By some odd quirk of timing,MTV - which I've never forgiven for popularizing Pauly - chooses this same night to premiere a show that's every bit as smart as Pauly is stupid. Though animated, it's less of a cartoon. Daria (***,MTV,tonight at 10:30 ET/PT) is a half hour weekly spinoff of Beavis and Butthead, starring the dour teen hipster who's almost too smart for her own good. Here's the ultimate "whatever" girl, possessed by the subversive spirit of a Janeane Garofalo. "Ex-cuse me?" she says, impasive and droll, as she witheringly observes life's absurdities, including a bitterly raving history teacher, platitude preaching guidance counselors and her concerned, clueless and easily manipulated parents. The antithesis of her popular and perky sister Quinn, Daria ia a make-up free heroine who says, when accused of having low self-esteem:"I have low esteemfor everyone else." This is one of the funniest and most real high school comedies of the 90's, cynical enough to appease oversaturated multimedia consumers yet with fondness for even the most caricatured of Daria's "interesting idiot" classmates. "I hate it when the trays are wet," moans dumb-blond Brittany in the cafeteria. "That which does not kill us makes us strong," mutters Daria. Brittany: "Is that from a song?" Imagine what Daria would think of Pauly. Not much.

March 3. 1997

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