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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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The Old and the Beautiful/Depth Takes A Holiday

I bet you thought I forgot about this... but I didn't!

By the end of Season 2, Daria had established a reliable formula. In a typical episode, Daria and Jane would run (or be pushed) into an awkward situation and work their way out of it with sarcasm and aplomb. The series took no prisoners in its caustic view of high school life—portraying and mocking all of the superficiality, venality, and stupidity that make it so intolerable.

Sticking to formula isn’t necessarily bad, but it does risk stagnation. And this becomes more of a problem throughout Season 3. A lot of the episodes here are gimmicky, as if the writers are desperately trying something new. “Depth Takes A Holiday”, “Daria!”, and “The Lawndale Files” are all examples of this.

Eventually, this would culminate in Season 4’s attempt to shake up the status quo. I’ll get to that in good time. For now, we have Season 3, a mix of great episodes, awful episodes, and just plain odd episodes.

“The Old and the Beautiful”, unfortunately, isn’t a very good episode. The jokes are lazy ones that rely too heavily on stereotypes of old people and the characters don’t undergo any interesting developments.

Which is a shame, because there the setup had the potential to be a lot more. Adolescence is almost defined by short-sightedness which is why it can be so valuable for someone Daria’s age to have close interactions with a senior citizen who can take the long view.

The episode does attempt some character exploration. Daria’s disturbed enough by the bad reaction she gets at the nursing home that she goes to Brittany for coaching. Unfortunately, the writing doesn’t do enough to set this up. Daria’s not particularly interested in reading to senior citizens. It’s rare for her to care about what others think, so why is she so invested in the opinions of a group with whom she’ll have only fleeting interactions?

I suppose the answer is that she’s afraid that she’ll be getting these negative reactions for the rest of her life, but the episode just doesn’t do enough to show this. She mentions feeling like she owes her best to the senior citizens, which is laudable—but we never see any indication of her feeling this way. Daria isn’t someone who particularly cares about helping people she doesn’t know.

Interestingly, Daria demonstrates a surprising cluelessness early on, when she seems to think that something as controversial as Allen Ginsberg’s Howl would make for appropriate reading material.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that Daria wouldn’t be aware of Howl’s history. She might not be able to predict people’s reactions but she does know books. I’m not going to say that it’s completely out-of-character for her, but it is a little odd.

Brittany’s coaching attempt predictably goes nowhere. At the end, Daria makes peace with her lack of popularity and continues reading to the deaf Mrs. Blaine. I’m not really sure if Daria just pities her, or genuinely likes being appreciated. Given that Daria hates pretense and superficiality, I can’t imagine she’d particularly enjoy reading to someone who can’t hear her voice. There are good ideas in this episode but they never really coalesce into anything.

Which brings us to the episode that some fans consider the worst in the entire series: “Depth Takes A Holiday”.

Where to even begin?

Well, I’ll start by saying that I don’t actually dislike this episode. Mind you, I don’t think it fits into the series at all. It comes off as particularly strange fanfiction. That said, it’s fairly funny, and the novel premise is intriguing, if nothing else.

It does suffer from the same flaws seen in many scattershot episodes. There’s no real development. No depth, if you will. However, as a vehicle for jokes and odd situations, there’s a lot to enjoy. I liked St. Patrick’s Day’s continual griping about Guy Fawkes Day. The ghostly students representing saint’s days, and Thanksgiving having family troubles, are also clever touches.

Now, the problem is that “Depth Takes A Holiday” just doesn’t make sense as an episode of Daria, which is usually a fairly grounded show. Sure, it might be an exaggerated version of the real world but there’s nothing to indicate actual supernatural activity. Still, I find it fairly entertaining as episodes go.

Notes:

  • Jane shows a lot more enthusiasm for her volunteer work. Honestly, I’d have preferred to watch an episode about her efforts in the children’s ward. Also, 10-year old me would have vastly preferred Mongol raiders to clowns (I was the biggest Mongol Horde fanboy in my elementary school… not that I had a lot of competition).
  • “The Old and the Beautiful” gives us the first mention of Brooke since Season 1, and our first look at the Taylor household.
  • Jane looks off-model when she’s in her room talking to Daria and Sandi gets freakishly long legs when she’s walking down skid row with the rest of the Fashion Club.
  • Jane expresses a lot of exasperation with her family in “Depth Takes A Holiday”, which almost feels like foreshadowing for “Lane Miserable”.
  • The irreverent portrayal of Veteran’s Day and Memorial Day is somewhat insensitive, but not out-of-place for the late ‘90s. The world was much different before 9/11.