The last three seasons of Daria brought the show into the new millennium with a musical episode, Jane and Daria having a crush on the same boy, and some amazing character development via TV movies. After listing picks 6-10, here are the top 5 best episodes the show has to offer:
5. ” The Lost Girls” – Season 3, Episode 5 (Originally aired on March 24, 1999; Written by Neena Beber)
Daria takes a pretty direct shot at the now-defunct Jane magazine and its editor/founder, Jane Pratt, in “The Lost Girls.” In his typical misguided way, Daria’s English teacher, Mr. O’Neill, submits one of her class assignments to Val, a not-so-thinly-veiled parody of Jane and other teen girl-centered magazines. She “wins” a day with Val, who is a woman in her late twenties that still acts like a teenager and is obsessed with both being “jiggy” and the concept of edginess. Meanwhile, Daria’s dad really wants to know what “edgy” means, yet never gets a straight answer.
“The Lost Girls” is a sharply-witted takedown of adults who use the idea of “youth culture” to promote themselves, make money, and not care about helping young people along the way. This is basically Val in a nutshell, but Lawndale High principal Ms. Li continues her corrupt streak by trying to get some alone time with Val, and making the other kids pretend to be Daria’s friend. She just wants a celebrity endorsement and doesn’t care about the students.
The episode ends with Val having a total public meltdown over some unnamed Hollywood “hunk” breaking up with her, and she loses her mind like a stereotypical teenage girl. Daria then calls her out for using her platform to not inspire and improve young women’s self image, but to just sell them things. It’s a powerful, feminist stab at superficiality in youth-targeted media, and it’s kind of cool to see that Teen Vogue has become a bastion of great journalism eighteen years after Daria satirized magazines like it.
Best Quote: “Edgy… What is it?” – Jake Morgendorffer
4. “Daria!” – Season 3, Episode 7 (Originally aired on February 17, 1999; Written by Glenn Eichler and Peter Elwell)
A little more than two years before Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘s characters expressed their true feelings in “Once More with Feeling,” the residents of Lawndale aired out their grievances in the wake of an apocalyptic hurricane that ends thanks to a popular quarterback’s headbutt. Sure, none of the singing is really great, but that’s not really the point (Jake’s driving-angrily-through-traffic ditty, “God, God Damn It,” is quite the earworm though). Glenn Eichler and Peter Elwell use the power of fairly catchy music to reveal what characters think about each other, their town, and most of all, themselves.
The most stylish and probably darkest musical number is a split screen song where Quinn and Helen both realize that they are addicted to shopping/fashion and work, respectively. They realize this while they are still at work/the mall when the rest of the town is taking shelter and buying up all the bread and milk. These addictions stem from a need for them to receive praise and acclaim from their peers, even though it doesn’t really matter in the big picture. Helen could do a “half-assed job” and still be one of the best lawyers at her firm, and Quinn could pick out a cute outfit without waiting for a natural disaster.
Even though “Daria!” has a lot of humorous moments, like Mac and Jodie saying they would be in the “majority” if Lawndale went away, or Daria and Jane’s reaction to being trapped on a roof with Kevin and Brittany, it’s pretty darn heartwarming. Trent and Jake are genuinely happy to see Daria and Jane walking to Daria’s house, there are many hugs exchanged, and thankfully they’re wearing pants (unlike earlier in the episode). Although they’re outsiders, the people in Daria and Jane’s lives care about their well-being, even if it took a hurricane and a car crashed in fit of Jake-fueled machismo and anger for them to show it.
Best Quote: “I want to live to see what this place looks like after it’s obliterated.” – Daria
3. “Jane’s Addition” – Season 3, Episode 13 (Originally aired on August 18, 1999; Written by Glenn Eichler)
“Jane’s Addition” throws a monkey wrench into Daria and Jane’s friend dynamic with the introduction of Tom, someone Jane instantly connects with and who becomes her boyfriend by the episode’s end. He is a controversial character, and is possibly the reason that there are way more episodes on this list from Daria Seasons 1-3 than 4 and 5. It also is kind of a swan song to the fact that Daria and Trent could never work as a couple, as he majorly blows the deadline for her and Jane’s multimedia project by failing to compose thirty seconds of music. He and Daria have a friendly bond, but his lack of even the smallest shred of life goals is kind of a turnoff for the driven self that she hides behind monotone one-liners and combat boots.
Tom is introduced as a deliverer of dry wit as he talks about his beat up car, and immediately leaves with Jane, who in turn leaves Daria in the lurch about their project (of course it’s for Mr. O’Neil’s class) and their plans in general. For the first time, Daria’s snark is turned towards her friend, as Tom ends up popping up everywhere, like the pizza parlor and Jane’s house during their project. She is truly afraid of losing her only friend to a guy that she just met, and hides that emotion under her usual biting sarcasm, never mincing words about loathing Tom.
The passive-aggressive tension between Daria and Jane, which could be worse if it wasn’t for the common foe of Trent’s laziness, makes “Jane’s Addition” one of the sadder episodes of Daria. Instead of teaming up to make snarky comments towards their teachers and fellow students, they’re making these comments towards each other and their friends. However, writer Glenn Eichler finds some time for character growth, as Daria warms up to Tom through a shared sense of humor and his acceptance that her and Jane’s friendship is rock-solid.
The episode ends with a nice shot of Daria, Jane, and Tom eating pizza, so all’s well that ends well, I guess. It’s also interesting to see the flaws in Daria and Jane’s friendship and see it change instead of remaining static. They are human beings, not just a more quick-witted version of the Greek chorus of a late-1990s suburban American high school.
Best Quote: “I’m always late. That’s why I don’t wear a watch. They depress me.” – Trent
2. “Antisocial Climbers” – Season 4, Episode 2 (Originally aired on March 3, 2000; Written by Jill Cargerman)
In one of his greatest ideas yet, Mr. O’Neil decides to take the whole school on a Call of the Wild-inspired field trip to a random hill in blizzard conditions. Of course, Daria doesn’t want to go, but Jake and Helen want her away for some “intimacy” time, so thanks to a $50 bribe, she packs her bags. The trip turns out to be one of the greatest catastrophes in Lawndale High history – and this is a school that got scammed by an energy drink company and thought that a casino-themed cruise was a great fundraising idea. It all goes downhill when the three J’s carry Quinn’s three bags of fashion-forward hiking supplies instead of some much-needed provisions.
All the denizens of Lawndale High get pushed to their breaking point in “Antisocial Climbers,” and it’s hilarious. I darkly laughed at the students surrounding Quinn when they realize that her designer utility belt and canteen didn’t have any food and water, and it looks like they are going to devour her (Daria and Jane make several cracks about cannibalism while hunkered down in the one bunk bed). Mr. O’Neil ends up having multiple asthma attacks thanks to the pollen in the outdoors, getting dragged up the mountain, and then running down the mountain, where he narrates his life in a cave with a camera that Ms. Li wanted to use to get an extreme sports sponsorship for the school. He, Mr. DeMartino (who ends up playing charades with Jake and Helen in their “romantic” cabin), and Kevin are the funniest parts of this episode. In fact, the episode ends with Kevin lost in the woods because he thought a search party involved cake and dancing.
And in the midst of this wilderness insanity, Daria and Jane get to spend some quality time together, with Daria apologizing for being tough on Jane and Tom, a moment followed up with a joke about the terribleness of blue M&M’s. All in all, the combination of inclement weather, a wilderness setting, and Lawndale High equals one of the most entertaining later season episodes of Daria.
Best Quote: “What started out as a grim, life-negating field trip has turned into a grim, life-negating gape into the void.” – Daria
1. Is It College Yet? – (Originally aired on January 21, 2002; Written by Glenn Eichler and Peggy Nicoll)
In the TV movie Is It College Yet?, Daria wraps up its five-season run in both wacky and realistic fashion. Most of the plot is dedicated to the various students at Lawndale High striving to get into college and balance their own expectations with their parents’ and others. Daria feels forced to go the elitist Bromwell by her boyfriend, Tom Sloan (who is a legacy), and her mother, who thinks it’s a stepping stone to greater things. However, she gets overwhelmed by the class/money differences and the Sloan family’s general snobbishness, and bombs out the interview. It’s a chink in her armor of snark, but she has a great moment of self-realization and goes to her second choice, Raft, in Boston. She also dumps Tom, who she has gotten bored of and doesn’t feel like doing a long-distance relationship with. However, their split isn’t super petty, and a mature Daria decides to stay friends with him and compare notes about their different colleges. The breakup shows that Daria wants a fresh start in college as part of her growing up process, but it was nice to see her share a romantic bond with another person for some time.
Another character who matures in Is It College Yet? is good ol’ Jane Lane, who doesn’t get accepted to two nearby state schools, and decides to not send her portfolio to an art school in Boston. Getting rejected is crippling, and her older brother Trent represents a life of ease – sleeping in and not really applying himself – that she could have. It’s pretty tempting, but Daria knows what’s best for her, and convinces her to try for art school, as she could learn a lot there and get away from Lawndale. Also, going to school in the same city means that their friendship will be intact (and they can get pizza on weekends), while also giving them enough space to learn and grow.
I really enjoyed Quinn’s storyline most in Is It College Yet, as she finally grows up a little after she has to get a job as a hostess because of running up a $600 charge on her parents’ credit card (faux alligator skin shoes are expensive). She befriends one of her co-workers, and is exposed to the world of college parties and adult problems, like alcoholism. Quinn has a real defining moment when she confronts her new friend about drinking, even though it puts a strain on their friendship after the girl gets fired for having a screwdriver on the job. Quinn puts her moral compass before popularity, and this leads her to find independence, as she basically disbands the Fashion Club. They all hang out after the club goes on “sabbatical,” however, because honestly what else is there to do in the summer in Lawndale.
Is It College Yet? concludes with a magical moment, as Daria wins an academic award – despite her “total misanthropy” – and gives an inspiring and wise speech that also sums up her character. She is a truth teller, even if that truth is painful and masked in sarcasm, so she’s not afraid to flat-out say that “high school sucks.” However, Daria also learned to appreciate her friendship and connection with Jane Lane, and hopefully she will have a few more close friendships like that in college while snarking about frat boys, wannabe pseudo-intellectuals, and professors, who will be like DeMartino and O’Neil with PhDs. Plus, we can all agree pizza is awesome.