Tuesday, September 18, 2012



Daria's first day at a new school takes a unexpected turn when she's labelled as having low self-esteem and forced into an after-school workshop on how better to love herself. Determined to make the best of things, Daria takes the course's lessons and uses them to irritate her loved ones.

This review was originally posted on September 4th as part of Pilot Season.

Spun-off from MTV's Beavis and Butthead, Daria was a response to the peppy and plastic depictions of teenagers seen on television at the time. Representing an entire generation of cynical teens, Daria spoke for the underdogs and proved that popularity wasn't everything.

One of the first things that I noticed while watching this is that all members of faculty are completely different characters with their own personal agendas, and I love that none of them have much overlap in how they teach or practise ethics. If an episode was created around the idea of Daria getting paired with one of her teachers, it would be impossibly different each time you replaced one faculty member with another, because the only thing these people have in common is their workplace. None of these characters are going to intentionally teach viewers a life lesson, and none of them are ever going to be great allies to the protagonist, all leading to the isolation of student and teacher that I remember from my own teenage years.

I noticed a great deal of social diversity amongst the background cast, and I'm glad to see that Daria and Jane aren't the only two 'alternative' students at the school. It would be almost too easy to play the role of outcast if they surely were the only two who saw the world as it is.

I understand that Daria's mother Helen is as self-absorbed as her daughter Quinn (though far less vain,) but I think it's a bit of a stretch for her to be so out-of-touch that she would berate Daria for having low self-esteem. It's an exchange that I thought was well-written, well-played, and very funny, but it just doesn't work when coming from Helen; Jake, on the other hand, could have said those things without realizing that he was further damaging Daria's self-worth, but Helen has a better head on her shoulders and should have known better.

On one hand, I can see Jane being totally into the idea of wasting her life in the 'Esteemers,' but that's just it: she's into the idea, not the practice. I don't buy for an instant that she would actually waste her afternoons at school when she clearly would rather be anywhere else.

Tracy Grandstaff voices Daria with an epic monotone unrivaled by any other fictional character I've encountered, but she manages to make it so endearing that I can't help but fall in love with this acerbic teenager. The other great stand out amongst the cast is Julián Rebolledo as Daria's father Jake Morgendorffer, who is oblivious to almost everything, but has hilarious comic timing.

Directors in animation are in charge of almost everything behind the scenes, and, with this series especially, it would be very easy to get things wrong. Fortunately, Ken Kimmelman and Paul Sparagano, the talent that was in charge here, really pulled through, and this episode came together in all the best ways.

The writing on this series is incredibly clever, and while the stereotypical peripheral characters are used to add humor to the show, they never get so over-the-top that you get taken out of the story. I have to wonder if this is how these people all really behave, or if that's just how Daria sees them; either way, it's a wonderful approach to the series and Glenn Eichler's opening script is glorious.

Daria challenges dynamics here, whether familial or authoritative, and sheds light on the boundaries therein. While the protagonist's attitude toward dealing with problems may not be ideal, the lessons she learns are some of the most sincere without becoming condescending.

The review for "the Invitation" can be read here.


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