The Lawndale Lowdown: An Introduction to Daria
Hello again! In this month’s series of cartoon columns, I’ll be diving into one of the most beloved characters from the 90s. She is one of the best inventions that MTV could ever create, and her name is Daria. The show started in March 1997 on MTV (when it was a hub for amazing and ridiculous things) and ended January 2002, but between 5 seasons and two movies has become a big success.
Daria revolves around a high schooler named … Daria. She’s a cynical teenager who always speaks her mind. She’s a writer and a “brain” who excels at whatever she puts her mind to, even if there’s a little hint of doubt along the way. Daria moves to the town of Lawndale with her popular and adorable sister Quinn, her workaholic attorney mother Helen, and her neurotic entrepreneur father Jake. The show revolves around the events of the Morgendorffer family and the struggles of just surviving high school in general.
Daria got her start on a little show called Beavis and Butt-head. She started out as a background character for most of the episodes in the series, but then got her first speaking part in the episode “Sign Here”. After a while of being on B&B, MTV decided that they wanted to see more ladies on the network and wanted to keep with the “adult” cartoon style they were getting noticed for. They sat down with Glenn Eichler, who worked on B&B and soon would create Daria with executive producer Susie Lewis Lynn. Daria became one of leading animated shows on MTV in the 90s, right after Beavis & Butt-head and Celebrity Deathmatch (which is claymation, so I’m gonna count it). Daria has continued to be one of the most relatable teenagers for both adults and teeangers from the 90s until now. We’ve embraced the sarcastic high school writer, artist best friend Jane Lane, her family, friends and classmates through our TV and into our lives.
Let’s start off with the Morgendorffers. Daria, Jane, Quinn and Jake couldn’t be more different people.
Daria is voiced by the wonderful Tracy Grandstaff. Daria is cynical, honest and way too smart for her own good. She tells you how it is before you can even try to figure it out for yourself. She loves to write and wants to be a writer when she get older. She has everything it takes to make it in the real world, yet she has to survive all the nooks and crannys of high school life first.
Quinn is Daria’s sister, voiced by Wendy Hoopes, and one of the most popular girls in school. Thanks to her beauty and adorable face, she gets very high in the popularity chain before she could fully step onto Lawndale High’s sidewalks.
Helen and Jake are two very highly functional and dysfunctional parents. Helen, also voiced by Hoopes, is an attorney who takes that job more than seriously. She will neglect all activity and family duties in order to make sure that her family lives comfortably and she gets her job done. Jake Morgendorffer is an entrepreneur (specializing in consulting) who experienced a really horrid childhood involving a domineering father. He tries his best to give his business the big turn around it needs and he tries very hard to cooperate with his daughters and wife in their needs. He also has a tendency for epic mood swings that has some unhealthy results. Jake is voiced by Julián Rebolledo, who gives the character Jake the much-needed heart that he has.
Although the Morgendorffers have completely different personalities, they always know when family comes first. Unless there’s a sale at Cashman’s Department Store, then Quinn won’t be there to help with any family business whatsoever.
Our second family is the Lanes. There are a couple of Lanes, but we’ll focus on two of the most important of all, Jane and Trent Lane.
Jane, voiced by Wendy Hoopes (busy girl, huh?), is an artist of every medium, but at the end of the day has a love affair with paint. Seriously. Jane will take on any medium known to man: metal, industrial waste, gummy bears, and much much more. Jane is quick-witted, sarcastic and a loyal friend to Daria. She’s like her in a lot of ways, but instead of being as heavily sarcastic of the two, Jane is much more “out there” than Daria. She’s not afraid to mingle and even found a boyfriend between the seasons. She’s a slightly more functioning member of the Lane household than her brother.
Trent is Jane’s brother and has the ability to be an amazing musician if he could only get up at a decent hour. Trent lives with Jane in the Lane house while their parents and siblings are all over the world creating art. Voiced by Alvaro J. Gonzalez, Trent is down-to-earth, but mostly just lazy and not prepared for any type of change. He plays lead guitar and lead vocals in his band, Mystik Spiral, and they honestly think about changing the name every five seconds.
The other members of the Lane family are artists and musicians as well, except for the extended family who are very normal. The Lane family who all reside under the same roof but are rarely seen include: Vincent (father), Amanda (mother), Wind (brother), Summer (sister) and Penny (sister).
The students of Lawndale High are very stereotypical in how they act, speak and present themselves–you’ve totally seen characters like these before. Maybe you’ve seen them in your own high school experience, maybe you’ve seen them in other television shows or movies, or maybe you can identify with one of them yourself. But they’re still pretty amazing. The student body of Lawndale High includes high school football quarterback, Kevin Thompson (Marc Thompson) and his blonde-haired cheerleader girlfriend, Brittany Turner (Janie Mertz). The opposite of Kevin and Brittany are Jodie Landon, student body president and self-proclaimed “Queen of the Negroes”, and Michael “Mack” Jordan Mackenzie (voiced by Delon Ferdinand, Paul Williams, Kevin Daniels and Amir Williams), Lawndale High’s football captain–who gets called “Mack Daddy” by Kevin whenever he opens his mouth.
Quinn’s fellow fashion club members include Sandy (Janie Mertz), Tiffany (Ashley Albert) and Stacy (Sarah Drew), who keep Quinn busy with their neurotic tendencies. Quinn is always at war with Sandy over who dresses the cutest and who is more adorable. Tiffany is mostly in her own little world. Stacy is a sweet girl who only wants to be liked by her fellow peers and especially Quinn and Stacy.
The teachers of Lawndale High try desperately to get some type of education across to the students. We have Mr. Timothy O’Neill, the English and Language Arts, a very sensitive man who cares more about his students’ feelings and how things affect them. Mr. Anthony DeMartino, the History teacher, is quite the opposite of that. As much as he tries to like his job, he resents the low wage that he gets and is stressed out by his students not being able to learn anything, especially Kevin Thompson. Ms. Angela Li is the principal of Lawndale High and instead of caring about the students, mostly concerns herself with sponsorship programs for the school and safety issues. She implemented a random urine test to all the students for drugs and even had bomb sniffing dogs. Yeah, Ms. Li is a bit intense.
The music in Daria embodies the sound of every music style throughout the 90s and early 2000s. The show had a bit of everything in it. With alternative rock, grunge, punk, R&B, Hip Hop, funk, pop and more, the sounds of Daria reflected the sounds that they were in. The theme song for Daria is “You’re Standing on My Neck” by Splendora, an all girl alternative grunge band from New York City, active between the years 1995 to 2002. The band would go on to make two more songs for Daria for both movies, Is It Fall Yet? and Is It College Yet?, called “Turn the Sun Down” and “College Try (Gives Me Blisters)”. There were always specific songs for specific episodes, but it always seemed to follow the characters on screen as well. Whenever Trent, Daria or Jane appeared, alternative music played as the show transitioned into the next scene. Brittany, Kevin, Quinn, her fashion fends or anyone popular mostly got R&B or pop to accompany them.
When they finally decided that it was time for Daria to be on DVD, the Daria team ran into a very big problem. The creative team couldn’t obtain the music rights used in the original programming since it would have been way too expensive. Eichler explains, “99 percent of the music has been changed, because the cost of licensing the many music bites we used would have made it impossible to release the collection (and for many years did).” It’s a shame that the original music will never be heard again, but thankfully, it still sounds like the music that Daria fans know all too well.
Another big part of the music of Daria is Trent’s band, Mystik Spiral. A band that’s always thinking about changing the name but never does. Mystik Spiral is the brainchild of Jesse and Trent, best friends since middle school and the silent, male equivalents to Daria and Jane. Jesse and Trent are joined by their bassist and high school best friend Max. He owns the van “The Tank” that takes the band from gig to gig and wherever else they want to go. The final piece of the Mystik Spiral puzzle is a guy named Nick. They met Nick as he was hitchhiking, found out he could play the drums and the rest is history. Mystik Spiral’s sound is a cross between the alternative and grunge Nirvana and NIN (Nine Inch Nails), the experimental sounds of Frank Zappa and the rock styles of Jane’s Addiction.
If you want to hear some of the tunes from Daria, someone compiled most of the Daria tracks in different spotify playlists. You can listen to Seasons 1-5, as well as tracks from Is It Fall Yet? and Is It College Yet? right here!
High school is hell. Sometimes you can shine the brightest or you can easily fall without the right support behind you. The themes in Daria vary from character to character and episode to episode, but deal with the ups and downs of the high school experience and everything that comes with it. You’ll get made fun of and called names, get labels attached to you, not do so well in academics or do so well in academics that it messes with your social life. Each character in Daria has a unique part in the show to bring those themes to life.
A good example of this comes from the characters Daria and Jane. They are shown as the outcasts of their group, proclaimed as losers and misfits by their peers. They have to deal with the pressures of fitting in, but also standing out. They don’t care what other people think of them, but they do have moments where they actually want to fit in. There is an episode where Daria goes without her glasses and she actually gets scared before she starts becoming concerned by her image. In another episode, Jane joins the track team and becomes popular when her running skills are recognized instead of her fantastic artistic skills. The idea of fitting in and standing out really affects the girls and their peers in many ways. Quinn, Daria’s sister, also has to deal with some of the high school experiences that go along with being popular. From across the spectrum of Daria and Jane, Quinn has to keep her popularity in check and also deal with the pressure of keeping her popularity and fitting in. Her fellow Fashion Club members judge and critique everyone daily and they aren’t immune to their own judgments of each other.
There is one theme in Daria that everyone has to learn and go through high school to fully accept: being your own person. No matter what hellish or light existance you’ve had in high school. No matter how the pressure of grades and the pressure of getting into a good college looms around you. You have to find out that you are who you want to be. Being your own person and basically coming to a conclusion that you’re cool on your own is what Daria is truly about.
That’s my small yet lengthy intro to Daria! If you’d like to watch the series, it is available on DVD boxset in stores and online in various places, like Amazon. It is also available for digital streaming on Hulu (with a paid subscription, of course) or you can find your own methods of madness to obtain this amazing series! I hope you enjoy Daria as much as the fans have for years!