As most survivors of the horror known as American High School can tell you, there is always a subdivision of the student body in any given school into smaller classifications commonly known as 'cliques,' 'gangs,' or 'those really annoying people who never invite you to the really good parties.'
Many attempts to portray this type of experience on television
were met with limited success.
A series broadcast on the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) entitled 'My So-Called Life' met much critical acclaim, but failed to take off with viewers and was scrapped after only one or two seasons.
For the longest time, American television viewers did not have a wholly accurate portrayal of High School Life available to them, having to settle for over-the-top sitcoms like 'Saved By The Bell' or melodramas such as 'Beverly Hills 90210.'
Then, in 1996, a new animated series began on the Music Televsion network or MTV. A show which managed to show the trials and tribulations of a smart, witty, teenage misfit in a school where the above mentioned groups held sway. 'Daria' was as witty as its heroine. Ironically, this was a spin-off from a show in which the protagonists were the exact opposite of witty.
Daria made her first appearance as a foil for those two teenage paragons of juvenile delinquency: Beavis and Butt-head. As that series went on, a decision was made between creator Mike Judge and co-producer Glenn Eichler to create a character that would be the closest thing to a friend these two nimrods would ever have. It was decided to make this character female, as there was no recurring female character the same age as our...ahem...'heroes.' Thus, Daria was born...much to her everlasting regret.
Eventually, the popularity of Beavis and Butt-head led the powers that be at MTV to wonder if a spin-off series would be profitable. They talked to Glenn Eichler and the idea of giving Daria, who had been developing her own following amongst the Beavis and Butt-head audience, her own series floated across the table. The MTV execs liked the idea, and in 1996, Daria appeared in her own program with a new animation style, a new look, and having just moved to a typically banal Midwestern town.
Daria Morgendorffer is a sarcastic, cynical 17-year-old who attends Lawndale High School in the sterotypical Midwestern town of Lawndale.
She lives with her father, Jake, an overstressed,embittered, paranoid business consultant; her mother, Helen, a woman who alternates between the Uber-21st Century Business Woman, and an early drop out for the Best Mother In The Universe contest; and her sister Quinn, who is pretty, popular, bouncy, basically the living embodiment of all that Daria despises.
Daria, despite what many in our culture would call her 'bad attitude,' has a small, but close circle of friends. Chief among these are Jane Lane, who Daria met on her second day of school at Lawndale High during an interminable self-esteem class. Jane is
snide and anti-social, but since she is also an artist, this is perfectly understandable. She lives in the Lane household in a state of benign neglect with her mother, Amanda (who we rarely see) and her older brother Trent, who is a musician and lead singer of his group 'Mystik Spiral,' in those rare instances where he is actually awake.
Other members of the immediate Lane clan remain unseen until the middle of the third season of the series. These include Jane's sisters Penny and Summer, her other brother Wind, her niece and nephew Courtney and Adrian, and her father, Vincent.
Other people in Lawndale who could be considered as Daria's friends include Jodie Landon, Lawndale High's Class President, and Michael Jordan MacKenzie, aka 'Mack,' the captain of the football team.
Daria has described Jodie as follows: 'Could be the country's first female and African-American president if the strain of being perfect doesn't kill her first.' Jodie is an overachiever, devoting her time to any and all extracurricular activities in order to stay away from her equally over-achieving, overbearing father.
Mack is a little more laid back and relaxed. He has yet to develop into a full character yet, but he's begun to move more to center stage as the series has gone on. Unfortunately, until he does so, he remains the constant foil for...
Kevin Thompson, Quarterback, Stud Muffin and All-Around Moron. Kevin is the typical expectation of the High School Quarterback. He is stupid, conceited, and can't see why people keep thinking school is a place where you go to learn stuff. He is the on-again/off-again boyfriend of Brittany Taylor, head cheerleader.
Brittany embodies the three B's: Blonde, Bouncy and a Bimbo. She keeps trying to prove that she isn't, but fails utterly. The fact that she keeps going out with Kevin and the two begin rutting like crazed weasels at the drop of a hat might have something to do with it.
Next up are Quinn's little crowd: The Fashion Club. Aside from Quinn, who is the Vice-President, the Fashion Club consists of Sandi Griffin, the President of the Club and, until Quinn arrived, the main guy-magnet at Lawndale High. Sandi and Quinn are currently involved in a cold war over the presidency of the club that makes the US/USSR conflict look like a scuffle in the sandbox by comparison. Additional
members include Tiffany, a vague girl who speaks like she's swallowed two dozen Valium followed by a sleeping pill. She tends to jockey for position between Quinn and Sandi, waiting to see who'll come out on top. And then there's Staci, who is the token non-entity. She has no personality of her own and generally goes along with whatever Quinn or Sandi suggest.
Quinn also has an entourage of three guys named Joey, Jeffy, and Jamie, but aside from hair color, one is pretty much the same as the other, so it's not worth wasting space on them here.
Rounding out our little crowd of students is the representative of the very bottom of the High School Food Chain: the Disgusting Little Runt Even the Outcasts Want Nothing To Do With. This role goes to Charles Ruttheimer III aka 'Upchuck.'
Upchuck has been described by Daria as the 'would-be love child of James Bond and Jerry Lewis--were such a thing possible.' Upchuck is an oversexed virgin who is convinced that he is a major stud, an illusion emphasized by his Hugh Hefner-esque homewardrobe, and his rapidly growing collection of vintage 'Eyeful' magazines... plus his obnoxiously huge collection of fast-food kid's meal toys. Upchuck would desperately like to be Daria's main squeeze, but a snowball has a better chance in the Sahara than the chance of Upchuck getting a date with Daria, or indeed, any other female at Lawndale High.
Of course, fellow students aren't the only pitfalls of High School Life. There's also those Paragons of Educative Virtue: the Faculty.
The Faculty of Lawndale High are typical archetypes of High School Teachers and play those roles well.
The appropriate place to begin is at the top with principal Angela Li. Angela Li is very concerned with the safety of her students. To this end she has spent 80% of the school's budget on metal detectors, bullet-proof skylights, guard dogs, razor wired fences, fingerprinting kits, security cameras, polygraph machines and occasional strip searches to ensure that every student at 'Laaaaawndale High' has a fun and safe education. The woman is, quite clearly, insane.
And speaking of insanity, the teachers at Lawndale High aren't much better. The History teacher, Mr. Anthony DeMartino is an ex-Vietnam vet who looks like Clint Eastwood and talks like Christopher Walken. That is, if the above gentlemen had a bulging bloodshot eye, and tended to OVEREMPHASIZE nearly every other WORD, respectively.
On the other side of the scale, is the English/Drama/Class Counselor instructor, Timothy O'Neill. O'Neill is gentle, supportive, soft-spoken, and, in the opinion of most of the students and faculty, an annoying little s**t. O'Neill has appointed himself as Daria's writing mentor, a fact which has led Daria into disaster several times, such as being forced to spend the day with an egocentric
teen magazine editor, and being told to report to Quinn for tutoring.
For every psychopath, there is an equal and opposite psychopath. The companion to Mr. DeMartino is Ms. Janet Barch, the Science teacher. Ms. Barch is a cold, embittered woman who has hated nearly all men since her husband dumped her after 22 years of marriage. As a result her view is that all men, including her students, are evil, with the exception of Mr. O'Neill, with whom she has an undefined, but
definitely sexual relationship. It's quite clear to outside observers who wears the pants in this relationship.
Rounding out the faculty are Mrs. Angela Bennet, the Economics teacher, Miss Claire DeFoe, the art teacher, and Ms. Morris, the gym instructor. None of these women have yet been fleshed out completely, but a few inferences can be made: Ms. Morris is the ubiquitous
quasi-Nazi Gym instructor eveybody had. Mrs. Bennet is
abnormally obsessed with accounting, collecting Fuzzy-Wuzzy Wee-Bits (Three guesses what's being parodied here, kids.) and the way business works, and Ms. Defoe is the encouraging sane teacher that
you know will crack in five years, tops.
As a whole, the 'Daria' series has managed to keep a good balance of humour and seriousness in its plots, focusing primarily on the absurdities of high school life, rather than descending into the darker aspects such as teen pregnancy or suicide. Daria has gone through the standard 'high school girl with a crush on her best friend's older brother' phase, found a rapport with her Aunt Amy (who is an awful lot like our heroine), and actually revealed that she may not be as alienated and cynical as she might appear.
Of course, as an animated series, this doesn't mean that silliness doesn't occur. Over the course of the series, there have been many unusual events that no one that I know has ever reported experiencing in high school. These include:
*A former football hero being crushed to death by the new goalpost that was to be erected in his honor.
*A visit to the school by a modeling agency, and later, thanks to Daria, by a group of mercenaries.
*An all-musical episode of the series
*Daria and Jane being roped in by Cupid and the St. Patrick's Day Leprechaun to get Christmas, Halloween, and Guy Fawkes Day to return to Holiday Island, where all holiday spirits reside.
The current list of episodes is as follows: (NOTE: American TV series are usually broken up into 13 episode "seasons" and refered to by a three digit number. The first digit of the episode number indicates which season the episode is in.)
Sealed With A Kick (found only on the first commercially released Daria videocassette)
- 101- Esteemsters
- 102- The Invitation
- 103- College Bored
- 104- Cafe Disaffecto
- 105- Malled
- 106- This Year's Model
- 107- The Lab Brat
- 108- Pinch Sitter
- 109- Too Cute
- 110- The Big House
- 111- The Road Worrier
- 112- The Teachings of Don Jake
- 113- The Misery Chick
- 201- Arts & Crass
- 202- The Daria Hunter
- 203- Quinn The Brain
- 204- I Don't
- 205- That Was Then, This Is Dumb
- 206- Monster
- 207- The New Kid
- 208- Gifted
- 209- Ill
- 210- Fair Enough
- 211- See Jane Run
- 212- Pierce Me
- 213- Write Where It Hurts
- 301- Through A Lens Darkly
- 302- The Old And The Beautiful
- 303- Depth Takes A Holiday
- 304- Daria Dance Party
- 305- The Lost Girls
- 306- It Happened One Nut
- 307- Daria! (Also known as "Daria: The Musical")
- 308- Lane Miserables
- 309- Jake Of Hearts
- 310- Speedtrapped
- 311- The Lawndale File
- 312- Just Add Water
- 313- Jane's Addition
- 401- Partner's Complaint
- 402- Antisocial Climbers
- 403- A Tree Grows In Lawndale
- 404- Murder, She Snored
- 405- The F Word
- 406- I Loathe A Parade
- 407- Of Human Bonding
- 408- Psycho Therapy
- 409- Mart Of Darkness
- 410- Legends Of The Mall
- 411- Groped By An Angel
- 412- Fire!
- 413- Dye! Dye! My Darling
Is It Fall Yet? (broadcast at the end of Season 4)