Daria Morgendorffer began life as a sharp-witted, deadpan comic foil to feral man-children Beavis and Butt-head before scoring an eponymous vehicle for her Janeane-Garofalo-by-way-of-Velma-from-Scooby-Doo shtick. Her series, which ran from 1997 to 2002, was vastly different in tone and sensibility from Beavis And Butt-head, but it nevertheless found its hero and her sidekick Jane delivering a Beavis-and-Butt-head-style running commentary on the absurdity of life. Only instead of mocking the posturing and unfortunate pyrotechnics of hair-metal bands or the gloomy pretension of grunge artists, Daria’s target was the whole of suburban teenage life.
The show’s entire run—five seasons plus two TV movies, totaling just over 26 hours—has finally received a DVD release; music-licensing rights kept it on the sidelines while the Small Wonders and Mama’s Familys of the world were released to indifferent audiences. Daria takes its sardonic heroine from the Highland of Beavis & Butt-head to Lawndale, where she navigates the murky waters of adolescence and family alongside best friend Jane and tries to make it through the worst years of her life with her dignity and bone-dry humor intact.
Daria surrounds its rich, multi-dimensional heroines with an array of broadly drawn high-school types. Some of these caricatures overlap, like Brittany, an empty-headed, quarterback-dating blonde cheerleader who shares a nails-on-chalkboard squeal and a lot more with Daria’s popularity-and-appearance-crazed sister Quinn, at least in the early seasons. At its weakest, Daria invites us to sneer along with Daria and Jane as they verbally eviscerate their fatuous peers with wry, cynical detachment. Daria and Jane are forever on the sidelines, outsiders coated in multiple layers of protective irony. But as it progressed, the show increasingly challenged its heroine’s snarky worldview by acknowledging that knee-jerk cynicism is ultimately just a way of keeping tricky emotions at bay. Daria is thrillingly uncompromising in its depiction of female adolescence, unencumbered by sentimentality or cuteness. It gave an entire generation of angst-ridden teenage girls a role model or two, and at its apex, it elevated sarcasm to an art form.
Key features: Audio commentaries, introductions, and a script for an abandoned spin-off focusing on Jane’s brother’s band Mystik Spiral highlight a slew of bonus features.