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Tracee Ellis Ross on Bringing MTVs Daria Universe Back to Life With Jodie

When MTV approached Tracee Ellis Ross about developing a revival of the beloved animated series Daria through the eyes of Daria Morgendorffers friend Jodie Landon, she jumped at the chance. “I was in before we even sat down,” Ross said by phone, through a torrent of laughter. “They felt that I would be the right voice to bring Jodie to life, and I was like, whaaaaaaat? It was the perfect mash-up of all of the things that I want represented in the world.”

Ross will star in and executive produce Jodie, an animated series that MTV Studios expects to be the first in a number of spin-offs in the Daria-verse. The original, which ran on MTV from 1997 to 2002, was a deadpan satirical delight that took on the high school experience through a wise and wisecracking white girl named Daria Morgendorffer. A spin-off of Mike Judges Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria was born out of MTVs desire to create a show for young women. (“[T]hey were getting a lot of flak for not really representing women on the air, outside of Spring Break,according to Tracy Grandstaff, a writer on Beavis and Butt-Head who originally voiced Daria.)

Daria and her artistic best friend Jane Lane were avatars of surly feminist nerdiness, outsiders kicking against the conformism of their suburban school. One of the few other students Daria genuinely respected was Jodie Landon, an African-American girl who managed both scholastic excellence and popularity. But she shared Darias critical bent, sometimes commenting on her token role as a model black student at her largely white high school. As Jodie pointed out to her football star boyfriend, Mack, during the homecoming parade, “We may be tokens, but were damn good-looking ones.”

While Daria had the privilege of rebelling and withdrawing, Jodie felt compelled to excel. At the end of the original series, she decided to attend a historically black college instead of an Ivy League university, telling her parents she “wanted to stop being the black kid and just be a kid.”

“Jodie was woke before woke was a thing!” Ross noted—making her a conscious, complicated role model on an animated show full of “that off-kilter, witty, smart-girl sense of humor.” Jodie was such a nuanced character that she became almost as much of a cult figure as Daria: Phoebe Robinson and Britt Julious have both testified to the characters influence on their lives as young black women, while a 2017 BuzzFeed video asked of Jodie, “Is This the Most Important TV Character of the 90s?”

“To have the sidekick character move to the forefront is a real metaphor for what is happening in our culture,” Ross said, noting that there hasnt been an adult animated show centered on an African American female character for more than a decade (BETs short-lived series, Hey Monie!). “Allowing in those voices that have been pushed to the fringes, that have lived full and extraordinary lives on the edges of what culture has deemed as popular—it feels exciting and apropos.”

Jodie, created by Insecure and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writer Grace Nkenge Edwards, who also serves as head writer, wont return to Lawndale High. Instead, it picks up as the characters graduate from college and enter the working world. Jodie, reimagined as a member of Gen Z, “will navigate through all of these different areas, from tech culture to call-out culture to how race and identity makes its way into the workplace,” Ross said—as well as “how you start to explore identity when you are becoming an adult, when youre no longer in the safety of your parents home.”

Although the series is called Jodie, fans can expect to see Daria and other familiar faces pop up as well. “There will definitely be cameos,” Ross promised. “We have definitely discussed the idea of Daria making her way through.” Chris McCarthy, MTVs president, expects Jodie to be ready by early 2020, and sees it as a first foray into a Daria Universe—like the Marvel Universe, but with snarky nerds in place of dazzling superheroes. “With Grace and Tracee, we have an incredibly powerful team here to reinvent this franchise,” McCarthy said, with other spin-off series and movies potentially to follow.

MTV Studios has been steadily mining its archives for franchise-able material in the last few years, most recently returning to The Hills, and reviving Punkd and Singled Out for Quibi, a new digital platform (one of whose executives, Doug Herzog, is a former head of MTV). The Jodie announcement comes in a week when Sony Pictures Animation similarly announced that its developing “a complete reimagining” of Aaron McGruders landmark African American animated series The Boondocks. Attracting a diverse audience—in terms of race, but also age—is an obvious part of these shows appeal.

The original Daria gang

© MTV/Everett Collection.

McCarthy said that focus groups and discussions with viewers ultimately showed the place these characters still held in fans hearts. “People dont like Daria and Jodie—they love them. Theres a deep, deep passion,” he said. He hopes the series will lure back some of the shows original fans along with their kids, but its stories will be firmly focused on Gen Z concerns.

“We want to give it a really fresh, contemporary voice,” he said, which also means bringing in a new creative team. “The first generation of MTV animation gave so many people that first start, and so we thought it was really important thatRead More – Source

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