Give smart girls everywhere cause to watch MTV for the first time in a decade.
By EJ Dickson
With a flood of '90s nostalgia enveloping us all, it only makes sense that Beavis and Butthead is returning to MTV with new episodes starting October 27th. One of the best things to come out of Beavis and Butthead was Daria, a spin-off starring one of its supporting characters. The star of the show was Daria Morgendorffer, a bookish underachiever with a nihilistic worldview and a wit as dry as a Triscuit. Accompanied by her BFF/fellow partner-in-contempt Jane Lane, and fueled by reruns of her favorite TV show, Sick Sad World, Daria was the Clinton-era heir apparent to Ally Sheedy's character in The Breakfast Club, if Sheedy had foregone the prom-queen makeover and run away to San Francisco to join a queercore band and sell earrings made of tampons.
It's been nearly a decade since Daria ended, and, with the protests against economic inequity raging, the GOP debates resembling an undergrad performance art piece, and Dancing with the Stars in its thirteenth season, the world has never seemed sicker and sadder. Which is why — with all due respect to Beavis and Butthead — now is a perfect time for Daria to return to television. Here, we outline the top five reasons why Daria should come back to MTV in lieu of Beavis and Butthead. Cue the ironic "la la la las."
1. TV needs more strong female characters.
Unless you count the sexy bunnies on the recently axed Playboy Club, the sexy stewardesses on Pan Am, or the sexy elderly nymphomaniac housekeepers on American Horror Story, this fall season suffers from a profound lack of non-sexy, non-deranged, non-Whitney Cummings female characters. Young female characters in this vein are in particularly short supply; most of them, like Liz Lemon on 30 Rock or Britta on Community, are already all grown-up.
The paucity of strong teenage-girl characters was also apparent when Daria premiered in 1997. If they didn't play volleyball, dance atop a piano, or dissolve into plasma when socially humiliated, teen girls in the '90s were usually plagued by crippling anxiety and low self-esteem (case in point: Full House's D.J. Tanner, who spent entire episodes agonizing over where to sit in the cafeteria and how to make her bangs look as unflattering as humanly possible). Daria did not suffer from D.J. Tanner syndrome. Throughout the series, her character was defined by the mantra articulated in the pilot episode: "I don't have low self-esteem — I just have low self-esteem for everyone else." Like the ferocious honey badger, Daria doesn't care about her social status because Daria doesn't give a shit, which is a lesson that outcasts on shows like MTV's Awkward should take to heart.
2. TV is already crawling with Beavises and Buttheads.
With the success of Jackass, Tosh.0, and movies like Dude, Where's My Car (essentially a live-action B&B for handsomes), the influence of the original Beavis and Butthead on film and TV can't really be understated. In the '90s, Beavis and Butthead's hormonal sensibilities established a permanent foothold in mainstream culture, and while that show's intent was satirical, many of its descendants aren't nearly as smart about being dumb. (Not to say that dumb guys aren't funny, but some variety would be nice.)
3. Daria was smart.
Much like Freaks and Geeks, Daria was a show for teenagers that respected the intelligence of its viewers (who at that point had been raised on a steady diet of Fruitopia and Total Request Live). Unlike Beavis and Butthead, which was both about making stupid seem smart and smart seem stupid, Daria never took pot shots at the smart kids, who on the former show were sometimes the butt of the joke when B&B themselves weren't.
Daria also didn't prize its heroine's snark over other kinds of intelligence. It celebrated academic achievement (as was the case with Mack and Jodie, two ambitious and popular classmates of Daria's) just as much as it applauded a less obvious intellectual curiosity (as exemplified by Daria's sister Quinn, who turned out to be a pretty insightful chick in the last few seasons).
4. It had sex appeal.
With his tousled hair, abundance of piercings, and frontman status as the lead singer of Mystik Spiral, Jane's enigmatic brother Trent was the Jordan Catalano to Daria's Angela Chase. He was the pretty, air-headed, vaguely damaged bad boy that Daria secretly dreamed of getting to second base with, and teenage girls who watched the show felt the same way. If you were the kind of girl who was a little offbeat and not embarrassed to admit to crushing on a cartoon character, you had a huge crush on Trent; he was to us what Donny Osmond was to closeted Mormon adolescents in 1973.
And although her sex appeal was never really the point, Daria herself was something of a hipster pinup as well. Her "look" consisted of basically everything you can imagine a cute barista/Etsy user/aspiring Suicide Girl wearing today: the boots, the glasses, the army jacket, and especially the "I have no interest in that thing between your legs that you claim is a penis" smirk. It was enough to attract the attention of sensitive love interest Tom Sloane in the fourth season, as well as countless fan boys outside the show's fictional universe.
5. It would be timely.
Daria captured the spirit of its times. From the spot-on Fashion Club trends to the awesome soundtrack (featuring consummate '90s artists Beck, Garbage, and Portishead, among others), the animated cels in an episode of Daria dripped with angsty teen spirit. But although the show is noteworthy for its pitch-perfect, '90s sensibilities, there's no reason the creators of Daria couldn't update the show to the present day. Imagine Daria and Jane lampooning trust-fund-baby protestors at Occupy Wall Street, or taking aim at the Snooki/Ronnie dynamic on Jersey Shore. There's an endless parade of public figures who are primed and ready for our withering contempt, and they're making more noise than ever before. Who better than Daria, Jane, and Mystik Spiral to voice our frustrations?