The Daria fan community is usually a pretty placid one, particularly when the new episodes are running. However, this season more than any other has made the episodes a bone of contention. There have been two episodes of the four which have aired to this date which have generated the most controversy: Daria! (The Musical) and Depth Takes A Holiday.
I will not go into detail about these episodes because there are people from other countries viewing these pages and the third season has only been aired by MTV in the USA. But the problem with these episodes can be summed up very simply: they both took a very violent break with the nature of the past two seasons and the other two episodes that have unspooled so far: they are divorced from reality.
The most appealing and compelling thing about the past two seasons of Daria has been how strongly the humor relates to real life, particularly for girls and women. Who hasn't dealt with things like preparing for college, having your first crush on an unattainable Other, the hypocrisy of people trying to say nice things about a dead person who was an asshole in life, and so on and so on? Real life has been the anchor and the strength of the humor of the show.
However, break the show free from this anchor and you lose its power. Daria! (The Musical) and Depth Takes A Holiday could be episodes of The Simpsons, Sabrina The Teenage Witch or any number of a myriad of sitcoms, animated or not. An episode where everyone sings? An episode where the principal characters interact with the personifications of various holidays? Come on!
The best of the people who are writing Daria-related fanfic, CE Forman, has been very strong in keeping true to the reality of the show. I have often played fast-and-loose with things: a Randall Flagg-esque evil drifter comes to Lawndale and creates havoc; Jane has weird fever dreams where Trent and Daria wind up in the plots of Blade Runner and Titanic; Daria investigates strange doings in a nearby town called Stepford. And certainly my fanfic universe veers away from the series' universe in many ways. CE's fics, OTOH, are incredibly faithful...so much so that I wonder if the author has a copy of the Daria story bible that they have secretly obtained.
I am not saying that the writing staff of Daria should fossilize the show and not take chances with it. The very fact that they are allowing the main characters to age, however slowly, elevates it above the pack. There are plenty of areas to go within the reality of Daria's life without having to stoop to gimmickry. Hopefully they won't stoop to other gimmicks which have plagued animated shows, like guest appearances by movie and TV stars and blatant ripoffs of pop culture icons. (yes, I know that you saw pop culture references in The Daria Hunter and Write Where It Hurts but in both cases the references made complete sense and furthered the plot, unlike similar usage in The Simpsons)
When the gimmicks come out, usually that means the writing staff has run out of ideas. I don't think that's the case here, because the Daria writing staff is the finest of any working in any sector of television today. But they certainly need to "check themselves before they wreck themselves." Both of these more fanciful episodes fell short of the mark, and lost contact with the essence of the show. As fans we are all for moving Daria forward: just stay true to Our Heroine when you do. Keep it real.
Updated March 15th, 1998