So there’s this Daria episode in the third season called Depth Takes a Holiday. It is the only “holiday” episode ever run on Daria. It is also, among fans, the most hated episode of the entire series.
It is far and away my favorite. I’ve always enjoyed Daria – to this day I can rewatch any episode created before the final season without it getting old. It was the first show to prompt me to seek out the world of Internet fandom and through Daria I came to an understanding current-thought Internet culture, people who used online tools for entertainment rather than education as I had up to that point.
Like most fans of the original run, I was outside the intended target demographic of the cartoon. Perhaps a bit closer than most – I was introduced to it at roughly age 21, still in the demo, but didn’t get into it until age 25, right at the tail end of MTVs target demo. Given how much of the audience consisted of middle aged men that wished they were Daria’s boyfriend (complete with projections onto Daria she likely would have found offensive and/or frightening) it’s a small miracle that the show continued to run for five seasons. Nowadays, it wouldn’t have made it past year two after failing to win audience share back from South Park. But then, Viacom owns Comedy Central too. Maybe it wasn’t an issue. But they did always seem puzzled that more women didn’t watch. The Boomers running the network still didnt’ understand that women in my age group could find South Park more entertaining and relevant. Gendered thinking on their part was Daria’s audience loss because they wouldn’t move the show to a non-competing slot.
While some may argue that Viacom probably didn’t know who their fans really were at that time, in the case of Daria, producers knew exactly who we were. They couldn’t, by contract, admit they read fan fiction or fan boards(and doing so is often regrettable for those who create the source material) but towards the last season the in-house writers gave some definite shout-outs and razzes to their fan base, some directed specifically at certain individuals. I even got a shout-out myself, when Daria and Quinn watched Gone with the Wind together. At one point, Amy Sherman-Palladino asked me via MTV message board where I’d been after I made one of my notorious Trent Lane-apologist arguments. So they knew who I was and knew my friends, though likely not to the degree I Know Who they Are.
With this retrospective understanding of how Daria producers saw us, their fans and at that time core audience, I can see what they were doing now.
Depth Takes a Holiday was an epic troll.
Not only did it make fun of network requirements that they do a holiday episode… it also thoroughly screwed with the middle aged men watching. Daria had a certain status symbol appeal at that time – it was for smart people, or people who wanted to seem smart. It was for intellectuals. There really were people counting the Kafka references in each episode.
The kind of people watching were the ones that NEED to be recognized as smart. As a result of this insecurity they often have little or no sense of humor about themselves. It produces a kind of paranoia that’s beyond easy to provoke – just be silly. Even if the joke’s not about them, they will assume you’re leaving them out and they will go to their negative emotion interpretation of choice: feeling stupid. From there, it’s tantrum city. DTAH was wildly silly.
I wasn’t around for the initial airing but from later discussion I could see the tantrums still echoing.
Depth Takes a Holiday, the “bad” episode, has some of the best lines. It may appeal to me more than others, perhaps, because the holidays – at least Cupid and the leprechaun – really did look and speak like Daria’s initial intended audience. Also, I embrace the silly. I like smart people but sometimes I just want to have some fun rather than stand around being recognized as smart and saying things that sound kinda smart.
This episode was for folks like me. The holiday characters represented the people that were the ones that were smart enough to get what was going on but just didn’t care. They didn’t care if someone thought they were stupid. They got the references – but had no need for someone else to know they got them.
C’mon, the funniest line in the episode was two words and was actually pretty damned aware, if you weren’t being willfully snobbish about sports: “Soccer riot!” Getting the joke takes an understanding of European culture and rivalries – it’s not a clueless joke. I can only imagine how insufferable Guy Fawkes Day as a character would be nowadays.
I have cherished friends to this day from that period of my life. I still drop in on said message board every few months. I would still kill to share a beverage with Amy Sherman Palladino, as long as she helped me hide the body. (Joke, for those who tend to take my deadpan seriously.) But I know who we were – and so did the writers of Daria.
Y’all – we got trolled. Big time. DTAH may be one of the most epic pranks performed via television ever, if only we recognize it as such.