met in my adult life remind me of Daria in some way.  

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