Daria seems to have gotten a cult status over the years since it was on, probably thanks to its initial showing on MTV being followed up by airings on The N and Logo which helped reach out to the audience in the time before the DVD release came out. There’s a good reason for that. Its sarcastic wit about high school life from the point of view of an alienated teenager is just one of those things that reaches out to people. Having recently watched through the series, here’s my pick for the 5 must-watch episodes (and a couple that are easily avoided). Mild spoiler warning, as most of the reasons for these episodes hinge on certain moments.
5. The Lost Girls: While there’s a handful of adult characters in the show, they’ve moved past the high school life that the characters are in. Enter Val, a teen magazine editor who still acts like a teenager. And of course, after Daria wins an essay contest, she follows her around. This might be the single funniest episode on this list, one that deals with the very sad fact of the situation: some people don’t get past high school.
4. Lucky Strike: The school’s teachers go on strike and Daria’s class ends up with an elderly woman who thinks she’s teaching kindergarteners, while Daria herself ends up as the substitute teacher for her sister Quinn’s class. This episode ends up coming to a peak for Quinn’s own character development. For most of the series, she and her group of fashion club “friends” are seen as a vapid punching bag for Daria’s comments. This is Quinn’s breakout episode of proving that, not only is she smarter than she seems, but Daria and Quinn actually do love each other.
3. Dye! Dye! My Darling: Most of the episodes of the series are purely standalone, which makes season 4 stand out. Throughout the season, Daria’s best friend Jane ends up with a boyfriend, Tom, and as the season progresses, it becomes obvious that Daria’s animosity towards him turns into feelings. This episode is the final bursting point, when Daria’s feelings finally come out and her friendship is tested. For a series built on very light situations throughout, it stands as one of the toughest episodes, especially one that doesn’t end with everything wrapped up. The movie Is It Fall Yet? is also essential here, since it does solve the plot points between here and season 5.
2. Boxing Daria: The final episode of the series does not focus on resolving plot points or doing anything resembling a grand finale (the second movie, Is It College Yet?, focuses more on that). Instead, a refrigerator box brings back some painful memories for Daria, when her parents were fighting about her. While her anti-social behaviors are played for laughs through most of the series, this is one of the few times it’s taken in a serious manner, and its ending proves the point of the series: for as messed up as her family is, they are all together.
1. Write Where It Hurts: And on that note, there’s my favorite episode of the series. Daria has a creative writing class and gets writer’s block. Most of the episodes gets some good laugh off of the various stories that Daria creates about the people around her, but it’s the ending that makes it top the list: her story about the future of the family. Daria’s cold personality melts in the finest moment of the series, proving that for everyone she hates, there’s at least three people she will always love.
And as promised, here’s a few of my least favorite episodes of the series. In general, note the theme here. My favorite episodes tend to be the ones that had very touching or tough moments. These are just ridiculous:
-The Lawndale File: The school begins to believe that Daria and Jane are alien communists. Even for the deliberately stupid characters like Kevin, this just goes too far.
-Murder, She Snored: An actually interesting plot where Kevin and some of the other football team members are accused of cheating on a math test is derailed into a dream-murder mystery that just brings in random elements of shows Daria was watching. It doesn’t work.
-Life in the Past Lane: Jane dates someone who’s obsessed with 1940s style. It’s not a particularly funny episode and I’m just left scratching my head as to what the point was. Was this a real thing? Possibly, but that doesn’t make it a better episode.
-Depth Takes a Holiday: Oh good lord this episode. Daria has to convince the personifications of Christmas, Halloween, and Guy Fawkes Day to go back to holiday island. Not only does it take the series’ general basis in reality and just discard it entirely, it doesn’t know what to do with it. Daria, Jane, and about every other character just spend the entire time lampshading it by constantly going “This is so weird!” but that doesn’t really make it any better, it just means they knew how bad it was. My best guess is they were forced to do a holiday episode and just made something deliberately bad so they wouldn’t have to again.