The Dog Days of Summer

Daria: Is It Fall Yet?

Daria wasn't a show I would have pegged for long-form storytelling. It's strength lay in the fact that it was a light, breeze show that had its characters show up, have a little adventure (that was low on stakes, as they were just high school students), and then go home to perform another round in the next episode. It's part of why MTV was able to run long marathons of the show -- you could dive in at any point and just start watching without the worry of missing storylines.

But then at the end of third season and all through fourth season the show flirted with an actual serialized story. Normally characters didn't change from one episode to the next and even if they seemingly broke up on one episode they'd be back together in the next one. But then Jane got a boyfriend, Tom, and over the course of the fourth season Jane and Tom greew together, grew apart, and then Tom and Daria got together. This created a rift between Daria and Jane that, since the Jane/Tom breakup happened at the end of the season, wasn't able to heal before the season finale ended. What was the show to do?

Most series would have kept something like that for the premiere of the next season, but Daria took a slightly different route; it produced a made-for-TV movie called "Is It Fall Yet" that served as a bridge between seasons four and five and, more importantly, provided the closure needed from that cliffhanger.

In "Is It Fall Yet?", Jane goes off to an art collective for the summer to find herself among likeminded people. Daria, meanwhile, is stuck at home without anything to do (or any desire to do it). She spends a good week sleeping in until the late afternoon before her mother kicks her out and make her take a summer camp counseling job at Mr. O'Neil's "It's Okay to Cray Corral". Oh, and after getting together with Tom and deciding the two should date, Daria then finds basically every excuse she can to hate Tom and break up with him. It's a summer of fading relationships and then trying to repair them after.

"Is It Fall Yet?" is interesting first because it's one of the few times Jane and Daria have plot lines without the other character being involved at all. At the very least they usually check in with each other, share what's going on, and use each other as sounding boards for their misadventures. Here, though, we don't get that kind of back and forth until the very end of the episode, right when the two make up and become friends once more.

As if in answer to my notes in the last review, this movie also finally gives us realy background on Tom. His family is rich, country club rich, but they seem nice and supportive. Thing is that Daria resents them because they have old money, but really she resents Tom because she views them as coming from two different perspectives. In reality, though, what she really resents is herself for liking Tom and "stealing" him away from Jane. So she holds the money, and the connections, and all the other rich people trappings against Tom for no real reason.

The camp is really a minor B-plot mostly there to show that Daria can connect with people and be a real person once in a while. There's a young kid there who resetns his own parents for their divorce and the only person that seems to be able to get through to him is Daria. But, of course, he resents Daria, too, because she's older and is trying to connect. It's nice to see Daria attempt human connection, but it's not really a new story for her. We've seen her put herself out there before, so her doing it here feels like a restread of old ground.

The other major plot focuses on Quinn as she realizes her friends are holding her back. They all are perfectly happy being dumb, C-at-best students but Quinn wants more, knows she can do more. So she hires a tutor and, eventually, actually puts in effort. This is the kind of growth her character needed because, honestly, she's be a vapid void for four seasons so far. If anything this kind of growth for her character comes rather late in the run, maybe too late, but I'm still happy to have it at all.

So yes, aside from one B-plot that really doesn't so anything for Daria (and, hell, it might come back around in the next season -- I honesty can't remember if it's referenced again), there's a lot to like in this movie. It pushes the characters forward in a lot of respects and really forces growth on everyone. It's amazing that the series was willing to make this many big changes for the characters, but even more surprising they did it in a TV movie.

That's the thing that's so peculiar about this movie (and, really, the series finale movie as well): despite this being such a pivotal piece of the series, most viewers never get a chance to see it. If you watch Daria on streaming services (such as Hulu, where it resides right now) you can't find the movies. The episodes are all there, but the movies are generally not included in the package. If you want to see this TV movie you have to own the DVDs for it (which I do). It's tragic because this is essential viewing for Daria fans and I doubt most viewers catching on to the series now will ever get a chance to see it.

If you have a chance, and you're a fan, do yourself a favor and pick up the DVDs. In this age of streaming services, they are one of the few must-buys left.