When Daria Morgendorffer made her debut on MTV’s Beavis and Butt-head in the mid-’90s, she was a bespectacled, monotone nerd who served up razor-sharp barbs to the duo’s vicious taunts of “Diarrhea! Cha cha cha!” For the millions of fans who hung on Beavis and Butt-head’s every stoner “huh-huh-huh” chuckle, it was easy to hate on the poor girl — after all, the show catered specifically to an audience of adolescent, heavy-metal-loving, girl-shy geeks.
So when MTV announced it was giving Daria her own show, the idea seemed like the equivalent of other tragic ’90s spin-offs like Baywatch Nights or Saved By the Bell: the College Years. But show creator Glenn Eichler managed to pull it off, delivering a sharp, subtly funny satire of what it was like to be a high-school outcast in the years of Clinton, flannel and Lollapalooza. “Many of the issues that we addressed are still issues today,” says Eichler. “We’re patting ourselves on the back for removing soda machines from cafeterias — well, we did an episode about that! I hope the show didn’t just sum up what it was like to be a teenager, but what it was like just to be anyone living in the ’90s.”
Amazingly, 12 years later, Daria has become an undeniable cult classic on par with other late-night MTV shows like the State, and the animated show is now finally getting the proper reissue treatment on DVD. Daria: The Complete Animated Series, which hits stores today, is an eight-disc set that includes all 65 episodes from its five seasons, plus bonus material like the original pilot episode and commentary from Eichler and Tracy Grandstaff, who voiced Daria. (Check out a segment from the pilot “Sealed With a Kick” on the next page.) To commemorate the release of Daria, Rolling Stone caught up with Grandstaff (who now holds an executive post at Comedy Central) and Eichler (who writes for the Colbert Report) to discuss Daria‘s legacy, the show’s rabid fanbase, and what characters like Daria and her sister Quinn would be doing if they were around today.
What took so long to get this show on DVD?
Glenn Eichler: Well, there were two reasons. First, the music licensing was a bit of a nightmare for MTV. They had the rights to play all these songs on the show when it aired but they didn’t have these rights for home video and therein lies the rub. The other reason was that there was always an MTV show that would be a bigger hit on DVD than Daria. It was never a first priority.
Was that agonizing?
Eichler: No, not for me. Some of the fans were beside themselves.
You’re referring to the online petitions, where thousands of fans lobbied for its release. What’s the strangest correspondence you’ve received from them?
Eichler: Very speculative questions: Did Daria and her boyfriend [Tom Sloane] move to the far east? The fans really, really despised the boyfriend storyline in the last season. But I honestly felt that the most likely way she would meet a guy would be through her friend [Jane Lane], that she wouldn’t meet him under normal circumstances. It felt like a fertile area to explore and I stand behind all my decisions.
How did you find Tracy Grandstaff to voice Daria?
Eichler: She was doing the voice on Beavis and Butt-head and Daria never appeared for more than 15 or 20 seconds. And she worked at MTV at the time. Those were all big plusses. The only impediment to getting the job was that her personality was the exact opposite of Daria’s. Tracy is very upbeat and fun and when she’d come to record I’d say, “Be really depressed!” She could not be more unlike that character. Which is good for her!
Tracy Grandstaff: I would always hear, “Speak that line slower! You need to slow down!” The big joke was that they would tell me to go out and drink a lot of Jack Daniel’s the night before.
So what did you base Daria’s voice on?
Grandstaff: I loved Darlene Connor on Roseanne. It really felt like she was the 3-D version of Daria. I used to also joke that I was the poor man’s version of Janeane Garofolo.
Was the show groundbreaking at all when it aired on MTV?
Eichler: Back in those days of yore, MTV’s viewership skewed heavily male. MTV animation wanted to do something that appealed to females. Rather myopically, they thought that show would be Aeon Flux but that was more of a male fantasy show. As far as groundbreaking, I don’t really see that.
Grandstaff: In terms of groundbreaking — other than what? Josie and the Pussy Cats? There was nothing of Daria‘s kind when it was on. And it’s an evergreen show. The problems that teenagers face are the same, the types of groups in school are similar. It’s the same shit that was happening when I was in high school. Whenever I talk to people now, they say, “I was just like Daria!” Everyone had a miserable time in high school.
If Daria was still on TV today, what would she be doing?
Eichler: Well, it’d be 10 years or so later, so she would’ve gotten out of college around 2005. She’d be holding onto whatever job she has at a periodical where they only let her write for the website [laughs]. I always thought the further she got from high school, the happier she’d be. There’s nothing wrong with her. She’s just smart.
What about Daria’s uptight, prissy sister Quinn?
Grandstaff: Quinn would never be unhappy. We used to do this thing in the end credits of the show where we’d show the characters dressed as different characters. For the second movie, we showed Quinn as a tough-as-nails businesswoman. I could see her being that today. Or maybe she works at a nail salon.