Saturday, March 31, 2007


“Malled”: The Final Piece of the Puzzle

As you have undoubtedly guessed, today is the 10th anniversary of the airing of “Malled,” the fifth episode of Daria. For anyone actively following the show back in 1997, it was the fifth week in a row that MTV had aired what was (ostensibly) a brand new, thirty-minute cartoon in the tradition of The Maxx, Aeon Flux, Beavis and Butt-head, and Liquid Television — cartoons which were more adult and more thought-provoking than cartoons which had been seen on American TV in the past.

“Malled” was the first episode written by Neena Beber, an aspiring writer who had been writing for television as early as 1989. Beber would later become a playwright and screenwriter. With “Malled,” she would provide the missing piece of the puzzle which brought Daria (the character) from an interesting comedic idea to a full-fledged character, the type that has inspired numerous works of fan fiction and an on-line fandom that has somehow endured for longer than the show was on the air.

Recounting the plot is worthwhile, if only as a guidepost from where one can map the progress of the characters on their five-year journey. The episode starts at the Morgendorffer home, where Quinn provides a bit of unnecessary exposition (I get the impression that there was some padding here).

Quinn is going on at the dinner table about the brand new super-cool Mall of the Millennium, a massive shopping mall about a hundred miles away from Lawndale. Quinn wants to go to the mall, but is told that she’d have to bring up her grades before the family springs for a trip.

Some time later, Lawndale High’s economics teacher, Mrs. Bennett, is looking for someone in class to illustrate how supply might create demand. As no one raises their hands, Mrs. Bennett is forced to call upon Daria, who laconically replies that the mall would be such an example.

This inspires Mrs. Bennett to propose a field trip to the Mall of the Millennium, which wins the entire class over (they want to avoid a pop quiz), except for Daria and Jane. They’re easily outvoted by the class, and Daria goes so far as to claim a skin condition to avoid going.

The next scene finds the economics class on the way to the mall, including Daria and Jane. The school bus seems to hit every pothole, but it doesn’t sway Kevin and Brittany from an impromptu make-out session, or Upchuck from hitting on Daria and Jane with his father’s credit card and his suggestion that they model bikinis.

The cauldron of Brittany’s and Kevin’s passion has undoubtedly provoked an unpleasant physical reaction from Daria (across a wide spectrum) and Daria finds herself physically ill, possibly from motion sickness, but probably from a wafting mixture of pheromones and cheap perfume. By the time the class actually reaches the mall and gets on the bus to take them from the parking lot to the massive facility, Daria is throwing up.

While the class looks around and is entranced by the odd-sounding specialty stores, Mrs. Bennett reminds them of the importance of the meeting they are about to attend — until she comes across a Fuzzy Wuzzy Wee Bits score, which sells the particular type of collectible that she adores. Somehow, the class makes it to the meeting on time with mall executives, who seem more interested in what the kids are interested in buying.

Jodie dopes out quickly that the class is being used as a focus group, and Daria convinces Jane to turn on a light switch that reveals the faces peeking in behind a wall-length two-way mirror. The class rebels, and Daria believes that “there is a principle involved.” However, the class is easily pacified by discount coupons to specialty stores, and even Jane picks up a coupon and is prepared to cash in.

Mrs. Bennett, however, is determined to make the visit an actual learning experience, even if the assignments given don’t provide much in the way of opportunity. Daria and Jane are assigned to monitor traffic at the food court.
Jane: Traffic patterns at the food concessions.
Daria: Hmm, I’ve noticed a pattern. People walk in looking hungry.
Jane: And leave, stuffing their faces.
Daria: Assignment completed.
However, Daria and Jane encounter an unexpected surprise while waiting in line to stuff their own faces ... Quinn! It appears that the Fashion Club has skipped school and gotten a ride to the mall from an admirer (who has become a real fifth wheel). Quinn had suggested a makeover project as a way for the Fashion Club to do good ... and from behind and at a distance, Daria and Jane looked like perfect candidates.

Quinn has no one to blame but herself. Daria knows that Quinn would be in big trouble if their parents found out about Quinn skipping school for a 100-mile mall trip, and Daria cashes in big-time. Quinn will have to do Daria’s work around the house for an entire month, and provide Daria and Jane with a ride back home from Quinn’s admirer/slave. Satisfied, Daria and Jane go to cash their coupons before departing.

Unfortunately, they have little luck. Jane hopes for a new pair of scissors from “Scissor Wizard,” but finds out that it’s a trendy hair salon. Instead of getting her hair cut like a celebrity, Jane ends up with a used can of mousse and her coupon redeemed in cash (they did sort of hassle the hairstylist).

The two go to cash in Daria’s coupon at the “Doo-Dads” shop, and it appears from first observation that the shop is filled with those hard-to-define items that end up “re-gifted.” Unfortunately, Daria is the 10,000th customer and, as a reward, is subjected to a humiliating song and a supply of Doo-Dads.

When we return to the Morgendorffer home, Quinn is about a couple of weeks into her chore detail. As a reward to both Quinn and Daria, Helen and Jake decide to treat their daughters to a trip ... to the Mall of the Millennium! Neither Daria nor Quinn is exactly thrilled, and our last image is the full-sized poster at the Doo-Dads store, which shows an uncomfortable-looking Daria being feted by the store staff.

Once again, we have Daria (and Jane, apparently) compelled to do something she doesn’t want to do. This has been a continuous theme in Season One Daria episodes, and should be no surprise.

In earlier episodes, we had Daria forced to sit in a self-esteem class, or to go to a party that she didn’t want to go to, or to go to a college that she didn’t want to go to, or to work in a coffeehouse when the principal denied her extracurricular credit.

In all of those cases, the theme was that Daria basically was forced to be around people she didn’t want to be with. It’s a common theme in human relations — most of us are forced to spend time with annoying family, or friends, or co-workers, and we wish we could be as sarcastic and witty as Daria or had some devastating way of conveying this annoyance.

This time, however, we have Daria standing on a principle. There’s no reason that Daria couldn’t go along with the crowd and get out of economics class. She probably finds it as boring as her other classes, and why not take a trip to the mall instead of take a pop quiz?

The reason Daria doesn’t want to go, however, has nothing to do with watching Kevin and Brittany make out in the front of the bus for two hours. We learn — although Beber doesn’t make it explicit — that Daria hates malls. She hates the mall culture, and wants nothing to do with the very concept of a mega-mall, finding its very existence offensive.

Undoubtedly, part of Daria’s hatred comes from the fact that Quinn enjoys going to the mall and enjoys shopping — we remember Daria being dragged to the mall in “Esteemsters,” to watch her mother shop as a reward. And if Quinn likes going to malls, then Daria probably doesn’t. But it's Jodie that manages to put it in words:
I have a question. Do you think our demographic can really be addressed by middle-aged middle managers telling us what’s
fun to buy?
The reader can conclude, although the show never states it explicitly, that Daria hates the entire culture of mindless purchasing that the mall represents, and hates that “middle-aged managers” manipulate young people into buying useless crap. As a matter of fact, that’s what Daria calls it. Her assessment of the Doo-Dads store is spot-on: “Who would buy such crappy, useless junk?”

No one goes to a mall to buy something like, say, a personalized talking astrolabe. (Borrowing from “’Tis the Fifteenth Season,” an episode of The Simpsons.) But I think that all of us who have been to a mall have run into high-end stores, like the one in The Simpsons, and low-end stores that sell “doo-dads” (the very name suggests something ill-defined).

Malls serve a purpose, but much of that purpose is to convince people to buy stuff that they don’t really want, don’t really need, and can’t really afford. And Daria really hates that. Therefore, it’s a fitting end to the episode that Daria wins armloads of this useless crap.

Daria can’t get away from this stuff even if she wants to. (I suspect that Doo-Dads is the source of the cheese model in her room.) And no one else in the world can get away from it, either — if you don’t want it, they’ll give it to you.

She doesn’t hate it enough that she makes too big a deal of it — her distaste is so great that she tries to feign illness to avoid going — but she goes, having little but contempt for the place. And when she believes that the other students like Jodie feel the same way, you can imagine her being a bit surprised when their ill-feeling can be bought off with some cheap coupons.

Daria’s no crusader — far from it. People can go to the mall if they want. But for the first time, we have Daria expressing a dislike for something, and that dislike stems from a deeply held principle.

When we see that Daria is a true cynic — “a failed idealist” — it completes an essential part of her character. She’s smart, she’s witty, she’s sarcastic, she clashes with the artificial standards set by popular people — and there are things that she not only doesn’t like, but has reasons for not liking.

Writing from 2007, I find a lot of fanfiction that doesn’t explore Daria’s deeply held beliefs, whatever deeply held beliefs you might wish to assign to her. A lot of earlier fanfiction told stories like this; a lot of more recent fanfiction does not. I think that fanfiction writers should return to this side of Daria and ask, “What does Daria believe in, and why?”

There is one weakness to the episode — the fact that Jane tags along with Daria, giving the impression that Jane’s sole reason for existence was to hang around with Daria and share witticisms. Jane doesn’t want to go to the mall, either, and we really don’t get a clue why. She gives a flippant answer to Mrs. Bennett:
I second Daria. The mall is a dangerous influence on today’s
teens, and the fluorescent lights give you seizures.
We can only conclude that the reason Jane doesn’t want to go is that she just wants to do whatever Daria is doing — which is no reason at all, turning her into a follower of Daria. A good-looking, artistically-hip follower, but a follower nonetheless.

Upon hindsight, one can assign reasons. Perhaps the mall is an affront in some way to her artistic sensibilities — which I find hard to believe, as Jane can take artistic interest even in “junk culture.” Andy Warhol would have loved going to the mall. Maybe she’s worried that it would be a dull day at the mall if Daria stayed behind at school.

My wife provided much better reasons. Most likely, Jane doesn’t want to go to the mall because it’s a place where one makes impulse purchases, and Jane doesn’t have any money to buy doo-dads and useless crap.

Furthermore, malls just aren’t where Jane shops. She shops on Dega Street, or at thrift stores, or pulls clothes from the ’40s out of old trunks in the attic. There’s not a mall on Earth — not even the “second or third largest mall on Earth” — that can cater to Jane’s unique fashion sense.

All in all, however, if you look hard, you get a glimpse of the “inner Daria” in “Malled,” the Daria that believes things strongly. When “Arts ’n’ Crass” comes along, we’ll find out just how far Daria will go if her beliefs are trampled.

And although “Arts ’n’ Crass” belongs on a pedestal of its own, the foundation stone of that episode is “Malled,” the first episode that implied that Daria doesn’t act like a hard-to-get-along-with ass just because she thinks it’s funny.

Random thoughts:

• This is the first appearance of Mrs. Bennett, a sadly underused character. Then again, only so many characters can take the stage.

• This is also the second time Daria’s big mouth inspired a teacher to add misery to her life. She unwittingly gives Mrs. Bennett the idea to take the class to the Mall of the Millennium, and she also gave Mr. O’Neill a wide-open door to plan a coffeehouse with just one snarky comment.

• Jodie can be a very smart manipulator. Despite her portrayal as a student council drone, we learn that Jodie knows how to work the system — it is she who puts on an act that convinces the mall executives to hand out the coupons.

• If you look really close on the Mall of the Millennium shuttle bus, you can find not only Rock-’n’-Roll Randy, but Lauren Gupty. I tell you, Rock-’n’-Roll Randy really gets around with the ladies! “Rock-’n’-roll forever!!!”

• Kevin and Brittany making out ... in the bus ... in the front of the bus. No comment.

• Upchuck is registering high on the meter of odiousness, going so far as to touch Brittany, in an unknown but inappropriate way. Maybe he just thinks he’s being bold.

• I’ve finally figured out why Kevin wears his football uniform, complete with shoulder pads and protective wear, as his default costume. It’s because Brittany hits him in the chest at least twice, and goes so far as to step on his foot! Kevin is being cluelessly obnoxious in this episode, and it’s the only way Brittany can get him to shut up, but I suspect that he gets hit a lot by Brittany. Maybe violence just runs in Brittany’s family. I hope he wears his cup.

• “Perky ... a little bouncy ... not too bouncy!” Is Brittany talking about what I think she’s talking about in front of that full length mirror, or am I just reading too much into that?

• The first appearance of the Fashion Club foursome — Sandi, Quinn, Stacy, and Tiffany, together at last. The voice actors for Stacy and Tiffany are still finding the characters, who don’t quite sound the way they should be. It is also noteworthy in that we learn that Quinn has a group of contemporaries with whom she shares common ground.

However, I’m most surprised by Sandi. Her eyes are drawn wide-open and expressive, and not the mean little beady-eyes we see in later episodes. She smiles. Quinn and Sandi exchange genuine compliments with each other, and the typical bitchiness accompanying future Fashion Club meetings is completely absent. I’ll go into more detail as to why this was doomed not to last in later essays.

• In the end, the Fashion Club is all jammed into the back seat — Quinn has to work the kinks out of her legs later — while Daria rides up front, happy as a clam with Guy. A funny little moment.

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Saturday, March 24, 2007


When Usenet Ruled the Earth:
A Review of “Café Disaffecto”

Today is the 10th anniversary of the first airing of “Café Disaffecto.” One of the hardest parts of writing about this episode was establishing an overarching theme, and evaluating the rest of the episode by how the components support or detract from that theme.

I then realized that this doesn’t work for “Café Disaffecto.” The reason why is that “Café Disaffecto” wasn’t supposed to be about anything. There was not supposed to be some cryptic inner meaning, no heavy philosophical ponderings. It was supposed to be a lighthearted and fun episode, and in my personal opinion, it was the first successful episode written by Glenn Eichler.

At the beginning of the episode, thieves toss a brick through the window of Lawndale’s cybercafé and make off with valuable computer equipment. The business closes shop, and Mr. O’Neill concludes that the shutting down of is an assault on the heart of the community of Lawndale itself. He bemoans the loss of the café in front of his class, but his students are ambivalent at best about the loss of

Daria is (unfortunately) queried as to her own opinion about the incident and she states that the ambience of the café could be replaced by putting a coffee machine in the computer lab. Mr. O’Neill somehow interprets this as being a call to create a coffeehouse, complete with poetry readings, in place of the shuttered cybercafé.

Mr. O’Neill’s quixotic quest draws little interest from Daria until Quinn’s mention of the Fashion Club at home prompts Helen to ask why Daria can’t be involved in such extracurricular projects. (If Helen knew the exact details of the Fashion Club’s “extracurriculars,” she’d make Quinn wear a chastity belt.) Unless Daria finds some outside-of-school involvement that she could put on a college application, Helen “suggests” (read: threatens) to send Daria to music camp during the summer.

All Daria can remember about music camp is the endless practicing of “Pop! Goes the Weasel” during the brief time she played the flute. To avoid a fate worse than death, Daria “volunteers” for helping with the new coffeehouse, but avoids Mr. O’Neill’s call to perform. Instead, she agrees to help with fundraising by selling candy, and sways Jane from her disinterest in tagging along by noting that as candy salesmen, they’ll get to look inside other people’s houses.

While Kevin and Brittany end up at an unhappy Mr. DeMartino’s door, and Quinn uses role-playing to become a successful salesman of phone cards, Daria and Jane end up at the door of Mrs. Johansen, a morbidly obese woman very interested in purchasing candy from Daria and Jane. Mrs. Johansen wants to buy all of the candy, but mentions that her doctor said she shouldn’t have “too much” chocolate, and later passes out from overexertion.

When she comes to, Daria has misgivings about selling the woman any candy at all, even as Mrs. Johansen insistently agrees to purchase candy at a high markup. Mrs. Johansen becomes quite belligerent, but Daria states later that “the chocolate would have killed her,” and Daria and Jane leave the angry Mrs. Johansen behind.

Daria and Jane are both called into Ms. Li’s office. All Principal Li can understand is that a woman was willing to pay for chocolate beyond cost, and Daria and Jane refused to sell it to them. When Daria states that they were afraid of killing the woman, Ms. Li tells them that because they refused to make a sale to a customer, they cannot claim extracurricular credit for fundraising for the coffeehouse.

Not wanting to return to the Morgendorffer household and have no defense against the threat of Music Camp, Daria reluctantly agrees to gain her credit by performing at the coffeehouse. The question is, can Daria find something to perform that won’t deliberately alienate the customers and the school authorities, but still allow her to be Daria? Daria tells Jane that she will write something new.

The opening night is no great shakes. A punk rocker sings a crappy lyric and smashes his guitar, Brittany’s plans for performing the balcony scene of “Romeo and Juliet” fall apart because Kevin forgets his lines, and Andrea gives the customers a view of her particularly dark universe.

This leaves Daria, who reads from her newest story “Where the Future Takes Us.” It starts out briefly with a vapid statement about the challenges students face in the future, but rapidly turns into something more interesting: a story about a spy called Melody Powers, who bloodily dispatches communists in the Cold War era. The crowd cheers Daria’s work, which inspires the attending football players to riot, as they march down Lawndale’s streets looking to stone the Russian Embassy. (There are no embassies anywhere in Lawndale, the local paper notes.)

Mr. O’Neill is forced to shut down the coffeehouse, lest it become a “base of operations for political extremists.” Daria, however, finally has her extracurricular credit.

Before the closing credits run, a brick is hurled through the coffeehouse window and a thief makes off with the espresso machine. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

I was mentioning “Café Disaffecto” to my wife, Ruth, and one of her first observations was “That episode is so dated!” And it is dated. Undoubtedly, many of you 17-and-18-year-old readers might have no idea what a cybercafé is! Some explanation:

Early in the days of the Internet — I’m talking 1995 or 1996 here — a good desktop personal computer could set you back about three thousand dollars. Thus, instead of purchasing an expensive computer, you could just “rent the Internet” by going to a cybercafé and renting time on a personal computer. Before you jest at the suggestion, Janet Neilson (Canadibrit) spent much of her time at cybercafés and was quite productive as a fan-fiction author. (I do not know whether coffee was served.)

Today, the cybercafé is deader than dinosaur shit. PCs are cheap and almost everyone has a laptop. The closest thing to a cybercafé these days is Starbucks, and everyone there has brought their own personal PC. The only thing a modern-day thief would be able to steal at a Wi-Fi hotspot would be bandwidth, and he’d steal that hiding with a laptop in a parked car.

However, we do come to a few conclusions beyond the obvious. The episode establishes that Mr. O’Neill is not just a horrible self-esteem teacher — he’s a horrible teacher, period. He commits all the major sins: He doesn’t remember students’ names, not even after he’s had a long time to interact with them. He speaks in a sort of self-improvement “cant” that precludes true human involvement. What’s worst of all, he substitutes the real needs and opinions of his students with his own needs and opinions.

One suspects that Mr. O’Neill had the idea of a coffeehouse percolating (so to speak) in his mind for a time after learning of the theft at; when Daria expressed her opinion about the matter, he substituted his opinion for Daria’s!

I always figured that if confronted with a modern-day Mr. O’Neill, I could do what Jane suggested — “Just enjoy the nice man’s soothing voice.” But after “Café Disaffecto,” I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of students left the class with a loathing of literature in general, and of Mr. O’Neill in particular. The man deserves the lack of respect he gets from his students.

We do see a situation where, once again, Daria is compelled to do something she’d rather not do. But unlike earlier episodes, Daria has more choice in the matter. She could have done anything else other than participate in Mr. O’Neill’s coffeehouse dream, but decided that this would be the most convenient project. Furthermore ... this time Daria actually brings Jane along with her in a scheme!

This episode also portrays Daria, and other supporting characters, in a bit darker tone than usual. (Is this Eichler being influenced by his Beavis and Butt-head days?) And I’m not talking about Andrea’s coffeehouse poem. Rather, the bizarre scene with the morbidly obese Mrs. Johansen and Daria and Jane. Johansen passes out and Daria and Jane have this discussion as to what to do next:
Jane: We should be doing something right now. I’m sure of it.
Daria: Yeah, I think you’re right.
(Silence. Jane lifts up her instant camera to snap a picture
of the unconscious woman. Absolutely no concern about
Johansen on Jane’s part.)
But the pure strength of the episode — one of the reasons why fans make this one of the favorite Season One episodes — comes from the fact of many very funny lines. A sample:
Kevin: Daria, you’re a chick, right?
Daria: Why? You have a biology test today?

Mr. O’Neill: I think what’s most disturbing about this crime is the symbolism involved. Don’t you agree, Jane?
Jane (deadpan): No.

Mr. O’Neill: Right here and now, let’s pledge to make Daria’s dream a reality.
Daria: You mean the one where people walking down the street burst into flames?

(Mrs. Johansen has passed out)
Daria: Uh-oh.
Jane: Did she hit her head?
Daria: I don’t think so.
Jane: Do you know CPR or anything?
Daria: I once gave the Heimlich maneuver to Quinn.
Jane: Did it work?
Daria: She wasn’t choking.

(About Daria’s and Jane’s refusal to sell Mrs. Johansen chocolate)
Ms. Li: How do you know it wasn’t for her family?
Jane: She has no family. She ate them.

Ms. Li (to Daria): You do want this extracurricular activity, don’t you?
Jane (quietly to Daria): “Pop! Goes the Weasel!”

(At Brittany’s botched Shakespeare reading)
Brittany: “Oh Romeo, Romeo! Wherefore art thou Romeo?”
Kevin: I’m right here, babe!!
All in all, definitely some very funny stuff. It might not be a very deep episode, but “Café Disaffecto” is worth a refill.

Random thoughts:

• One of the earliest Daria fan sites, run by Katherine Goodman, was called alt.lawndale, obviously inspired by this episode.

• The comes from the naming conventions of Usenet (which is also deader than dinosaur shit) and from the .com suffix appended to Website addresses.

• We learn that Kevin has a computer. What does he use it for? Undoubtedly nothing educational. Maybe it’s loaded with “Madden ’97.”

• There are lots of firsts in this episode: first appearance of Mrs. Johansen, first speaking appearance of Andrea, and the first mention of the infamous Melody Powers, who leaves a trail of dead men wherever she goes. Melody is sexy, and willing to kiss and kill, very much unlike her creator.

• You can’t say that Quinn is completely brain-dead — not only is she perfectly up to date with fashion, but we find out that Quinn is a master salesman.

• The appearance of the muumuu-clad Mrs. Johansen adds a Fellini-esque element to the episode, leading me to think that Eichler is flashing back to his days with Mike Judge. However, in my opinion, nothing beats Mr. DeMartino holding a conversation with Kevin and Brittany at his front door — while wearing a chef’s toque blanche and holding a frozen chicken. That’s wrong on so many levels it boggles the mind. I’ll bet, however, that Mr. D’s chicken would do a better job at memorizing Shakespeare than Kevin Thompson.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Thanks, Kem!

Long-time fan, artist, and writer KemicalReaxion (Amy) is engaged, and we wish her every happiness. She plans to continue her art and fiction, including Dariafen works on occasion.

As such life changes will do, though, she’s reconsidered the time she spends with fandoms, and has chosen both to withdraw from the message boards and to no longer update her fansite, Glitter Berries.

Her site will stay on line, at least for now. If you haven’t visited it, you should. It has many valuable features and archives for Daria fans, using well-turned Web functions to make it easy to navigate.

It’s dismaying to mark any such project as being “dormant,” but time and lives inevitably move on. Thanks, Kem, for being such an articulate and active admirer of Daria, and for remaining a valued friend to so many of the rest of us.

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Monday, March 19, 2007


Kevin Goes to Broadway

Marc Thompson, voice actor for Kevin Thompson, Mr. O’Neill, and Mr. DeMartino, is getting a chance to act on Broadway — voice act, that is.

This month, a Broadway production based on Eric Bogosian’s Talk Radio has opened. Talk Radio is the story of an acid tongued, late night talk-show radio host and the callers that he gets one night. Thompson does voice work as one of the callers — but is not seen on stage, only heard as a disembodied voice until all of the “callers” come out and take their final bow at the end.

The information is from the New York Times and the article is called “The Larynxes That Invaded Broadway.” (Unfortunately, this is select content and you have to register with the NYT to get it.)

The excerpted part of the article gives not only information about Thompson, but also details as to what he’s been up to after Daria:
One of those cogs is Marc Thompson, whose callers include a disabled man speaking almost exclusively in clichés like “When they give you lemons, make lemonade.” A married father of two, he was a minister for the New York City Church of Christ when he was laid off two years ago. The future appeared bleak. “I looked at selling life insurance,” he said.

Instead Mr. Thompson, who holds an acting degree from New York University, started going on auditions. He had been doing voice-over work on the side while preaching and soon found jobs on MTV’s Daria and the Cartoon Network’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He may be most familiar for the Citibank identity theft commercial where two elderly women sitting on a sofa drinking tea have dubbed-in biker-dude voices. “I’m Thelma, the lady on the left,” he said.

When he received a callback for Talk Radio, he was elated, especially because he has limited stage experience. But then he realized he would probably have to reject any offer: the play is peppered with profanity, and Mr. Thompson, who still preaches on occasion, does not curse.

It turned out there were enough callers with mild language that he was cast anyway. “When they told me, I cried,” said Mr. Thompson, who, inevitably enough, ended up playing an evangelical Christian caller. “They’ve been really understanding and gracious. Two years ago I had nowhere to go. I feel blessed, and I think it’s a miracle.”

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Sunday, March 18, 2007


Fanworks Update

These fanworks have been posted or linked to since 22 February 2007 at an active fansite or message board. Fiction is complete unless noted.

Fan Fiction

AgathaMalady: A Lot Unsaid (partial)

Angelboy: Diary Entries (Chapter 4, continued)

The Angst Guy (special long-title edition) {g}: And I on the Opposite Shore Will Be, The Ballad of Stacy Rowe (song), Snowflakes (with illustrations), Suite for Cello, Two-Part Invention, Though the Course May Change Sometimes, Rivers Always Reach the Sea, You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind Blows

Bhut: The Four Fashionables

Cap: Everyone Goes to Nick’s, The Road Home

CDM: Demon Princess Quinn 1: Quinn Anwnn (Chapter 7)

DJW: Open Windows 4: Stuff Happens (done)

Doggieboy: Apocalyptic Daria (Part 4)

E.A. Smith: Good Intentions (done)

Emeraldstoker: Flu (partial)

Fezenclop: Daria’s Web (Chapter 8, partial)

Mandelore: Daria Wars, Episode One: The Lawndale Menace (partial)

NightGoblyn: The Heather/Damsel Chronicles (Story 1, Chapter 2) (links)

Ranger Thorne: Open for Daria’s Unaired Pilot (script)

The Ranting Klown: Et j’ai pleuré (Part 2), The Rest of My Damn Life: The Past, Present and Future, The Rest of My Damn Life: The Emancipation of Killer (Part 1)

RLobinske: Eternity (done), John Lane 25: Echoes of a Relationship

Roentgen: The Class of Lawndale High School (song)

Starmeshelion: Lawndale Girls (song)

Fan Art

Dreamweaver: Quinn as a Cheerleader

The Great Saiyaman: Growing Pains (Revised Edition) — erotic art*

HelpfulSkittlesExplosion: Requiem - A Graphic Novella (Page 5)

Hershey-chan: Daria, Jane, Quinn, Sandi, Stacy

JennaUsername: The Phantom of the Zon (filmed-fanfic poster)

Kidmarvelj: Jane Lane Again, Jane Lane Biro

MDetector5: Assorted Sketches

Minkychanz: Daria/Trent, Tiffany Wearing a Blue Shirt — erotic art*

Psychotol: Triple Tap

Reese Kaine: Lawndale (teaser art), Whoa, I Have Hands

Robin Sena: Mystik Spiral on Tour

S.C.: Daria Demo Reel (video, links), Daria SinCity: The Donneria Party

Specter-Smoke: Daria

* Available in the hidden members-only section of SFMB


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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Saturday, March 10, 2007


The Power of “Giri”:
A Review of “The Invitation”

It’s March 10, 2007 and today is the tenth anniversary of the first airing of the Season One Daria episode “The Invitation” on MTV. I’m surprised there isn’t more celebration — “The Invitation” was a sign of the strong episodes to come in the first season, undoubtedly the most popular season of Daria. “The Invitation” was a real treat. It was, in essence, an “invitation” to the potential of both the series and the characters, even the potential of weak characters if used right.

This episode was the first episode written by Anne D. Bernstein, who would end up writing eight episodes of Daria. She also wrote The Daria Diaries, which was the first written supplement to the series, giving Bernstein an authoritative position in the interpretation of the characters.

One suspects — but cannot prove — that Bernstein was not told when her episode would be aired, which meant that she thought her episode would either be the very first episode or among the very first. This is a common practice in the television industry, where six writers are told that they might be writing the “pilot” episode to a series, and as a result, those six episodes are where characters are best defined and the writing is most compelling. In the future episodes of a continuing series, it is assumed that the viewer knows who everyone is and that there is no further need for original plotting!

Ostensibly, “The Invitation” is about a party thrown by Brittany Taylor, the head cheerleader at Lawndale High School. Daria is given an invitation to Brittany’s party. However, Daria, who would never be caught dead at such a place, attends only because Jane encourages her and because it gives Daria a chance to embarrass her popularity-obsessed sister, Quinn.

So, for one night, Brittany Taylor’s house becomes the focal point of the Lawndale High School universe, forcing all the student characters together and compelling them to be at their best (or worst). It’s the “Joe Goes to a Party” episode, which is a staple of sitcom writing.

However, the casual viewer — who might have been a bit disappointed after “Esteemsters” — quickly learns that the episode is not about a party, or about Brittany, or even about Daria. Rather, “The Invitation” is about an ugly truth of high school life, that high school life is based on the feudal Japanese concept of giri, or reciprocal obligation.

There are people alive who will tell you, with all honesty, that their high school years were the best years of their lives. (Most of these people, however, do not watch Daria.) The conceit is that high school is supposed to be “the great equalizer,” where kids can have a somewhat equal relationship with their peers before they have to join the working world and social relationships are reorganized along the lines of foreman/worker and executive/assistant. These years are supposed to be “free” years for kids. “Thank God you lazy kids don’t have jobs! I wish I was back in high school!"

Some survivors of high school would tell a different story. High school is a stratified society with a pecking order that would make Byzantine court life a model of honesty and forthrightness. The joke of the episode is that very few people end up at Brittany’s party because of a meaningful connection with Brittany. Rather, their status obligates them to be there, or they are there to seek popularity, or they are there simply for Brittany to pay off her karmic debts.

The chain starts with Daria. Brittany is struggling with the concept of one-point perspective in Ms. Defoe’s art class, and Daria, in a moment of weakness, helps Brittany master the concept. This leaves Brittany in the “one-down” position — Brittany must somehow reciprocate and she decides on an act of kindness of her own. Daria gets an invitation to Brittany’s party. Brittany is quick to qualify her act of kindness with a “just this once,” as if to settle any confusion that this might be a genuine offer of real friendship.

Daria is “especially flattered” when she is told by Brittany that Brittany had told the cheerleaders that she wouldn’t invite any more “really attractive girls.” Daria quickly learns her place in the Lawndale High pecking order — she is unpopular, but not “so unpopular” that her appearance at Brittany’s party would cause a loss of status for Brittany.

Meanwhile, the Three Js — in their first appearance — are learning that as football players, they belong to a special protected class which is automatically invited to any party thrown by a cheerleader. The Three Js immediately begin “negotiation” with Quinn as to who will win the right to be her date. Quinn, however, compares dating one of the Js to eating the first pancake off the stove — “You have to feed one to the dog!” For the Js, it’s going to be five seasons of blue balls for the most part.

Daria discusses her windfall — so to speak — with Jane. Jane feels that going to the party would be a hoot, and she could get some good sketches there. Daria, however, has no interest, and now it is Jane’s turn to offer the argument that a party would be a great place to draw sketches. (I personally suspect that Jane wants to go — Jane can draw Lawndale High School kids from life five days a week — but Jane needs a “rational” excuse to best appeal to Daria.)

When Daria claims disinterest, Jane imitates Daria by borrowing Daria’s glasses and imitating Daria’s famous monotone. “‘Hi. I’m Daria. Go to hell.’” It seems that after only one episode, Jane has summed up Daria with particular accuracy.

(Jane later makes a sarcastic remark to Tom in “Dye! Dye! My Darling” that “[Daria] loves to have fun,” suggesting that Jane has spent many a night watching TV with Daria despite Jane’s inclination to the contrary.)

However, Quinn learns that Daria will be at the party, which could lead to a disastrous weakening of Quinn’s popularity. Rather than resorting to bribing Daria at the beginning of negotiations, she takes a hard line with Daria and tries to call in the wrath of Helen and Jake as a hole card.

Daria gains the brief satisfaction of watching Quinn’s attempts fail, but that satisfaction disappears when Daria is offered the choice of either going to the party to keep a watchful eye on Quinn or being saddled with both Quinn and a babysitter.

Later in the episode, Daria is straightforward about the social dynamic between her and her parents:
Quinn: You want to call Mom and Dad?
Daria: And shift the balance of power? We walk.
When Daria and Jane finally arrive at the party, one low point of the night is meeting someone even lower on the social scale than either of them: the odious Charles “Upchuck” Ruttheimer, a sleaze who compulsively comes on to any girl in distance, even coming on to the unpopular Daria and Jane.

Daria, putting the pieces together, boldly inquires how on earth someone like Upchuck could get invited to Brittany’s party. Upchuck, however, is painfully aware of the truth. “I dissected her frog."

(There has to be a fanfic in that somewhere, with Brittany arguing with herself whether giri is so powerful that Upchuck must be offered an invitation to balance the scales and to prevent Upchuck from suggesting some amorous form of payback.)

Indeed, Brittany knows that it is not affection or camaraderie that makes a good party. It’s the most popular people with the best-looking hair. That’s what makes a great party.

The mysterious character, called “Tori Jericho” by Daria fans everywhere, sums it up.
Blonde Girl: Now, she’s really popular, but not as popular as she is. He’s medium popular, and he just bought a great car, so soon he’ll be getting more popular. That guy was just popular enough to be invited, but now he needs to hook up with a girl who’s more popular than he is. ... Now, she used to be very popular, but then there was that unfortunate nose job. That one behind the tiger? She was new and cute so she became, like, popular overnight. (points at Daria, Jane, and Upchuck) Those three aren’t popular at all. I don’t know what they’re doing here. Maybe some kind of exchange program.
Even Tori Jericho knows there are exceptions to any rule. Anyone can be invited to any party if giri is powerful enough.

If the episode were a mere commentary on the high school pecking order and the power of giri, it would be a good episode, and certainly worthy of Season One. What makes “The Invitation” a great episode, however, is a comedic technique I prefer to call “economy of scale."

For a simple explanation, I’ll look at part of the episode: the part where Daria and Jane arrive at the gate of the gated community and Jane is challenged by the guard to prove that her name is on the party list. (Remember, Jane is coming without an invitation.) The joke is that Jane passes herself off as “Tiffany,” figuring there has to be at least one girl named Tiffany at the party — but is caught, as there are several Tiffanys at Brittany’s party and Jane agrees with a phony last name suggested by the suspicious guard.

Most writers would have wrapped up the scene right there. The scene was funny, it was a good joke, and it need not be retold again. However, Bernstein comes back to the gate and its too-confident guard not once, but multiple times!
1. Daria and Jane initially encounter the guard, but pass through when the guard is distracted by Jane’s nude sketches.
2. The guard, entranced by the nude sketches in Jane’s book, leaves the gate to find Jane at the party.
3. Without the guard, party crashers evade the gate and Brittany’s party becomes more raucous.
4. An unhappy resident curses the missing guard at the gate.
5. Daria and Jane take advantage of the absence of the guard and pull “gate duty” on unsuspecting Crewe Neck residents, challenging them to name Greek gods and to name particular tunes in less than seven notes in order to gain re-entry.
6. The guard is finally smoked out of the party by the Lawndale police, acting on the voice complaint.
There is economy of scale. A viewer is rewarded by paying close attention at the first scene at the gate, and the joke pays off further and further, cascading from the initial setup. Situations, once introduced, are used over and over again. (The ceramic tiger, Brittany’s concern about her non-functional jacuzzi, and the make-out room are all examples.)

Combined with the commentary of the nature of popularity, Daria’s summing up at the end of the episode is quite apt:
Daria: Well, I didn’t talk to a whole bunch of new people, I made Quinn want to throw herself down a well, and I’m going home with a bonus sock. All in all, a great night.
And in each of those assessments is a tale worth telling from a great episode.

Some minor observations:

• The first appearance of Tiffany outside the show intro (Stacy-Tiffany at the volleyball court). Anyone familiar with more than one episode of the series will note that Tiffany is voiced differently here than in any other episode. Tiffany sounds like your typical high school kid in “The Invitation,” but by the time we see her again in “Malled,” her voice is verrrrry slowwww with a California drawl. Fans have come up with every explanation for this abrupt change in Tiffany’s vocal tone and speed, everything from brain damage to heavy drug use.

The simplest explanation is that Ashley Albert, probably an intern at MTV at the time, was asked to voice some unknown teen attendee of Brittany’s party. Later, in “Malled,” Albert was asked to voice a new named friend of Quinn — “Tiffany” — and was probably given some instructions as to how Tiffany was supposed to sound. Most likely, Albert had no idea she was voicing the same character.

• Also the first appearances of: the Three Js (all of whom are named), Mack, Jodie, and Upchuck, as well as Jane’s brother, Trent.

• Sandi (first seen in “Esteemsters") makes a catty remark about Brittany’s non-functioning jacuzzi, which gives some hint to Sandi’s future “mean girl” personality in her role as President of the Fashion Club.

• Jane notices that Daria is somewhat tongue-tied about Trent, setting up the “Daria wuvs Trent” running story that would last until “Jane’s Addition."

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Sunday, March 04, 2007


Roll ’Em!

Frames from two Dariafilms in progress ...

The anti-homecoming-queen’s got a gun! (by Hikinikicu)

Get your kicks / In Episode 66! (by ReeseKaine)

(Our titles, borrowed from songs, not theirs ... {grin})

ReeseKaine told me later that this is part of a movement study, and that it's ultimately intended for a Webcomic entitled “Lawndale.” ~ Greybird


Saturday, March 03, 2007


In Honor of the 10th Anniversary ...

... an old essay that was once published elsewhere, but never for the Internet. Enjoy!

I’ll name myself “heretic” and “unclean” by stating to Daria fandom ...

I don’t care for “Esteemsters.”

There, I’ve said it. Feels good, too. I’m sure, however, that there are several people who agree with me. Those who don’t agree deserve an explanation of why I feel this way.

This is not to serve as proof for once and forever that “Esteemsters” is a bad episode. It might even be your favorite episode. But I don’t care for it. Here’s why.

The problem is that I thought that Daria would be another version of Beavis and Butt-head, which centered on one smart girl instead of two very dumb boys. You would never think that Mike Judge, who created a show about two dumbasses and their immaturity, would be a masterful writer — but he was.

As for people who had watched Beavis and Butt-head and looked forward to Daria catching some sunlight of her own ... well, coming from Mike Judge to Glenn Eichler, they were bound to be disappointed.

People who have never seen Beavis and Butt-head might believe that she was a major player in B&B. She wasn’t. She was one of those intriguing but underused characters — the “Andrea” of Mike Judge’s “Beavisverse.” Daria had some strong competition in B&B — Daria was no irresistible force, but the boys were definitely immovable objects. They made fun of Daria at every opportunity.

Daria, in turn, blew off the insults and could make her own sly counter-comments that the boys probably wouldn’t understand even if each comment were explained to them. Daria was never really in the “down” position in Beavis and Butt-head, and despite the constant chants of “Diarrhea, cha cha cha,” you got the sense that Daria was a smart young girl who could hold her own.

But what a different world it is in “Esteemsters”! From holding her own against the two chief protagonists in Judge’s cartoon, Daria finds herself barely eking out survival against much weaker characters. Shallow Quinn is the one that rules Lawndale High, and Daria is the “problem child” in her own home.

Hell, Daria’s even an outcast in Mr. DeMartino’s class, and she tells her parents that “My history teacher hates me because I know all the answers.” She gets dumped into the geek cage of Mr. O’Neill’s self-esteem class. From the perspective of a B&B fan, Daria has been exiled to Hell.

The character design isn’t as rich as that in Beavis and Butt-head. Those who aren’t familiar with B&B might think that the crispness and fine lines of Daria are a big improvement over the muddied look of B&B. Yet, amongst the Earth-tones of B&B, every background character radiates personality.

The other classroom characters in B&B looked tougher — like they could eat Andrea and anyone else for breakfast. Each one told a story the second you laid eyes on them. Here’s the tough guy who works out. Here’s the Punk Girl, and here’s Trailer Trash. They were all mysterious, intriguing.

Background characters in Daria — the extras we see walking behind Daria and Jane, the nameless ones — have very little character, and nowhere is this more evident than in the self-esteem class, where every loser looks more or less like the loser sitting nearby. Even Jane doesn’t stand out as anyone to whom you’d pay closer attention. Indeed, Jane sounds more like Trent than like Jane — if the voice actor can’t find the personality, what are we to conclude?

It begs the question of what Eichler, who wrote “Esteemsters,” wanted to prove.

His supporting characters are no great shakes. It’s hard to play Daria as a strong character when so many of the supporting characters are so one-dimensional, and “Esteemsters” is Exhibit A. Contrasted with Kevin and Brittany, any character from Beavis and Butt-head with a grain of intelligence would come off as an intellectual dynamo.

And what might have been! Andrea and Sandi, two characters with interesting personalities of their own, have a grand total combined of one line during this episode. Mack and Jodie aren’t even on the scene. Nor is Upchuck with his sleazy charm. Aside from Jane, the only students we get to know are Kevin and Brittany. Helen’s control mode and Jake’s clueless mode are only just powering up, and Quinn is as shallow as she ever would be in Seasons One and Two, if not more so.

Having Daria the outcast is one thing; having her outclassed and exiled by such poorly defined or developed characters is something else entirely. If their popularity or shallowness were a symbol of some deeper, darker force at work, I could understand, but that is clearly not evident.

Even if Daria truly reigns triumphant, what kind of victory is it? It’s the fish-barrel-gun syndrome. What kind of victory is it defeating such cardboard cutouts as these?

The problem is that we get no impression that anyone in this series can be anything other than what one’s first impression implies. All of Judge’s characters — even the stereotypes — had some reason for existing besides providing a cheap laugh for his main characters, Beavis and Butt-head. Every character that Judge created held the kernel of a developed character.

By contrast, “Esteemsters” introduces us to Kevin and Brittany, who — in five seasons! — never truly found their voices. Indeed, characters in Daria seemed to develop rather painfully, and seemingly with a lot of resistance from the writing staff.

Daria was always a good series, but never on the level of the greatest cartoon series ever. Why? I can give you several reasons — named O’Neill, DeMartino, Kevin, and Brittany. You can come up with answers of your own. Coming from Beavis and Butt-head and Judge’s four years of interesting characters, it’s a real comedown.

Furthermore, the script for “Esteemsters” is just not that funny. Of course, everyone quotes “I don’t have low self-esteem ... I have low esteem for everyone else.” But can you really name ONE other funny line for that episode? It holds truly few memorable quotes.

Entire scenes fall flat, their only apparent purpose being to move the plot forward. The entire Daria-meets-DeMartino/Kevin/Brittany scene could be cut out and I doubt that it would be missed. Trust me, we’ll get plenty of time to see these less-interesting characters as plot fixtures in other episodes.

Still, the episode has its moments. O’Neill’s final self-esteem test is a classic exchange that, when read at Outpost Daria, never fails to bring a smile. My favorite moment was when Daria turns Quinn’s “only child” quote against her at one of the family dinners — Daria knows just when to twist the knife.

But when all is said and done, “Esteemsters” is a big disappointment and one of the reasons I didn’t return to Daria until around the end of Season Three or the beginning of Season Four. It is a sub-par episode, a poor way to begin such a wonderful series.

If they could have only begun with “The Invitation,” the subject of my next essay.

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Ten Years!

Daria premiered, with the episode “Esteemsters,” on Music Television ten years ago today, 3 March 1997.

Please post your thoughts in the comments. Delighted? Bored? Delightfully refreshed? Would rather finish writing your fanfic instead? Underwhelmed, in the Darian way? Gonna haul out the tapes or discs?

(That last, for my brother and me. Also some 80-cent bottles of Ultra, er, store-brand diet cola and some frozen pizza. Just sitting back and laughing our heads off!)

Our best thoughts go to the Dariafen gathered this weekend, remarkably, on three continents: in the English Midlands, in Georgia (especially AhMyGoddess, newly ailing but apparently well cared for, and ’Raptor, long ailing and getting a visit), and in Australia (for Tafka’s and Lew’s wedding).


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