Seven years ago this month, YouTube channel CollegeHumor created a trailer spoof depicting a 10-year high school reunion of characters from the ‘90s animated sitcom “Daria,” featuring Aubrey Plaza as the titular character in the spoof.
The five-season show ended in 2002 but its legacy endures. In 2016, Daria was mentioned on a list of “Best Female Cartoon Characters” in The Daily Telegraph. In June 2018, it was announced that a reboot series was in development and that same month, “Daria” began streaming on Hulu, where I watched the show for the first time.
The original show follows Daria Morgendorffer, a cynical high school student who moves to the fictional American suburb Lawndale in the first episode.
The Morgendorffer family includes Daria’s annoying, popular younger sister Quinn, who attempts to distance herself from Daria’s “brainy” reputation at school by calling Daria her cousin; her mother Helen, a workaholic who attempts to connect with her eldest daughter; and her clueless father Jake, who never seems to realize Daria is sarcastic.
Jake is accurately summed up in the trailer when Plaza says she is “high on life” and he panics, asking “What’s life? Is that some new kind of drug?” before running away screaming “I’ve failed my daughter.”
Plaza appropriately assumes the role of Daria in the trailer, which begins with her on a bus to Lawndale. “High school was like the Civil War. It lasted four years, you were defined by what you wore and I lost one and 10 of my friends to gangrene,” she said in a voiceover. “That last part isn’t true, but a girl can dream.”
These kinds of comments are evocative of Daria’s general cynicism, and the ways in which she can get herself into uncomfortable situations. In the show, Daria’s sarcasm and monotonous voice is mistaken for a lack of self-esteem and she is forced into a self-esteem class.
This is where she meets Jane Lane, an artist who matches Daria’s cynicism and is just taking the class for kicks. Together, they make fun of the idiocy of their school, including Kevin Thompson, the school’s quarterback, Brittany Taylor, a cheerleader, Charles “Upchuck” Ruttheimer III, an obnoxious creep who stops at nothing to capture female attention, Quinn’s friends from the fashion club: Sandi Griffin, Stacy Rowe and Tiffany Blum-Deckler, Angela Li, the principal and a variety of teachers with distinct characteristics: Mr. DeMartino, Mr. O’Neill and Ms. Barch, to name a few.
Although the show began two years before I was born, the content remains relevant today. The show may have characters who are typical of any show set in high school, but they’re developed enough to never be mistaken for cliche.
Another element of the show is “Sick, Sad World,” a show both Daria and Jane enjoy watching. Excerpts of the show include what would today be deemed “clickbait-y,” with introductions like “Could a steady diet of pet food bring out the animal in you? Get a dog dish full of love, tonight on ‘Sick, Sad World.’” It’s a helpful reminder that someone as intelligent as Daria would probably take Buzzfeed quizzes today, and showcases how enduring some of the show’s concepts are.
Still, the timeless themes in “Daria” don’t change the show’s ‘90s setting, with the lack of phones and texting, a lot of time spent watching television and the ease that people have going door-to-door, all of which are hard to imagine in the 21st century.
But this ‘90s permanence doesn’t detract from the appeal of “Daria.” It’s a powerful, easily relatable show for anyone who enjoys sarcasm and powerful female characters and can be found on Hulu.