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DVD Review: Daria — The Complete Animated Series

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It’s about time. The blisteringly acerbic MTV comedy Daria has been rescued from DVD limbo and released in an eight-disc set that includes all five seasons and both TV movies. Even the notoriously nonchalant Daria might be able to get at least a little excited about that.

Daria ran from 1997-2002 on MTV, and though its origins can be found within MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head, its humor strikes an altogether different chord. Exceedingly literate and sharp-witted, Daria contains some of the most on-point sitcom writing ever, and there’s even a charm to its anti-dynamic animation. This is the kind of show that’s worlds away from the bottom-feeding drivel that passes for programming on MTV these days — can you imagine what Daria would say about The Hills?

Daria tells the story of smart, sarcastic, and thoroughly unpopular high-schooler Daria Morgendorffer (Tracy Grandstaff), who moves with her family to soul-crushing suburbia in Lawndale. Daria’s younger sister Quinn (Wendy Hoopes) finds her place immediately within the social framework of Lawndale High, but Daria is content to remain an outsider. She finds a common soul however in Jane Lane (Hoopes), an aspiring artist who almost approaches Daria’s level of misanthropy.

Anyone who feels constantly surrounded by the clueless or idiotic will revel in Daria’s uninhibited perspective on the world. It’s to the show’s credit though that it doesn’t simply develop targets for Daria’s derision — her befuddled parents Helen and Jake (Hoopes and Julián Rebolledo), dimwit cheerleader and jock Brittany and Kevin (Janie Mertz, Marc Thompson), and a whole host of overbearing teachers offer plenty of fodder for Daria’s caustic remarks, but are all developed in interesting ways as the series progresses.

The show also deftly advances Daria’s character — opening her up emotionally without resorting to destroying her essence. Daria effectively explores relationships between friends, siblings, parents, children, and significant others in meaningful ways without resorting to “very special episode” schmaltz. Of course, the satire cannon never fully powers down, with pointed shots at commercialism, the education system, and the media (the recurring Sick Sad World promos are brilliant lunacy) always around the next corner.

Series creators Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn created a show that refused to be dumbed-down, and though it’s clearly aimed at teenagers, Daria is much smarter than your average teen.

The long-delayed release of the series can be at least partially attributed to rights issues, with much of the incidental music being clips from popular songs from the era. Thus, to get the DVD released, almost all of the music had to be changed, although a few plot-specific selections remain. In a way, this removes many of the cultural signposts from Daria, although it’s certainly a worthy price to pay and, after some time, not that noticeable. Occasional selections have the feel of cheesy generic studio work, but what are you going to do?

What’s more disheartening is the dump-and-run feel that seems to pervade the set, from its flimsy plastic case that holds all eight discs on a single hub that seems destined to break to the somewhat insubstantial extras. Despite a number of cast members being interviewed, all of them are thrown together on a six-minute featurette. There clearly was potential for more behind-the-scenes material, but you won’t find it here.

Still, there are some good extras, including “Daria Day” intros for a number of the episodes, the short animatic pilot “Sealed With a Kick,” a Mystik Spiral music video, and a pilot script for Eichler’s proposed Mystik Spiral spin-off series, and character profiles that include early sketches.

The two TV movies are included in the extras menu, rather than in the chronological order of the show where they should be. “Is it Fall Yet?” belongs between seasons four and five, while “Is it College Yet?” serves as the series finale. Unfortunately, “College” is the edited version that cuts almost 10 minutes from the original broadcast airing. Presumably those elements have been lost.

Despite it all, it’s still great to have Daria in a complete collection, and the episodes look to have been culled from quality elements. Maybe a closing snarky remark would be more appropriate, but we can’t all possess a Daria-level wit.

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About Dusty Somers

Dusty Somers is a Seattle-based editor and writer. He is a member of the Online Film Critics Society and Seattle Theater Writers.
  • http://sterfish.blogspot.com Sterfish

    Daria was an awesome show. It’s unfortunate that Is it College Yet? is edited (I wonder if the original DVD was the same way) but it’s great that the series is finally available.

  • Dusty

    From what I understand, the standalone DVD of “Is it College Yet?” had the same edited version.