If only Daria Morgendorffer could see the world she wrought.
It’s been a decade since the Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn animated series went off the air, but the impact of its eponymous heroine and her deadpan journey through life in the suburbs is still felt. Some of the sharpest female protagonists on television right now can trace their identity, at least partially, to the central figure of MTV’s teen comedy “Daria,” which ran for five season and two TV movies, the second of which, “Is It College Yet?,” found Daria bidding farewell to the high school life she found so trying. While her contemporary, Tony Soprano, spawned a legion of tortured male antiheroes, Daria pulled off a feat less discussed but all the more difficult — she made the world a little safer for brainy, independent, socially maladroit young women everywhere. Here’s a look at a few current TV characters who, but for this turn-of-the-millennium heroine, might not exist.
April Ludgate, “Parks and Recreation”
Snugly ensconced in a forcefield of deadpan sarcasm, April (Aubrey Plaza) is as adept as Daria at deflecting unwanted human emotion, and has earned Ron’s (Nick Offerman) fondness and a place as his assistant thanks to her extreme disinterest in her job. But both April and Daria are also more intertwined with family and friends than they’d care to admit. That’s part of what made April and Andy’s (Chris Pratt) awkward courtship so sweet, and it’s especially true when it comes to the smart, driven, occasionally flighty female role models (Leslie Knope and Helen Morgendorffer) able to pierce their anti-authority defenses and nudge them towards maturity.
Tessa Altman, “Suburgatory”
Live-action Chatswin can be even more cartoonish than animated Lawndale. Both suburbs, and their eponymous high schools, seem specifically designed to thwart anyone with critical thinking skills. Quick wit and intelligence prove a blessing and a curse for both Tessa (Jane Levy) and Daria as they navigate their adopted hometowns. And even if it earns a side-eye from their fashion-clique-commanding nemeses — and Daria’s sibling Quinn is a clear predecessor of Carly Chaikin’s uber-manicured queen bee (and potential Tessa stepsister) Dalia — they both know how to rock a pair of black shitkickers.
Jenna Hamilton, “Awkward.”
At Daria’s former cable stomping grounds, Jenna (Ashley Rickards) carries the torch for level-headed teenagers on a network not typically known for encouraging the cohort’s better angels. More adult than the adults in her atmosphere, she particularly acts as a ballast for guidance counselor/cluster of neuroses Val (Desi Lydic) — who would comfortably fit into the Lawndale High teachers’ lounge, swapping romantic woes with Ms. Barch and relating-to-the-kids strategies with Mr. O’Neill.
Britta Perry, “Community”
If you took Daria’s tendency to belittle anyone who didn’t measure up to her sometimes strident principles, dialed it up a few notches, and then filtered it through the lovably warped lens of Greendale Community College, the result would look an awful lot like Britta Perry (Gillian Jacobs). As the study group can attest, she’s less committed to any ideology than she is to the idea of an ideology, as seen in her failed ventures into anarchism and activism. “Daria” would’ve come along at exactly the right time for a high school- or college-aged Britta to revel in — and, fittingly, learn the wrong lessons from — its adventures in moral superiority.
Hannah Horvath, “Girls”
Removed from her observatory perch on the outskirts of life in Lawndale and coming off of four years of college (at which finding one’s place is part of the point), it isn’t hard to imagine a twentysomething Daria having a lot in common with Lena Dunham’s always floundering protagonist. Like Daria, Hannah has a talent for writing and has embraced her inability to meet mainstream standards of prettiness and success, but Hannah also showcases the vulnerability that’s always lurked underneath Daria’s rejection of the norm — a terror of trying and failing, and an awareness that that’s what growing up entails.