Daria (MTV, 1997-2002)
Beavis and Butt-Head was an animated sitcom that became very popular in the mid-90s when it was shown on MTV and later Channel 4, and one of the characters on that show went on to get their own spin-off series which was also great. Daria launched in 1997 and it would always began with the distinctive opening theme music “You’re Standing On My Neck”.
Daria Morgendorffer is a girl who isn’t necessarily unhappy in herself, but she is someone who is very cynical about the world and she doesn’t really seem to get on with anyone else, having what would now be called an “it’s not me, it’s you” outlook on life, and she does struggle to get through her teenage years, but it helps that she also has a deadpan retort in her monotone voice for everyone who tries to deal with her. One thing that Daria does like though is her favourite TV programme Sick, Sad World.
We also meet Daria’s family. Her parents are Helen and Jake, they seem to be a pair of workaholics who don’t have much time to listen to Daria, and her younger sister Quinn comes across as much more confident and she is be able to express herself well and make friends instantly. In the first episode we see the family move to their new place called Lawndale.
When Daria starts school there the only person she can get on with is a girl called Jane Lane, an artist who is also thought to have low self-esteem, and she becomes Daria’s closest and possibly only friend for the entire run of the series, and in later episodes we also meet some of Jane’s family including her brother Trent who is in a rock band. We also meet fellow students in Daria’s classes including the rather dim Brittany who aspires to be a cheerleader and not much else, and her friend Kevin.
Daria also has to deal with the teachers at her school. When I was watching some old episodes recently, I had one of those “oh wow, I haven’t thought about that for years, I used to really like that” moment when I saw Daria’s history teacher Mr DeMartino again. It is a safe bet to say that he is the perfect example of the old sitcom idea of “wrong person, wrong job”. He is a permanently stressed individual who shouts and places the emphasis in the wrong place on words, and one of his eyes looks like it’s one the verge of popping out of his head. Needless to say, he became popular with viewers including myself and he really is a terrific character.
By contrast, Daria’s English teacher Mr O’Neill was also memorable because he was a stark contrast and the exact opposite to Mr DeMartino. He was very softly spoken, he also wasn’t strict, was prone to random outbursts of crying, and he had great difficulty remembering the pupil’s names and faces. When I realised that these two characters were voiced by the same actor I was very impressed. And as the episodes go by we meet several more outlandish people who interfere in Daria’s world.
Another unusual thing that I used to like about Daria was the end credits sequence, which featured various characters from the show but dressed as famous figures, maybe in film or TV or in history, and a lot of these were rather far away from the actual personality of the character, for example Daria appearing as a character from Baywatch or Jane as an ancient Egyptian. There were lots of these used over the series and they were all very creative and made the show stand out.
Daria eventually ran to five series and two specials, and the first series was recently released on DVD in this country, and I hope that the rest will follow really soon. I remember watching Daria regularly on Channel 5 on Saturday afternoons when I was a teen in the late-90s/early-2000s. They really did have a terrific schedule then, with other shows including The Tribe and Harry and Cosh also being among my favourites from that time, along with a few others including Popular and The Pepsi Chart. It’s a shame that Daria isn’t as well known in this country as other animated sitcoms including Family Guy and South Park which launched around the same time because it’s definitely up there with them.