Originally published on Junkee
For teens (or those in their early-20s, mid-20s, late-20s, 30s – seriously, whatever age) who are constantly, inanely warned about “becoming too jaded”, “being too smart for their own good” or just generally “too snarky” (hello, internets), Daria is a poster child for those with a bleaker sense of self, and a bleaker sense of others. For all of those who loved Daria back when they were a teen and still love her now, get ready to celebrate: this week her eponymous series turns not-so-sweet 16. Don’t worry, we’re not going to force you to smile.
Yes sir, ‘twas March 3 1997–16 years ago today–that Daria first aired on MTV. Forever irreverent and relevant, Daria may have finished its five season, two tele-movie run in 2002, but remains a fixture in our collective cultural memory. Remember in 2011 when rumours circulated that a live action Daria movie was in the works, all thanks to an online game of hypotheticals? (Aubrey Plaza as Daria! Yes!) Or how it was considered news last year when Katy Perry and her friend dressed as Jane and Daria for Halloween?
This is because Daria, the show and the character, are worthy of infinite worship.
LOOK BACK (IN ANNOYANCE)
In the very first episode of Daria, ‘Esteemers’, the Morgendorffer’s rolled up to Lawndale High, and a believable yet unbelievable, dull yet exciting animated world unfolded. We–the viewers and Daria–met Jane Lane, who would become Daria’s satirical soulmate and BFF (Bitter Friend Forever, until Tom comes along to ruin everything [but they still then work it out because shit like that happens in teen girl friendships]). We were also introduced to Daria’s dysfunctional family: her vain, popular sister Quinn; her highly-strung and mentally vacant father Jake; and her Type A workaholic mother Helen. In subsequent episodes we met (and instantly formed a huge crush on) Trent, Jane’s older brother who caused us, like Daria, to blush every time he walked into the room.
From what I can gather via my extensive research (obsessively watching the show and googling), Daria was 15 years old when creators Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis extrapolated her from Beavis and Butt-head and moulded her a world of her very own, in Lawndale. Interestingly, Beavis and Butt-head creator Mike Judge supported the spin-off, but wasn’t creatively involved, and a single, subtle reference to the setting of Beavis and Butthead, Highland, served as the only connection between the shows.
From its unaired pilot, ‘Sealed With A Kick’, character types like Brittany and Kevin and Mr DeMartino were outlined, as Eichler and Lewis took Daria–the nerdy, dry, lightly sketched background character from Beavis–and created a coming-of-age teen comedy for those who had old souls before their time.
Daria’s signature credit theme, ‘You’re Standing On My Neck’ by post-grunge New York band Splendora, became an anthem for the show’s fans, and Daria, as part of the MTV family, provided their musical education. The show was purposefully peppered with ‘90s sound nuggets from Will Smith to Blur (it’s an acknowledged fact that the DVD release was delayed due to music licensing issues. The current issue does not contain the original music), and Daria also gave us a book club.
YOU’RE ONLY 16, BUT YOU’RE MY TEENAGE QUEEN
Today, putting “16th birthday celebrations” and “MTV” in the same sentence conjures the sickening decadence of My Super Sweet 16, a program which can only be lauded for giving Academy Award-winner Jennifer Lawrence her start in their promos. My Super Sweet 16 points out the gloriously ironic divide that presenting a show like Daria on a network like MTV served, an wonderful contradiction that Daria herself would acknowledge through spiked, referential witticisms.
Yet the network connection between these hugely disparate shows did make me wonder: just what would Daria have done for her 16th birthday? (It seems that I’m not alone here – while not presented on the show, Daria’s 16th birthday serves as a plot point in various fanfic accounts. Google it.)
Daria clearly turned 16, given she graduates from high school and college, yet the only birthday she visibly celebrated during the series was presented via home video. This taped memory presents Muppet Baby-esque toddler versions of the sisters, with Quinn inevitably stealing Daria’s day by blowing out the candles. (“I wish I was an only child,” muses the baby prodigy.)
“Aren’t birthdays the one holiday the greeting card industry didn’t make up?” Daria asks in the episode ‘Pierce Me’, yet her birthday is never presented as a big deal to her. Getting her belly-button pierced while shopping for Jane’s birthday present with Trent – under the influence of infatuation – seems the most extreme birthday-related endeavour Daria would undertake. And it’s Trent, so who wouldn’t.
Daria wouldn’t agree to any surprise event thrown by her over-enthusiastic Dad, preferring to spend time in her padded-walled room with a book. Not even black balloons would be permitted. Junk food, though: keep the candy coming. Perhaps, being the brilliant alien in her “normal” society, Daria would strategise, using the “big event” to her innocently malicious advantage. It would be a pleasure to imagine her reusing that old ploy of forcing her family to dine at a children’s restaurant like Pizza Forest, causing Quinn public embarrassment, Jake inevitable confusion, and Helen frustration, over her inability to use a cellphone. And perhaps Daria’s Sixteen Candles would finish with Trent giving her a Mystik Spiral mixtape, and kissing her over a candle-covered hash-brownie.
Most likely, though, Daria would spend her Sweet 16th with Jane, binging on pizza over a Sick, Sad World marathon. Which is perfect. So, to celebrate the 16th year of the show, I’ll be raising my coke-bottle glasses, grabbing a slice and my DVDs, and wishing Daria a happy not-so-sweet 16th with some serious TV time.