'Daria Returns, And It's Pure Poetry
By David Bianculli

The teacher has called for volunteers to create an art poster reflecting modern teenage life. One classmate draws a picture of a lovely blond girl gazing at her own reflection in a vanity mirror, and her collaborator offers a poem as a caption.

It sounds like a sweet scene from "The Brady Bunch," but this isn't Marcia Brady doing the drawing, and the poem is much more sour than sweet. It's a scene from tonight's second season premiere of the MTV cartoon series "Daria," and the poet and artist are respectively, maudlin high schooler Daria, and her friend Jane.

Hence, Daria's poem for Jane's drawing goes something like this:

"She's knows she's a winner,
She couldn't be thinner,
Now she goes in the bathroom
And vomits up dinner."

Daria Morgendorffer, a former classmate of Beavis and Butthead's, is just as out of place in Lawndale as she would be in "Dawson's Creek." Her vocabulary is a match for the attractive teen of that new WB series, but her self-image isn't. In spirit, she's closer to the outcast teens of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"- except she has no demons to hunt.

Daria's demons, instead, are her popular but vacuous younger sister, her usually distracted parents, and her largely unsympathetic and disapproving teachers and fellow students. When asked to justify her poem, Daria says dryly:

"All the emphasis on appearance today can be dangerous. The girl's very pretty, and your first reaction is, 'Oh, what a happy teenager.' But maybe that's not the whole story.

"Maybe that prettiness comes at a price....The choice of words was deliberate, to contrast with the beauty of the image and shock the viewer into paying attention."

After that, the issue becomes one of freedom of expression: Should the poster by Daria and Jane be allowed to run in the school competition? And if not, how should Daria respond to the censorship?

Daria, a master of irony, would relish the irony, that her series and its noncomformist messages run on the same network as "House of Style," where fashion is both the ruler and the rule. Daria is not unaware of peer pressure; she just doesn't buy into it.

To celebrate the launch of new episodes of "Daria," MTV not only is presenting tonight's new episode in the regular Monday 10:30 p.m. slot, but is filling two additional hours of prime time (8-10) with reruns from the show's first season. If you missed "Daria" the first time around, or weren't taping the episodes, it's the perfect preamble to a new batch of episodes.

Though Daria is a cartoon, her attitudes are a lot more real than many of her flesh-and-blood counterparts around the TV dial. And while her former buddies, Beavis and Butt-head spent most of their time watching MTV, you get the sense Daria, for the most part, wouldn't be bothered.

But watching "Daria," on the other hand, would suit her just fine.

Sick, Sad World (the site) was created by Wraith