In the Media

The New York Times
The New York Times
'Daria': The World as Irony Machine
By Anita Gates

Nothing fazes Daria Morgendorffer. She used to attend school with the title characters of "Beavis and Butt-head," after all. Even in the excitement of moving to a new town and being spun off into her own MTV animated series, "Daria," last March, she never cracked a smile, maintaining the same facial expression, deadpan voice and serenely negative attitude in every situation.

Beginning her second season, Monday night at 10:30, she's as much in control as ever. Some may call her a nerd, but behind those oversize eyeglasses is a hyperarticulate young woman, wise beyond her years, who sees the world for the irony machine it is. "Good," she says when it begins to rain at a particularly bad time. "I was feeling too dry."

In Monday night's episode, Daria and her classmates at Lawndale High School are encouraged to create posters about student life. ("Where to start?" Daria says. "There's so much to hate about it.") Then she helps her best friend, Jane, do a poster about bulimia. When the copy, including the word vomit, is a little too strong for the faculty's taste, Mr. O'Neill, the sensitive English teacher, does some editing.

"I really think I've done it," he announces proudly to Daria and Jane. "I've captured the essence of your message while softening the edges." "You stonewashed it?" Daria asks.

Next week, Daria and Quinn, her perky little sister (a proud member of the school's cuteness-driven Fashion Club), join forces temporarily to avoid a paintballing field trip. "Later, after we've achieved this goal," Daria explains to Quinn, "we'll resume the age-old hostilities that have made peace in this region of the house a seeming impossibility."

Eventually they are forced to go on the trip, which involves make-believe combat with weapons that shoot paint. The trip also includes a teacher with an eerie resemblance to Christopher Walken (the episode's title is "The Daria Hunter") and pays tribute to Willem Dafoe's final scene in "Platoon."

It is a rule, of course, that entertainment for teen-agers must involve the depiction of adults -- particularly parents and teachers -- as ludicrous, self-involved, sex-crazed alcoholics who take their jobs far too seriously. In its brilliance, "Daria" achieves this with barely an exaggeration. There's Mr. O'Neill standing at the front of the field-trip bus: "All right, now let's see which side of the bus can sing the loudest!" The song he chooses: "When Johnny Comes Marching Home."

There's Daria's dad, in tears because he lost a client, making penne al pesto to occupy himself and worrying that it will oxidize. There's Daria's mom, a lawyer, barking orders at subordinates and worrying that she may really look her age. There's Jane's mom, passed out on her bed.

I don't want to ruin this for any young MTV viewers, especially those smart enough to be "Daria" fans, but adults (if they're willing to admit that to their teen-age children, students and other acquaintances, they really are idiots -- like every generation before them) would love this show.

The season premiere is preceded by an all-day "Daria" marathon beginning at 10 a.m.

10:30 p.m. ET Monday on MTV