Interview with Anne D. Bernstein

KW = Kara Wild
AB = You know who

KW: Glenn Eichler seems to be emphatically opposed to any form of Daria and Trent 'shipping. What are your feelings about them pairing up and about the Daria/Tom relationship?

AB: Well, when you are writing for a show like Daria, you try to tell the truth about the world as you see it. And my take on the whole Daria/Trent relationship is that in the "real" world, it is highly unlikely that a girl like Daria would end up with a guy like Trent. He is simply a strong infatuation and it was always fun to play with how Daria was usually in control of herself, but found herself quite flustered around Trent. Eventually Trent did catch on that Daria had a thing for him (see the open eyes in "That Was Then") but he would never lead her on too much. Sorry, the smartypants in boots does not actually get hot and heavy with sexy, slacker musician dude. At least that never happened to me. Sigh.

As for Tom, I didn't have anything to do with developing his character. I, for one, do think that it is believable that Daria would end up with someone who dated her friend first--so common in high school--and that it would be possible for Jane and Daria to work through that and remain close. I personally found Tom a bit dull, but I think there was a need for at least one male in the series to be intelligent, competent, social, and somewhat "pulled together". (Note: the screwed up ones are so much more fun to write for!)

KW: What kind of person could you see Daria ending up with? Is there anyone on the show (besides Trent and Tom) who you think would suit her?

AB: All I would say is someone like her: smart, funny, maybe with their own set of emotional baggage that compliments hers. No one who was on the show that I can think of, except maybe some guy in the background whose potential we never explored.

KW: You seem to be the writer behind a lot of episodes that deal with the cultural trends, such as Alternapalooza/Lalapalooza ("Road Worrier"), retro culture ("Life in the Past Lane"), the 60's ("That Was Then, This Is Dumb"), and hyper-scheduling/political correctness ("Pinch Sitter"). Was this on purpose, or just a coincidence?

AB: I guess those are just things I think about! At the beginning of every season, the writers would submit episode premises to Glenn, who would then decide which ideas would make it into the season (with lots of back-and-forth, of course.) I would often pitch plots that would allow me to vent on topics that I was interested in or to amuse myself by slipping in details about things that I know a lot about. "Pinch Sitter" was based upon my own babysitting experiences. I was heavily into the swing dance scene when I thought of Jane dating a retro guy. That one just seemed a perfect way to contrast Jane's willingness to try new things (and deal with guys) with Daria's overly cautious approach to human interaction. (And if you are into swing/retro culture, you will get the subtle nuances.) "That Was Then" was inspired by my older cousin who was a classic ex-60s baby boomer guy who "went through changes" throughout the decades-and he did have a dog who wore a bandana. "Road Worrier" just seemed like a good idea at the time, and I was really excited to write the first Daria/Trent story with heavy duty sexual tension! I also love flea markets (see "That Was Then") and was very annoyed by dot-com bullshit (see "Sappy Anniversary").

KW: Of the episodes you wrote, which is the one that you are most proud of and which do you wish you could have written better?

AB: I like a lot of them, but I guess I would choose my first episode "The Invitation" which was written when there was so little established that it was a great challenge. And it was really cool when I got to come up with characters and details that lived on throughout the entire series. Yes, I made up Upchuck!

I'm not being coy here: there aren't any episode that I am even close to being ashamed of.

KW: Even so, are there any episodes where you've thought, "I could have written this scene or conversation better"?

AB: Nope, it's not something I obsess about.

KW: Are there any storylines that you wish you or the show could have covered during its run?

AB: I'm sure I could dig up some rejected premises, but nothing springs to mind.

KW: Were there ever times you had to step in and tell Glenn or one of the male writers, "Girls don't say/do things like that"?

AB: Never. In fact, I really hate when people (mostly I'm referring to people who hire writers) get the idea that women should obviously write female characters, males are better at males, gotta get the ones fresh out of college to write for a young demo, etc. If you are a good writer, you should be able to write for a variety of characters. If you are alive and look around, you can observe plenty of people of the opposite sex. Maybe you even live with them! Personally, I loved writing for Jake and I was not male, middle-aged, married, with kids, a consultant, the product of military school, living in the burbs, or known to repress my anger until totally freaking out. (Um.. now I guess I am middle-aged!) Note: Occasionally, I would take pride in a line that I thought was real girlie, like "Sheer, semi-sheer, or opaque? Textured!"

KW: Who were the easiest and hardest characters for you to write?

AB: As mentioned, I just had some weird connection with Jake. I loved anything to do with the Trent/Daria dynamic. And I was so happy when Stacy finally stood up to Sandi-and I helped to make that happen! I'd say Mack was the hardest to write for, because he remained rather perfect and was the least complex character of all--he was somewhat underdeveloped in the first place.

KW: Were there ever any plans to put out a third Daria book or any other supplementary materials?

AB: I was not privy to anything having to do with merchandising. I was simply offered the job to write The Daria Diaries. So I have no idea. (I wish I bought more T-shirts when they were available! And my Daria coffee cup is cracked.)

KW: How "canon" was the information on the MTV website (ex. Tiffany's last name being Blum-Deckler) and in the books (ex. Helen and Jake's wedding vows, Quinn's glasses on the bedside table in her room)? Were these things you just made up for fun, or were they parts of a rough story bible?

AB: I had to make up a ton of stuff that did not yet exist for The Daria Diaries. And then it all became part of "the Daria Universe" so people had to follow what I established! With great power comes...well, you know. Actually, the original bible was very short and succinct. When I worked on the website and the diaries, I just tried to come up with "telling details" as I went along.

KW: So it's safe to say that Tiffany's last name really is Blum-Deckler, and Stacy's Rowe (both names were on the website)?

AB: Yes.

KW: How come in the Daria Diaries, you went into detail about Jake's childhood (the letters home) but not Helen's? It has the effect of making Helen seem more two-dimensional because her actions don't appear to have a deeper explanation, a sense of pathos attached to them the way Jake's do.

AB: Well, the book was awful short, did you notice? (Not my decision!) So I just tried to come up with a Table of Contents that would include features about all of the main characters. Helen had those email to and from Eric, which seemed like something appropriate. There was no conscious decision to put more emphasis on Jake's background. But Helen's family appeared in the series, so I think her childhood was sufficiently covered.

KW: Did you, or anyone else attached to the show, ever sneak onto the fan websites during the show's run? Have you read, or do you ever intend to read, fan fiction?

AB: I have never, ever read Daria fan fiction! May I repeat myself? I have never, ever read Daria fan fiction! Simply because I didn't want to take any chance of possibly being accused of being inspired by it. And I won't read it now, either. But I applaud your creativity! I did, however, read the boards on occasion (which is how I know that we were accused of being inspired by fan fiction!) And I did see some of that X-rated art, because how could I resist?

January 20, 2006

Essential DARIA DVD music