Saturday, March 17, 2007


“It Kind of Sucked”:
A Review of “College Bored”

Today marks the 10th anniversary of the first showing of the Daria episode “College Bored,” and unlike the other two episodes, I don’t think there will be a clinking of champagne glasses. On the other hand, “College Bored” aired on March 17, 1997 — St. Patrick’s Day — so I assume some intoxication is in order.

When fans compare lists of their favorite episodes, “College Bored” seems to have failed to matriculate. At the “Daria by Numbers” Website, “College Bored” ranks fourth out of five in the “thirds” category (comparing episodes 103, 203, 303, 403, and 503) and doesn’t even make it on the list of favorite Season One episodes.

“College Bored” was written by Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil. It certainly wasn’t their first shot at writing for television — they had worked with Mike Judge on Beavis and Butt-head and wrote the hilarious episode “Candy Sale.” Chris Marcil had written some episodes of NewsRadio, a good if overlooked comedy.

If blame is to be assessed, it isn’t on Johnson’s and Marcil’s lack of experience — they would end up writing five Daria episodes. (Johnson and Marcil, Glenn Eichler, Anne D. Bernstein, Peggy Nichol, and Neena Beber would end up writing over half of all the Daria episodes.)

The episode starts with Helen and Jake going to meet some friends and dragging Daria and Quinn along. As it turns out, the family honored by this visit has a three-year-old daughter who is already on the fast track to college, given all the right preschool instructional materials to prepare a toddler for the SATs.

Feeling insecure about Daria’s and Quinn’s futures, Jake and Helen sign their children up for a college prep course. The instructor assigns the students (among them, several familiar Lawndale High School faces) the task of visiting a college on their own, but Helen and Jake insert themselves into the process. Soon, the entire family is on the road to Middleton College, where Jake and Helen apparently first met as students.

As a school, the only thing Middleton College has in common with an Ivy League school is its age and the amount it costs to attend. The four are guided about campus by a tour guide, Heather, but soon they all go their own ways. Jake and Helen try to ride a wave of nostalgia, but the obnoxious and disinterested students bring them crashing to reality. Quinn finds sorority row and is soon on her way to becoming Keg Queen.

Daria follows Heather and finds that in Heather’s case, at least, college life consists of watching Sick, Sad World and paying for other people to write your term papers. After looking at what Heather has purchased, Daria believes she can surpass it in quality, and soon opens her own shingle selling term papers.

Jake learns that it takes the help of Tony Soprano to pay for school at Middleton, and Helen is accosted by a frat pledge who wants to hang her panties from a flagpole:
Geek: But since the house moved off-campus, we found that student panties aren't big enough to be seen from the quad. I’ve been observing you, ma’am. I think your underwear just might do the trick!
Helen and Jake, having lost the girls, call in the police to help. The police arrive as Quinn is acclaimed Keg Queen, and all four of them are thrown off campus, as Daria and Quinn are both underage.

Jane gets to do the summing up: “All in all, then, the whole college experience kind of sucked.” The end.

For the third episode in a row, we have Daria compelled to do something that she does not want to do: in “Esteemsters,” it was attending an esteem class, in “The Invitation,” it was attending Brittany Taylor’s party, and in “College Bored,” it was attending (first) a college prep course and (second) Middleton with her parents and sister.

As I wrote about in “‘Daria’: An Infinite Engine of Stories,” there is a difficulty in telling stories about a character who doesn’t like to interact with other people. Contrivances are needed to make those characters part of the story, and nowhere is this more obvious than “College Bored.”

Daria is the kind of person who would clearly look forward to going to college, if only to get away from her parents and sister. I don’t really see why Daria wouldn’t want to take a college prep course — she doesn’t need it, but it is something she wouldn’t have much of a problem with. But how can you have Quinn in the story unless both of them are forced?

This sets up the next contrivance — students at the prep course are required to visit a college — which sets up another contrivance of Jake and Helen overriding whatever desires Daria or Quinn have in choosing their own college to visit.

The characters are never allowed to “find their own way.” They are merely dragged wherever the writers need them to be, so that whatever jokes the viewer finds in the characters’ discomfort can finally have their payoffs.

It would have been a much better idea for Daria to want to attend a college prep class (without Quinn), choose a college to visit, only to have Helen and Jake insert themselves into the process and Quinn drag herself along. In this plot, at least, Daria would have been in charge of her destiny for part of the episode instead of being the victim of circumstance.

Another flaw of the episode deals with its premise, so succinctly stated by Jane: College kind of sucks, or at least, it’s not as great as a high school student might believe it is. Yes, college sucks, but Johnson and Marcil paint a murky picture of why it sucks. Does it suck because college students are barbarians? Does it suck because it’s so expensive? Does it suck because cheating is rampant? Is the Greek system out of control?

Rather than build some plot that could make one of these arguments strongly and bring the other arguments in as supporting points or to add background, Johnson and Marcil seem desperate to cover all of their bases. They make a set of arguments, with one-shot characters, and none of it leaves any impression at all. There is so much that could have been done with this episode; it is surprising that they do so little with it.

As for another failing of the episode, it seems that the writers still haven’t decided what Quinn is. Is she a brain-dead fashionista who reaches sub-Kevin levels of intelligence, unaware that there is no such thing as a “making-out scholarship” and proud of her acceptance to Manatee College?

Or is she a manipulator that could put Machiavelli to shame, insinuating herself as a sorority Theta pledge, getting the most rowdy of fraternity brothers to play “zoom-zoom-schwartz,” and becoming Keg Queen by the acclaim of the Middleton fraternities, without even managing to graduate high school?

At least Brittany’s military skills in “The Daria Hunter” can be marked up to some savant-like skill with the martial arts that leaves the rest of her mind untouched by human thought. There’s an old saying that one cannot self-aggrandize and self-deprecate at the same time. You can’t claim to be a genius and an idiot at the same time, and put on whichever hat suits whichever argument you’re making.

One of the most annoying things about Daria is that writers (both TV and fan fiction) tend to make Quinn cunning or brain-dead depending on whether or not the plot depends on it. The “making-out scholarship” line was just too much for me. Is Quinn really that naïve?

(Oddly enough, when Mr. Edwards comes on to Tiffany in “Lucky Strike,” I fail to see why it’s so shocking. At least three older men have come on to underage Daria characters: the instructor in “College Bored,” the minister in “I Don’t,” and the car salesman in “Partner’s Complaint.”)

Like Middleton College, this is an episode in disrepair, with the structure not holding up very well and the odd chunk of masonry falling from the sky, or perhaps hurled through a dorm window. It was “just a bunch of stuff that happened” and not really very funny. However, we’ll get a reprieve as Glenn Eichler returns to write a better episode with “Café Disaffecto.”

Random thoughts:

• Some fans might not know that Sam and Chris Griffin — the younger brothers of Sandi Griffin — take their first names from Sam Johnson and Chris Marcil.

• We get a look into the fantasy worlds of several Daria characters — Daria, Jane, Kevin, Brittany, and Quinn. In Kevin’s and Brittany’s cases, we see that each of them looks forward to college because, among other things, it means a higher class of boyfriend (or girlfriend). In retrospect, Brittany’s crossed fingers at the end of “Is It College Yet?” shouldn’t have been surprising. Also, Kevin initially imagines himself as much smaller than his fellow college football players — hints of an insecure side of Kevin? — before he re-envisions himself to be just as massive and powerful as the other jocks.

• Quinn’s fantasy is to move into a dorm room with three handsome men with chiseled jaws, model looks, and hardbodies. For a few seconds, one is given the impression that this is a romantic — or even sexual — fantasy! But Quinn’s fantasy reaches fruition only when the three start fighting over her. This, apparently, is Quinn’s turn-on — not sex, but power over boys.

• At the end of the episode, we get brief glimpses of what the other characters did during their college visits. Kevin visited a frat and was put through the humiliations of a frat pledge, ending up naked and covered in molasses. Brittany found herself among students sharing poetry, and was allowed to share her own poetry and have her thoughts valued. Mack learned about the “first-string exemption,” i.e., that first-string football players don’t have to take exams. (I suspect that Mack’s college visit was as disheartening as Daria’s.)

• Mike Quinn’s comment from his initial review has always stuck with me:
By the way, if you ever meet any stranger that eager to ask for your underwear, he shouldn't be too hard to catch because of his enormous balls.

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