“I don’t have low self-esteem. I have low esteem for everyone else.”
These words sum up Daria Morgendoffer. 2017 marks the 20th anniversary of the MTV series Daria, starring a smart, misanthropic teen girl. Originally a Beavis and Butt-Head spin-off, the show did last for five seasons, ending with two TV films.
How does the show fare at twenty years old?
In the pilot, the Morgendorffer family moves to the town of Lawndale. Most people don’t get Daria’s quirky point of view or her sarcastic manner. Rolling Stone describes her as “a bespectacled, combat boot-wearing misfit whose defining trait was, on the surface, a deep disdain for those around her.” To be fair, she doesn’t care what they think. “I’m not miserable,” she says. “I’m just not one of them.”
Despite the teen angst, Daria manages to do well in school and gains a motley crew of friends. Her best pal is the artistic Jane Lane, who shares her world views. Others in their group include straight-A student Jodie and the ditzy cheerleader Brittany. They must deal with teachers, homework and the antics of dumb jocks, led by the goofy Kevin.
Daria’s home life isn’t much better. Her little sister Quinn sees her as embarrassing, and she doesn’t want to be seen with her. Quinn goes to the extreme of telling her friends that they’re not siblings. Daria ends up revealing the truth to the kids at school, which horrifies Quinn.
Jake and Helen are too high-strung and fixated on their own problems to help Daria. Helen is a workaholic lawyer and the family breadwinner, but she has trouble connecting with her children. Neurotic Jake has mood swings, and he complains about his childhood. When something bad happens, he tends to erupt in a fit of rage at the world. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
Initially, some viewers may have felt put off by Daria’s snarky musings and frequent putdowns. Yet, when you think about it, these are the thoughts of a teenage girl who’s trying to get through life. She makes her feelings clear to a therapist, as shown below.
The show does a great job in exploring teen life, and it holds up two decades later. Daria’s attempts to navigate high school, social cliques and family feel relevant. There are no crossovers with Beavis and Butt-Head, but Daria does hope Lawndale won’t be like Highland. Yet the show succeeds in standing on its own in exploring teen angst.
Perhaps a big part of Daria‘s impact comes from not being afraid to tackle real world issues. Tracy Grandstaff- the voice of Daria- agrees with this sentiment. “They weren’t obvious topics in some cases, but they scratched the surface,” she says. “They went a little deeper than, ‘Let’s just make Jane and Daria decide to go to a concert and meet guys.'”
Credit is given for Daria facing issues such as corporate sponsorships in schools and racism. The show addresses themes like anorexia and self-image. In addition, the topic of sex is brought up when Daria and her boyfriend Tom debate whether or not to do it. It’s even more difficult since Tom used to date Jane in the past.
Daria is not like most cartoons, because the characters grow and change as time passes. We see Daria showing some interest in boys, first with Jane’s brother Trent and then Tom Sloane. Later, she develops a better relationship with Quinn. By the show ends, Daria graduates with honours and goes to college. “Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless experience proves you wrong,” she says. “Remember, if the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked.”
Daria concludes her speech on life as follows: The truth and a lie are not sort of the same thing. And there is no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza.”
Twenty years later, Daria proves you don’t have to conform who you are, and there’s nothing wrong with being an outsider. Even now, the series succeeds in showing what it means to be a teen in the modern age. Perhaps we need more people like Daria today. That wouldn’t be so much of a bad thing.