MTV’s Daria was a quintessential snapshot of the nineties, in cartoon form. Originally a spin-off from Beavis and Butthead, the 1997 animated series explored what high school life was like for a girl with severe intelligence, acerbic wit, and an inability to fit in with her classmates. Along with artist and best friend Jane, Daria was trying to get through high school the only way she knew how: Sarcasm and unwavering cynicism.
Audiences fell in love with Daria and the gang from Lawndale, finding the show immensely relatable, and it went on to become MTVs longest running animation. The show was a touchstone of ’90s culture and has had a lasting impact. In honor of the show’s lasting impact, let’s take a look back at the ten best episodes of Daria.
10 SEE JANE RUN
See Jane Run is proof that Daria was a show ahead of its time and explores various themes which reverberate throughout the entire run of the show. In this episode, Jane, in an attempt to prove to her PE teacher that her family isn’t a bunch of slackers, joins the track team. She quickly becomes a star runner and is increasingly absent from Daria’s life, while spending more time with a cute guy from the team.
Daria struggles with losing her friend, especially to a guy. Jane grapples with the perks and popularity afforded sports stars and their friendship is strained. This episode touches on the themes of popularity, athleticism over intelligence, and positions the central friendship between two high school girls at the forefront, making this one of the most quintessential episodes of Daria.
9 THROUGH A LENS DARKLY
Throughout the series, Daria wrestles with the idea that intelligence and depth are valued less than appearance and popularity. Daria has one and struggles with the other, therefore she places greater value on the former. This episode represents this dilemma by presenting Daria with the option to ditch her glasses in favor of contact lenses.
Is Daria shallow because she’s taking an action which will improve her appearance and thus people’s perception of her? The show often dealt with issues of self valuation and this episode was a great example of that discourse.
8 ROAD WORRIER
No ’90s high school experience would be complete without a crush on your best friend’s grungy older brother. Daria was no different. In this episode, we start to explore the relationship between Daria and Mystik Spiral’s frontman, Trent. Daria and Jane join Trent and his bandmates on the road to a music festival called Alternapalooza.
Along the way, hilarity and roadblocks ensue. Daria, rendered mute by her attraction to Trent, struggles to feel comfortable. While the gang never get to the concert, on the way home, Daria and Trent sit in the front together, comfortable in the silence. This episode makes great use of the supporting cast and offers the first real interactions between Daria and Trent.
7 WRITE WHERE IT HURTS
Season 2’s finale, “Write Where It Hurts” involves Daria having to write a story for her English class using people she knows as characters. It’s a great chance to cast the supporting players in a number of literary scenarios and culminates in Daria writing a rather affectionate idea of what the future might look like for her family, prompting her mother Helen to cry tears of joy.
This is a great example of Daria getting a little experimental. This can be seen in a number of other episodes (“Murder, She Snored,” “Legends of the Mall,” and “Depth Takes a Holiday”) which use heightened realism to delve into the depths of the characters relationships.
6 PIERCE ME
While Road Worrier introduced Daria’s crush on Trent, Pierce Me expands on their relationship and explores Daria loss of self in the presence of her crush. Trent asks Daria to help buy a present for Jane, which leads to her inadvertently getting a navel piercing because Trent thought it would be cool.
Daria finds herself acting counterintuitively to her own values, often when contemplating her love life or appearance. This episode is a great example of Daria’s development and understanding of her own layered identity.
5 DYE! DYE! MY DARLING
For the most part, Daria was your usual episodic cartoon with little overlap between episodes. Dye! Dye! My Darling goes full-on through-line when Daria winds up kissing Jane’s boyfriend. This episode makes the list for its serious dramatic nature compared to the show’s usually upbeat comedic tone, and also for its exploration of female friendship.
Daria is potentially quite stunted when it comes to romance, which inadvertently leads to her hurting her closest friends. This episode was left on such a cliff hanger that an entire film was needed to reunite and repair the friendship between Daria and Jane.
4 LANE MISERABLES
In this episode, the audience is given a closer look into Jane and Trent’s family. When their siblings all return from various adventures around the world, Jane and Trent are forced to go stay with the Morgendorffers.
Lane Miserables gives a glimpse into the differences between Daria’s overbearing parents and the Lane family’s more laissez-faire approach. Jane and Daria’s relationship is central to the show, and this episode sheds light on the former’s formative experiences.
3 THE MISERY CHICK
Season 1’s finale, The Misery Chick, really explores the show’s thesis and explains the driving ethos behind Daria’s approach to life. When a star footballer returns to the school to unveil a new goalpost which has been erected in his honor, tragedy strikes and he is killed when the goal post ironically falls on him. The school goes into crisis mode, with many students coming to Daria for help with their grief because she’s… you know, the misery chick.
Even, Jane starts avoiding her friend because of the different ways they deal with sadness and grief. Daria explains that she isn’t miserable but simply different from her classmates. This is really the ethos of the whole show, Daria is different because she thinks differently to her classmates, but this doesn’t make her poorly adjusted or imbalanced, it just sets her apart.
2 ARTS ‘N CRASS
In Arts ‘N Crass, Daria and Jane team up to make a poster for a competition, which is then edited by her teachers to make it less shocking and more appealing to a high school audience. They then team up to vandalize their own art. When they get in trouble for their misdemeanor, Daria’s mother comes to their rescue.
Arts ‘N Crass tackles body image issues and the idealization of beauty while also cementing the fact the Daria, who is used to feeling isolated, has found a small community of like-minded people. In this instance, her mother finds a way to understand her.
1 BOXING DARIA
Although, a late entry in the series, Boxing Daria was crucial as it provided a resolution to Daria’s relationship with her parents. When an empty refrigerator box is left in their backyard, Daria starts to have memories of a time in her childhood when she would play inside a similar box and remembers one night when her parents had an argument about her.
This forces a conversation between Daria and her parents. While having a daughter like Daria might have been a unique challenge, her parents do actually accept her for who she is. It’s a valuable episode to the show and a great piece of writing.
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Joshua Dean Perry