Daria premiered on MTV 20 years ago in March 1997. What started out as a Beavis & Butthead spinoff quickly became a hit in its own right. The cartoon about a jaded, antisocial high schooler and her family and people in her life struck a chord with many. The series lasted five seasons and spawned two TV movies before being cancelled, but it continued to be showed in syndication on MTV for many years. Though licensing issues forced the music to be changed for the DVD release and subsequent airings on streaming services, much to the displeasure of fans of the show, the show itself still holds up very well considering it was largely a product of its time. While everyone’s favorite episodes of the show will differ, after 20 years, it’s never too early to reminisce about Daria by revisiting some of its most essential episodes.
The second episode of the series, “The Invitation” serves as a great introduction to many of the bit players in the Daria universe. In the episode, Daria gets invited to a party at Brittany’s house because she helped her in art class and gets to mingle with many of Lawndale High’s popular crowd. There are a lot of funny moments, including Daria finding yet another way to embarrass her sister, Quinn, and the introduction of the character known as “Upchuck.” While the first episode of the series had a lot of great moments, the show really finds its footing in this episode.
The Misery Chick
“The Misery Chick” really sums up what the entire series is about. When former Lawndale High quarterback, Tommy Sherman, dies in a freak accident, the student body looks to Daria on how to deal with their feelings. This episode does a great job of showing the contrast of how Daria views herself vs. how her peers view her. Though I wouldn’t put it in my top three favorite episodes of the first season, it’s an important episode and character study, and a must-watch episode of the show.
Arts ‘N Crass
Season two is arguably the best of the entire series, and its first episode starts it on a high note. When Daria’s best friend, Jane, is pressured to submit a poster for a student art contest, Ms. Li and Mr. O’Neill object to the message Daria and Jane came up with for the piece. Their attempts at self-sabotage end up getting them in trouble until Daria’s mother, Helen, comes to the rescue. There are some great moments for a lot of supporting characters in this episode, and it sets the tone for season two being one of the show’s best.
It’s no secret that Daria has a crush on Jane’s brother, Trent, and this episode is all about that. While shopping for a birthday present for Jane, Trent convinces Daria to get her navel pierced. She starts to have regrets when the piercing begins to itch and she realizes she essentially got a piercing for a guy. In the meantime, Helen and Quinn take part in a mother-daughter fashion show with disastrous results. With hilarious moments for all the characters, this is definitely one of the best episodes of the entire series. It also shows off a more conventional side of Daria, which she often tries to hide, while still allowing her character to remain true to herself.
Write Where It Hurts
Probably one of the most heartwarming and emotional episodes of the series, “Write Where It Hurts” serves as a strong ending to season two. When Daria has already read all the books Mr. O’Neill assigned to the class, he decides to have her write a story using people that she knows as characters. After struggling to come up with something good, her mother suggests she write a story about how she wants life to be. The result is a sweet story about her family in the future, when Daria and Quinn are adults and have matured, coming together to play a family card game. The story leads Helen to break down in tears, while her failed drafts serve as humorous backdrops throughout the episode. Though it shies away from some of the show’s typical cynicism, this episode ends up being one of the strongest of the entire series.
Before musical episodes of TV shows became all the rage, Daria was one of the few to have their characters break into song. Thankfully, since all the music they used was written for the episode, they didn’t run into the same licensing issues with this episode has they had with the rest of the series. When a hurricane hits Lawndale, everyone in town sings about their lives being disrupted, and Daria and Jane end up trapped on a roof with Kevin and Brittany. This episode is full of humorous and heartwarming moments, and the original songs are pretty funny too. While “Daria!” clearly wasn’t made to show off the vocal talents of the cast like many musical TV episodes are these days, this episode is authentic, true to the series, and definitely not to be missed.
Jane Lane and her family are the centerpiece of this episode, which is one of the funniest of the series. Her much talked about but rarely seen family (aside from Trent) make an appearance and disrupt the quiet solitude Jane and Trent had been living in. The contrast between the Morgendorffers and the Lanes is on full display here, and it’s interesting to see how Daria and Jane are so similar despite their completely different upbringings. There are also some sweet Daria and Trent moments, for those who are fans of the pairing.
Dye! Dye! My Darling
Admittedly, this is not one of my favorite Daria episodes, but since it covers so many significant plot points, it kind of has to be included on an essential episodes list. Daria and Jane’s friendship is strained because of how close Daria has become to Jane’s boyfriend, Tom. When Jane decides she wants to add tiger stripes to her hair after painting a self-portrait entitled “The Lady or the Tiger” and asks Daria to help her with it, things do not go well. Jane feels Daria intentionally sabotaged her to try to ruin things between her and Tom, while Daria believes it was an innocent mistake as she is not good with artistic endeavors. The episode culminates with a kiss between Daria and Tom and a fight between Daria and Jane. Though fans are divided about how they feel about the character developments in the episode, it definitely got everyone talking and sets up a lot for the series going forward.
I purposefully didn’t include any episodes post-season four on this list because the show really took a dive then. While there were still enjoyable moments, the characters and the humor just weren’t the same as they once were. The TV movie “Is It Fall Yet?” is definitely worth a watch, but anything past that just doesn’t feel authentically Daria.
It’s hard to pick just a few essential Daria episodes because there are so many strong ones throughout the early seasons. And while I have many favorites, I also realize some are for esoteric reasons and aren’t necessarily the best of the series. These eight episodes balance the show’s characteristic humor and cynicism, while also having great character moments. Though some of the humor and references are a little dated after 20 years, Daria remains funny and relatable and lends itself to endless rewatching.
What’s your favorite Daria episode? Let us know in the comments!