Has it Fallen Yet?

by Caira, caira@graffiti.net


I leave the message boards for two days, come back and there's upwards of six hundred messages there waiting for me. Of course, one of those two days included the first screening of the show's season finale, so a little active discussion is to be expected. I idly wonder how the old 'shipper delineations are going to last. Get inside, and find that we've got a comparably huge influx of new posters, almost all of the old ones are there, and unlike before, almost nobody is sitting on the fence. Roughly fifty percent are loving the new episodes and anxiously awaiting for Is It Fall Yet? for further development of the relationships (I'll call them category one), about 40% are aghast at the romance in what was once a show above all that and dreading the assumed further horrors of IIFY (category two), and most of the remaining ten have the same issues with the romance but look forward to IIFY to get the whole unpleasant business over with -- having faith in Glenn to deliver some genuinely new goods in Season Five (category three). Beyond that, well, you've got CN and one or two others avoiding the cacophony in the New Episodes forum altogether and posting deliberately unserious messages to break up the tension (what if Daria did turn into Melrose?), and one or two disappointed -- but quiet -- D/Trent 'shippers.

I'm not expecting more than a minority of fans -- that ten percent I mentioned earlier might, perhaps -- to agree with what I have to say, and naturally I've tried to understand why everyone's opinions lie where they do. It becomes obvious pretty quickly that it depends on what they want from the show as compared to what we're getting.

There is one constant -- everyone likes the cynicism. If they didn't, as evidenced by my Daria-hating friends, they wouldn't be Daria fans. End of story. That said, the vast majority of the "category ones" seem to want a realistic show about a believable, if unusually cynical, growing character, and while that doesn't necessarily include romance, it can.

But wait a second. A realistic representation of a teenage girl. On MTV. Animated. Spun off from Beavis & Butthead. Am I the only one that sees a problem here? Obviously, people are going to expect a shallow comedy, and be surprised, normally pleasantly, when that's not what they get. Like I said before, even the most rampant hater of DDMD thinks better of it than Dawson's Creek, Undressed, and the umpteen other "realistic teenager" (note the quotes) shows. Most of those who like DDMD et al have no problem with this, nor should they. They're getting their character development, and Tom is, if nothing else, a credible love interest for both Daria and Jane.

The main problem that I have with this is that I've never seen Daria as remotely realistic. Okay, so the title character's so cynical and misanthropic that the highest praise she gives to anyone is that "they were pretty cool", that's all right, it'll probably abate slightly as she grows, fine, but look at the photos in the Diaries -- surely the kid must have smiled once in her childhood! Or take a look at Brittany's military genius in TDH. And the medically inexplicable rash in Ill (no smart comments from the 'shippers, thanks). The magical vanishing piercing in Pierce Me. The Episodes That Shall Not Be Named, and justifiably so. The Lawndale File. Daria's subconscious must double as an encyclopaedia of pop culture if her dream sequences (obvious example: Murder She Snored) are anything to go by. The amount of recurring characters ("recurring" meaning "having lines in at least three episodes") who act like human beings on the program, rather than stereotypes only two or three-dimensional in the sense that they have two or three different dimensions shown in different episodes, can almost be counted on the fingers of one hand. Daria, Jane, Jodie, Mack, Tom, and possibly Helen and Mrs Bennet. And that's it. I may have left one or two out, but you get the idea. Like I said, I don't see Daria as a realistic show, and its three-act 22-minute format doesn't suit it as being much else but an unrealistic, light, comical program if we're keeping it episodic -- Write Where It Hurts, for example, was a passable episode, but it would have been much better if some of the mother-daughter tension had been built up earlier in the season instead of cramming it all into the one episode. Of course, this is exactly what the writers did with the story arc including Fire! and DDMD, which I'll deal with later.

Most other people who don't like the new episodes simply want something different from all the other "realistic teen" shows, the ones which they're so tired of. One which doesn't need the king of soapie clichés to keep itself going. And in the first few seasons, we got it. In big lumps. Daria and Jane got together and made sure that the fashion-fakes, fascist teachers and just plain stupid got theirs. Okay, so there was the whole D/Trent thing, but it was handled reasonably well and didn't take up too much time (only one episode a season). Plus there was occasional caustic piece of social commentary for the icing (Too Cute, The Misery Chick). The social commentary stayed on at least through the third season (The Lost Girls) but has basically disappeared of late in favour of the relationships between Daria, Tom and Jane. A love triangle. Which we've seen a million times before in other shows, or rather haven't because we've turned off the other shows in disdain.

Of course, if you want character growth, and can overlook the clichés, then no problem, and more power to you. I just hope they can get this out of the way a lot more quickly than they brought it in.


I'm quoting Bis. I must be desperate.

While I'll reserve final judgment on the new episodes until I've seen them (I live in Australia), from what I have read, I'm far from having even a Darian -- well, season-one Darian -- form of optimism. For every blindly hateful tirade against Dye! Dye! My Darling, there's at least one reasoned post of mourning from a "category two", or a reasoned post of hope in adversity from a "category three". And I frankly just don't buy most of the category one arguments.

Okay, so Daria is growing as a character. I don't know of anyone who has any problem with character development per se. Okay, so Jane and Daria are having the occasional argument. No big deal -- it's been going on in one form or another since The Misery Chick. The problem is with how the characters are being developed and driven against one another. "How" is by bringing in a shared love interest for Daria and Jane. By MTV's own description, a love triangle. Could there possibly be anything more clichéd? Does anyone remember when the complete lack of significant boyfriend/girlfriend relationships was something that stood Daria apart from every other bloody teen show on television? You try and find another show that's even tried that which hasn't backslided or been cancelled. And please, people, don't tell me you've swallowed the myth that every teenager has BF/GF troubles at school. As Kara Wild amongst others has pointed out, it simply doesn't happen to everyone -- especially to those who avoid the spotlight as much as Daria does. "Daria", the TV show, isn't turning into an animated version of Dawson's Creek, but it's getting far, far too easy to tar the two shows with the same teen-cliché brush.

"But wait! It was getting... stale! Stagnant, even!" I hear you cry. Fair enough (groan). Maybe it was. But the cures they've offered seem to be far worse than the disease. If the writers have run out of ideas but don't have the guts or objectivity to pull the plug, then it's far better that they keep going through the motions, however bored we may get, rather than bring in the oldest cliché in the soap-opera handbook, however funny or high-quality they try to make it. My favourite ep out of the first half of S4 (which I have seen) was "Antisocial Climbers", though it hardly ranks up there with ANC or TMC. Okay, so most fans, including me, were getting at least a little sick of the basic field-trip plotline, which had been run through four or five times on the series before. Now, tell me, how many times has this whole love-triangle business been played out over the years on programs vastly inferior to the one we follow? Even if by some miracle you've never actually seen it on screen, you get the unsettling feeling you have, and for me at least, no amount of sarcastic quips from OH can cover that up. In addition, if the show is running low on creativity, the last thing the writers want to do is start acknowledging the past in all its repetitive glory, thereby emphasising the changes they have made... and the inconsistencies and mistakes they're making in the process. Like Jane's apparently magically disappearing taste for intellectual discussion (Fire!). Or, back in ILAP, Daria's need to be told to find a little humour in senseless tragedy (sound familiar?) -- something she's been doing, and when given the opportunity, causing, on a regular basis since the beginning of season one! Make all the excuses you like, but call a spade a spade. It's not growth so much as destruction -- or just plain bad writing. Which isn't to say that the first seasons were paragons of quality, originality and consistency, just that the addition of this story arc and this form of character development has shown up all the holes in the tapestry for what they are.

What makes the whole thing even more frustrating is the fact that fanfic authors have done a perfectly good job of bringing in character development convincingly. Of course fan fiction should in theory never be used as a substitute for the real thing, but let's be honest here. Does anyone actually prefer, say, The F Word to Outvoted as a character-development vehicle for Jane? Of course, Kara has a couple of advantages on Glenn and Rachelle Romberg (who wrote both The F Word and the excellent See Jane Run) -- the fic author has an entirely voluntary length restriction of about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the official writers have to stick to the three-acts 22-minute format, in which it is extraordinarily difficult, if not impossible, to properly resolve a complex plotline in. On the other hand, they're professionals. But wait -- they're professionals who have to keep the show solvent by trying to live up to both fans' (half of whom want, and have every right to want, what I'm tirading against) and the executives' expectations. While a good fanfic author can come up with and stick to a season-length story arc and write on their own time at their own pace, the official writers have to have thirteen episodes a year written, directed and drawn in time for the end of summer. I'm not sure how that explains the lack of communication which would allow for the inconsistencies, but perhaps DDMD is all we can reasonably expect given all this -- hell, this is MTV, we should be grateful for anything worthwhile, and even the harshest accounts of DDMD have it ahead of their usual programming, if not by much -- though that wouldn't explain CD gems like See Jane Run.

So I do still have some hope. Maybe when the episodes do get down here it'll turn out I was wrong going by considered hearsay (though it seemed to fit well enough with my opinions of the first half of the season), the episodes will be wonderful, and all this whinging will have been for a false alarm. But I doubt it. That said, I feel the "category twos" are worrying unnecessarily. Glenn Eichler may be the driving force behind the very worst of Daria, but he's also the driving force behind the very best of it. It could be he's using love-triangle subplot to get the wider-appeal-minded MTV execs off his back for a wonderfully sarcastic season five. Okay, maybe not, but there's no reason why the man who wrote Arts 'N Crass and Esteemsters won't be able to resolve the damn thing within a 90-minute telemovie, and get the show "back on track" if you will. If, on the other hand, the triangle tension or whatever you want to call it is still around into season five, then it's time to take the show out back and do the merciful thing.