As a nerdy teenage girl in the ’90s, I loved Daria. The satirical comedy about bookworm Daria Morgendorffer trying to make her way through the social and intellectual challenges of high school was, as Oprah calls it, “my truth.” Daria, the anti-social nerd in combat boots, and her artistic, sadistic best friend Jane Lane were the quintessential ’90s outcasts. Too smart for their own good, they get thrown into upper-middle-class Lawndale High School’s “Esteem” class because they’re seen as “anti-social.” “I don’t have low self-esteem,” Daria reasons, “I have low esteem for everyone else.”
The kind of snark that was so pervasive in the ’90s wouldn’t be caught dead on television today. We live in the era of anti-bullying legislation, trigger warnings and woke folk. Which makes me question how MTV Studios plans to execute a reboot of my favorite ’90s cartoon. But this isn’t so much of a revival as it is a re-vamp. Instead of Jane Lane, Daria’s new bestie will be the perfectly preppy Jodie Landon. Jodie, a minor character in the original series, was intelligent, respectful, popular and African American. I smell the need to fit into 21st-century political correctness and it’s making me queasy. I never had anything against Jodie, but she’s far from the badass foil Jane Lane. What’s Jodie going to inspire Daria to do? Host an anti-bullying rally? Start a Facebook group to inspire fellow female students to get into STEM? That sounds a lot less like snark and a lot more like snore.
Series creators Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn have yet to join in the project, currently being helmed by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writer Grace Edwards. The new series description reads:
These two smart young women take on the world with their signature satirical voice while deconstructing popular culture, social classes, gender and race.
Pop culture, yes. Social classes, okay. The original show did make snide remarks about what it meant to be popular in high school. But when we start talking gender and race I get really bored. The original Jodie definitely spoke out about being the “token black girl” and “Queen of the Negroes” in a nearly all-white crowd. But, was she really “woke before woke knew what woke was”? Or was she just simply as smart and cynical as Daria and Jane?
Are the reboot’s creators so eager to tap into “wokeness” that they’re turning Jodie into a token in the process? ’90s Jodie didn’t want to go to an Ivy League college for fear of fellow students assuming she got in just because she was black, which makes the reboot feel especially uncomfortable. As one fan tweeted, “Daria and Jodie were more like occasional allies and acquaintances to each other than good friends so tbh a spinoff featuring the two of them feels like a heavy-handed way of making a ‘Daria’ reboot less white.” What would the original Jodie Landon think of that?
Still more fans believe Daria was a show of its time and place. It’s been over 20 years since Daria premiered on MTV. So much has changed in that relatively short period of time. Will Daria’s parents still be hippies-turned-yuppies? Will her Vietnam veteran teachers be replaced by the very Gen-X’ers like Jane’s rocker older brother Trent that populated the original cast?
Will her popular younger sister Quinn’s crowd simply text all their lines to one another during one of their infamous sleepovers? Will they still hang out at the mall, or just Snapchat while browsing Amazon?
What will the new Daria look like, anyway? Do kids these days even get the iconography of a pair of Doc Martens? And will she still watch Sick, Sad World or is it now “triggering” to mock someone’s strange alien abduction fetish?
Most importantly, are the reboot’s writers willing to let Daria be as much of an iconoclast today as she was in the ’90s? Or will they be too woke for that?
I’ll reserve my final judgment for when the reboot actually airs. In the meantime, I’d encourage anyone seeking a break from the wokeness of today to relish in some good old-fashioned ’90s cynicism through the original series.