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Daria - Episode-by-Episode Analysis

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The Lawndale File/Just Add Water

It’s fitting to cover these two episodes in a single write-up. Both are mediocre (or downright subpar), and both are cultural artifacts of the ‘90s.

“The Lawndale File” is the weaker of the two episodes. As the name suggests, it satirizes The X-Files and the general UFO/alien abduction craze that was prevalent in the ‘90s. The little gray alien icon was ubiquitous in those years, appearing over and over again on t-shirts, advertisements, and other media. It’s actually a bit remarkable how thoroughly this icon has vanished from popular discourse. Conspiracies are probably more prevalent now than they were in the ‘90s but they rarely involve space aliens any longer.

The big problem with this episode is that everyone acts like an idiot. I’m annoyed with the way the episode has people confuse “alien” with “illegal alien”, which is not something that actually happens. The agents at the beginning would almost certainly be more explicit about what they were looking for.

Daria maintains skepticism but is too easily spooked, and sometimes seems to be on the verge of accepting this nonsense. The scene with a bunch of characters stumbling onto each other in the woods is also weird, since Kevin and Brittany are the only ones dim enough to actually believe all this is going on. Even if Upchuck does think alien visitors are real, he’s smart enough to know that Mars is lifeless!

Maybe I’m being too nitpicky but I just didn’t believe the characters here. The humor’s also pretty weak. Artie makes an appearance, but he’s more odd than funny.

“Just Add Water” is an improvement, though still no prize. This episode is obviously a parody of Titanic, which was the highest grossing film of all time until Avatar. Like UFOs, it was a ubiquitous presence in the late ‘90s.

This episode follows the standard template of the scattershot episode. Daria and Jane play a minimal role here, which isn’t a bad thing as it gives other characters a chance to shine. Titanic was a romance, and while “Just Add Water” isn’t, it does focus heavily on relationships of one kind or another. This is the first episode to establish that Mr. O’Neill and Mr. DeMartino are friends.

I also like some of the interactions between Helen and Jake. They’ve argued a lot, particularly this season, but “Just Add Water” shows there’s a strong trust. Helen thinks nothing of leaving Jake with the sexually voracious DeeDee because she knows he won’t do anything. For his part, Jake isn’t even tempted. It’s a nice moment that shows the underlying strength of the Morgendorffer marriage.

Conversely, Quinn, who’s almost always with one admirer or another, has to manage going it alone. It’s another ‘90s moment to have her invite an adult as her companion without anyone really batting an eye, and one that’s a bit discomfiting to watch now.

Ultimately, there’s not a whole lot to say about “Just Add Water”.

As I mentioned in one of the earlier write-ups, the average Daria episode involves putting the heroine in a ridiculous situation and watching her make sarcastic commentary as it unfolds (with a little bit of prodding from her or Jane). This worked out well in the first few seasons. There weren’t (and still aren’t) many television protagonists like Daria, so her voice stood out.

But by Season 3 it was getting old. Daria and Jane are just going through the motions.

I’m not saying that every Daria episode should have high dramatic stakes, far from it. There were great episodes where very little of consequence happens, such as “Daria Dance Party” or “That was Then, This is Dumb”. My point is that by Season 3, you could tell the formula was getting stale. I can definitely understand why the writers shook things up, even if I don’t think they went about it the best way.

Notes:

  • '90s Alert! Artie has a pager.
  • “The Lawndale File” does have a lot of examples of Mr. O’Neill ignoring professional boundaries (such as his unauthorized assembly).
  • Quinn’s black beret isn’t really a new look for her if one takes “Quinn the Brain” into account.
  • I don’t know why I find it so funny when Mr. DeMartino describes Jane as “angular”, but I always laugh.
  • Why did Mr. O’Neill think Helen, of all people, could help Mr. DeMartino with his gambling issues?
  • Ms. Barch could’ve killed DeeDee with that shove. Similarly, Daria and Jane could’ve killed Kevin and Brittany by not going for help (though I’m not sure if Daria and Jane actually heard them).