My ultimate judgment? Given that it's a cartoon about the trials and travails of high school, it's only appropriate to seal the whole thing with the most symbolic of high school judgments.
Seriously. This subject matter is timeless. High school angst? Sibling rivalry? Heartless lifemanship? Cliques at their worst? Teenage friendships at their best? First loves (and loves lost)? All handled with the skill of an expert swordsman.
Maybe I'm stuck in a permanently pre-adult, purely puerile (say that five times quickly) point in my life. Maybe I'm just clamoring for the teenage years I wish I could have back, just so I could do them right this time, dammit. But Daria is utter brilliance. I never thought I could be so riveted to a teenage girl's monotonous angst. And I really feel that although it encapsulates the angst of the 1990s high school scene, its theme is truly for the ages.
But then again, I have to think: in high school, I really was Daria...only on the male side of things. My voice was as monotonous as you could get. I was dripping with angst and self-doubt with every hallway corner I turned. I tried to sabotage my first real relationship (first unsuccessfully, then...well, is there a successful way to end a relationship, really?). I never had a faithful sidekick as devoted and cynical and witty as Jane Lane (damn, Daria was lucky), but the friends I did have definitely all fit the bill in one way or another. So I'm really, really biased. (Check that: my first real relationship? She was my sidekick. And I kicked her to the curb. Damn you, sexual incompatibility!)
Looking at the whole series in chronological order, I can definitely see things I never recognized in the past. To wit:
- You NEVER would have seen Daria run up to hug Jane at the beginning of the series, when their standoffishness was central to their characters...yet there you see it, at the end of the series, after Daria nearly gets into a car accident. Daria is human!
- Bribing. Fucking UBIQUITOUS at the beginning of the series. But for some reason, the Morgendorffers grew up, and at some point, money was no longer considered a means to achieve selfish ends.
- Quinn. My God, but Quinn evolved. The snobbiest, most selfish, most superficial kid who always fit in perfectly in the Fashion Club grew up. She found out that learning and being smart is cool. She learned respect and - dare I say it? - sisterly love for Daria. (This, after years of disowning her as some distant relative or other.) She even stood up to one of her peers, calling her on having a drinking problem, even when it meant the end of their friendship.
- Daria herself. I mean, she was so uniformly cynical, antisocial, sarcastic, a loner...you know the type. She totally encapsulated it. At first. But as the series went on, cracks showed up in the wall of cynicism she built around her. She began to acknowledge the love that her parents had for her. She began to show - in more overt ways - her devotion to her friends. She even (begrudgingly at first) reciprocated her sisterly love toward Quinn. And my GOD...she even maintained a relationship with a BOY for awhile!
- Ms. Barch's utter HATRED for the male species - because of a heartless, cruel divorce she endured before the series started. No blaming her here. But it was totally cool to see how the endlessly hypersensitive Mr. O'Neill unwittingly and effortlessly melted this crone's heart...to the point where she was making out with him at any opportunity. By the last episode she was wholeheartedly accepting what she misconstrued as a marriage proposal. Take home: if the man-hating Ms. Barch can fall in love again, ANYTHING is possible. ANYTHING.
But some things that were established firmly at the beginning also remained stalwart to the end.
- Jane. In all respects: her cynicism, her slicing wit, her (nearly) undying dedication to her friendship with Daria. (Aside from that whole boyfriend quasi-stealing mess. Justifiable and forgiven.) LOVE me some Jane Lane.
- Kevin's utter stupidity. Duh! He was the QB, right? And of course, he flunked his senior year. (Yes, this attitude contributed to an anti-homecoming/football screed I published in the school paper my freshman year that all but guaranteed me a pummeling by our linebackers.) (If only...)
- Brittany. Kind of. She did actually grow some semblance of a brain. Somewhat.
- Jodie. God bless her. I really felt for her. So pressured to be the best of the best. Oh, and let's add the pressure of being one of only two minorities at Lawndale High. And she graduated valedictorian, natch.
- Sandi. President of the Fashion Club. Always and forevermore a bitch of the highest order. And no, that is not meant as a compliment. But I will grant her this: she can manipulate better than anyone I've ever known.
Seeing Daria (both the character and the series) just affirms my position in life. I'm intelligent, cynical, somewhat antisocial, somewhat reclusive, yet constantly evolving and learning stuff about human nature. And the fact that a network as influential as MTV found a character and series as non-mainstream and subversive as Daria (see also: My So-Called Life) and could support said series for five seasons gives me hope for persons such as myself. (Of course, MTV has since devolved into a state of putrid swampstank the likes of which Daria represents its absolute antithesis. I mean, MTV hardly shows music videos anymore, right? It's time to pull the plug. Like about a decade ago. We can all live without The Real World, which is, like, so real, btw.) But if Daria can thrive, I can too, right?
Then again, we may never know. The final movie, "Is It College Yet?", showed everyone going separate ways. Daria broke up with her beau, Tom. Brittany promised Kevin she'd wait for him...while crossing her fingers behind her back. All the main characters wound up going to completely different colleges. But a silver lining of sorts: Daria and Jane ended up going to different colleges, but in the same town: Boston. But there ended the season. Maybe continuing to pursue Daria: The College Years might have been pretty tough. Still, given the caliber of what the team behind Daria had turned out, it would have been possible, and possibly very compelling. But the world will never know...just like that damned Tootsie Roll commercial.
God bless Daria Morgendorffer. And God bless pizza.