Daria - one of the greatest television shows in history

So the Emmys are tonight.  Unlike various other sites that follow awards, I really don’t care about television awards.  There are a variety of reasons for this.  Here are a few:

  1. I don’t watch much television.  By much, I mean, at all.  With Thomas we watch kids shows, I watch sports, though not as much as I used to and we watch Stewart and Colbert.  Every show that Veronica has watched with any regularity since we moved to Boston was canceled in the same week earlier this year (no joke – “Scrubs”, “Better Off Ted”, “Heroes” and “FlashForward” were all axed in the same week).  And I never watched much television.  I went through four years of college, when people often watch a ton of television and basically only watched “The Simpsons” and “Seinfeld.”
  2. Television shows that I like either don’t last long (“Sports Night”, “Dream On”, “Titus”) or last so damn long I eventually lose interest (“The Simpsons”, “South Park”).
  3. The Emmys seem to give the same damn awards every year.  When I was a kid, it seemed like you could always count on Susan Lucci losing and Michael J. Fox winning.  And when they don’t win, does that mean the show lost something?  It just seems like a retread of the year before.
  4. I hate most television shows and I really can’t take watching shows with laugh tracks.  Even shows I remember liking, I can’t go back and watch when I realize they have a laugh track.  You know what the truly great thing about single-camera comedies like “Scrubs” and “Better Off Ted” are?  They don’t have a “live studio audience” with a laugh track to try to tell me when to laugh.  I can’t go back and watch “Seinfeld” because of the damn canned laughter.
  5. The Emmy’s never give out awards to the shows I truly love.
    1. Case in point – “Sports Night”, which might be my favorite show of all-time, won three Emmys – Cinematography in Season 1; Directing and Editing in Season 2 – nothing for the acting, the writing or the series itself
    2. Other case in point – “Daria“, which might be my second favorite show of all-time, was never nominated for an Emmy

All of which gets to the real point of this.  That “Daria: The Complete Series” is now available on DVD and Veronica and I have finally finished watching it.  (That’s been our thing lately – plowing through entire television shows.  We got tired of watching “Scrubs” every night, so we watched “Sports Night” then went on to “Titus” and then watched our way through all of “Arrested Development.”  Conveniently, she and I have almost the same taste in shows.)  It’s damn impressive how a show about high school that began five years after I graduated, finished when I was nearly a decade out of school and I’m re-watching when high school was half my lifetime away could still make me remember so much and feel so much.

Here’s the quick background for those of you who might not know what the hell “Daria” is.  Back in the mid-90’s, when MTV still occasionally aired videos in between the pile of shows that they were airing all day and night, they had become wildly successful with those two idiots, Beavis and Butthead (to the point where they got their own movie in 1996).  Daria had been introduced as the smart girl in their class.  So, when those two were nearing the end of their run, MTV was looking for a new idea and they decided to spin Daria off into her own show.  Over the course of five seasons, it followed Daria through her last two years of high school.  It spared nothing, whether it be the odd conventions of television shows to have weird fantasy episodes (“Daria’s” involved escapees from Holiday Island) or a musical episode (though “Daria’s” episode, like “Scrubs”, is a hell of an episode — one of the best and since we watched it I have driven Veronica nuts by singing Jake’s song “God God Damn It”), or whether dealing with all the intricate problems of high school (relationships, fighting with your best friend, applying to college, summer jobs).

the various versions of Daria through the show - I snagged this from the website the Daria link goes to

“Daria” works so well for me because it speaks to me on several levels.  The first is that her high school experience really isn’t all that different from mine.  She’s a smart outcast who doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere but has a close friend that helps her get through things while disdaining most everyone at her well-to-do public high school.  I went to a public high school in a town that is 66% Republican, where the median family income is $115,000 and where most houses have pools or tennis courts or both.  I understood the high school that Daria was going to because I had already gone there.  I had been one of those people who wasn’t popular and really didn’t give a rat’s ass.  (In the middle of the run of Daria came Columbine and I was asked by my closest friend if I thought we might have gone in at one point with guns blazing if things had been a little different.  I said no, because, like Daria, we isolated ourselves before anyone had the chance to isolate us.  Yes, they did isolate us, but we didn’t care.  We had no reason to hate them.  We barely even noticed them.)

The second part of “Daria” that works so well is that it is so well-written and informative about the way that her family works.  It understands the family dynamics, how siblings interact and can push against each other, especially at that age, but how deep down they do care.  But it also, as is demonstrated so well in an episode from the fifth season, that family resentments have a way of never healing and that people do carry that with them for years and years and we often end up fighting the same fights we were having as kids.  It understands the exact ways in which parents can understand their children better than the children realize, because, hey, they were teenagers once and had raging hormones once too, but also, how parents don’t ever seem to remember that to teenagers, their problems are unique and no one really understands them.

The third part is that it always understands that Daria is a teenage girl.  She is smart and witty and caustic, but they don’t actually make her a miniature adult.  They make her a smart and witty and caustic teenager.  She reacts to things in the way a teenager really would – she gets mad at her best friend, she expects things from her boyfriend when he doesn’t know what the hell is going on, she fights with her sister in the manner of a teenager, she will go out in the yard and hide in a box because she thinks her parents are fighting about her.  She has a crush on her best friend’s older brother and then later falls for her best friend’s boyfriend.  These are the kinds of things that happen to teenagers.

But most of all, it reminded me about events in my life.  They weren’t necessarily good events in my life, but they were seminal events in my life and it reminded me of them in ways that were often painful, but were always honest.

  • Daria and Jane are best friends, but they fight and sometimes they can’t be around each other and can’t really explain why.  I practically lived at my closest friend’s house one summer and we were roommates for several years.  Yet, when we actually graduated from high school we were barely on speaking terms and have gone long times without seeing or hearing from each other.
  • Daria falls for Tom, Jane’s boyfriend.  There was a point where most of my close friends in high school were all interested in the same girl.  This kind of thing happens all the time in high school (and college).  Part of it is that you and your friends will often have similar tastes.  That’s why you’re friends.  Another part is that when you have a best friend who is dating someone, you end up hanging around the significant other all the time and you get to know and you often find yourself liking them.
  • Daria’s parents constantly worry about her and the fact that she doesn’t relate well to other people.  Well, having been the black sheep of the family I’m well used to that.
  • In the final movie, Daria gets wait-listed at her first choice college.  You never forget these kinds of things.  No matter how much I have done, I still remember that I was deferred at Cal.  It didn’t help that it was my parents’ alma mater and they wanted me to go there.
  • At one point, during a teacher’s strike, Daria is asked to teach a class.  This is meant as satire.  But my school district went on strike when I was in eighth grade, so I remember that.  And in ninth grade, when we had a substitute teacher in Geometry class who didn’t know anything about math, the class actually asked me to teach the class because I was the best student in there, a Freshman in a class full of Sophomores and Juniors who wasn’t in the Honors class because of a scheduling problem.  So I taught the class.  Aaron Boone was in that class with me.  He would later hit the home run that would keep the Red Sox out of the 2003 World Series.

Part of all of it, of course, was that Daria was an animated version of my dream girl.  She was smart and witty and caustic, always wore a skirt, wore glasses, read great books (one of the great little quirks of the series is the variety of books that Daria is always reading – things like Heart of Darkness and As I Lay Dying).  She was exactly who I wanted to date in high school and never found.  And when the show first began airing in 1997, I was miserable and single.  In the course of the series, I met someone, fell in love, got engaged to someone other than that person, then, within six months of the end of the series, I was married (not to the person I had been engaged to).  Happily married.  So in a sense, “Daria” reminds me of a time in my life that I really hated.

But it’s damn funny, from the first episode, right through to the end of the second movie that concluded the series.  It is smart and sincere and always interesting.  It is full of archetypes, the kind of stereotypes that are so true to life that they go through the end and come out the other side.  I understood it once from Daria’s point-of-view and I now can understand what it’s like to be the parent and it’s relevant all over again.  It is one of the best shows that television has ever produced and of course, never earned so much as an Emmy nomination.

But I suppose I should give the Emmys their due.  They don’t always screw up.  In 1978 they gave Most Outstanding Comedy-Variety or Music Series to “The Muppet Show”.

Advertisements