Lawndale High's budget crisis forces Ms. Li to seek an alternate source of funding. She finds it in Leonard Lamm, who arranges funding from Ultra Cola in exchange for a few "considerations"... an arrangement that doesn't pass Daria's "smell test."
Lawndale High is facing a severe budget crisis, due to voters having turned down a property tax increase for a third consecutive year, and its effects are being felt everywhere: Mr. O'Neill has to hand out faded photocopies of reading assignments, the maps in Mr. DeMartino's room are outdated, Ms. Defoe's class runs out of red paint, and the field trip to the planetarium by Ms. Barch's class has to be cancelled. Ms. Li, however, doesn't act until she finds out that the football team can't buy new equipment. She turns for help to Leonard Lamm, a marketer for the soft drink companies, who lays on a heavy sales pitch: allow soft drink companies to bid on an exclusivity agreement for the school, and in exchange for some product placement and a few "unobtrusive" ads, the school will get $50,000. Ms. Li goes for it in a big way, and schedules a school review meeting for Super Bowl Sunday (and gives a low-key verbal announcement over the P.A. to ensure that no students inform their parents). Daria tries to convince Helen and Jake to go, but they're going to Eric's Super Bowl party, so she goes herself. She tries to reason with Lamm and Ms. Li as to the questionable ethics of what's being planned, but her statements fall on deaf ears. As a result, Ultra Cola machines and advertisements soon show up everywhere in the school. Determined to see this situation end, Daria tries to convince Jodie to speak up, but although she doesn't think very highly of it herself, she's nevertheless under the spell of funding for her extracurriculars, and when Daria tries to press the issue, Jodie calls Daria on her lack of conviction to back up her words with actions. When Tom finally convinces Daria to take action, she and Jane go to see the superintendent of schools. Although Daria makes another impassioned argument, Superintendent Cartwright isn't convinced, and when Daria challenges him to just "come to Lawndale High and see for himself," he says he'll think about it. Soon, Lamm tells Ms. Li that Lawndale High isn't meeting the quotas set forth in the contract, and if she wants the money, she'll have to increase consumption by the students. This leads to an all-out Ultra Cola barrage, with the school and everything associated with it (teaching materials, football and cheerleader uniforms) decked out in Ultra Cola colors and logos; in addition, she bribes the football team with higher grades if they consume more Ultra Cola. Unfortunately, the team consumes so much that they get sick, and they have to forfeit a big game against the Oakwood High Taproots. Ms. Li eventually goes over the edge, going on a caffeine- and stress-induced rampage through the halls and smashing open Ultra Cola machines to get the students to drink... all in front of Superintendent Cartwright, who had finally taken Daria up on her request to see things for himself. Ms. Li is hauled away in an ambulance, but Daria's victory is only a partial one: even though most of the Ultra Cola stuff is removed, what remains serves as a more subtle influence on the students.
Ms. Barch - Class, our planetarium trip has been canceled due to lack of funds. So your assignment tonight is to locate Orion the Hunter in the sky, then write an essay on why you think he needs to carry a weapon to feel like a man.
Jake - I have to spend another Super Bowl with a bunch of freakin' lawyers?! And their freakin' lawyer highballs and lawyer cigars?! Lousy stuck-up...
Helen - Jake! I called in some favors around the office and found five people who promised they'd talk to you.
Jake - You did?
Jane - You owe me hugely for making me miss the biggest football game of the year.
Daria - You hate football.
Jane - Hey! Don't try any of your twisty-turny mind games on me, Morgendorffer.
Kevin - Ultra... Ultra Thompson. "Now starting for the Miami Dolphins at quarterback, Ultra... Cola... Thompson. Hooray!" Yeah, it's cool.
Daria - Do you think I complain a lot?
Tom - What are you bitching about now?
Jane - You owe me hugely for making me get involved in school district politics.
Daria - What are you talking about? I just asked you to walk me here. You're not even going in.
Jane - Hey! Don't try any of your rhetorical gymnastics on me, Morgendorffer.
Ms. Barch - Today we'll discuss the planets' relative distance from the sun.
Upchuck - But we did that two weeks ago, Ms. B.
Ms. Barch - And now we're going to do it again, Charles. Unless you wish to spend the period in independent study?
Upchuck - (shivers in fear) No... not the closet.
Ms. Barch - "Why, look, students. A three-dimensional model of our solar system, graciously provided by Ultra Cola. Ultra Cola: the favorite beverage in any universe." (sighs) "We can use it to discuss which planets' atmospheres might support the process of carbonation." Or I can just spend the rest of the day in the teachers' bathroom, staring at the tiles. (walks out of classroom)
Mack - Ms. Li, are you sure you want to do this?
Ms. Li - Just what are you saying, Mr. MacKenzie? It's unethical? Immoral? In direct conflict with my role as an educator?
Mack - Well, yeah, but mostly I was thinking I'm the only one on the team who can count by halves.
I'm sure that a lot of public schools have budget problems (OK, most probably do), but the extent to which it was shown with Lawndale was kind of hard to stomach, especially that this was the first time that there was any ever clue to the school running out of money. If they don't have a certain book in a class or need red paint for one class, they could probably scrounge up a few bucks for it from so-called "activity" fees that most, if not all schools have (or if they're really desperate, they could even ask the students to get their own supplies). Of course, once we know of the money problems (and presumably Ms. Li does as well), the whole thing doesn't become a "crisis" until the football team is running out of equipment.
Insane Leading the Innocent:
One has to wonder how Ms. Li has kept her job, or at least flew under the radar long enough to survive without too much trouble. She's obviously paranoid about pretty much everything. She didn't want anyone at that review meeting for fear of causing a big stink. She's not too good with finances, or doesn't really care too much about them. Then she probably went outside her authority as principal to make that deal with Leonard Lamm and then Ultra Cola. Then, once that sleazy deal was in place, she tried to bribe students to make sure her end of the deal was held up. Mack, the smart guy that he is, even got her to admit how unethical it was. To top it all off, that sugar/caffeine induced rampage couldn't help her stature as "fourth runner-up for Principal of the Year from the Asian Women in Education Caucus." Hopefully the superintendent will keep a closer eye on her in the future.
On the Lamm:
Mr. Lamm isn't the kind of guy you want to have anything to do with the running of a school. He didn't even represent any one particular soda company, he was more like an agent for the school. All he did was convince Li that he was looking out for her, er, the school's best interests. That charmed her into agreeing to pretty much anything he put in front of her, including the soda machines, "discrete" advertising, etc. When the whole thing went "sour" when the school wasn't meeting its quota, he made Li "take it up a notch" which amounted to a full-scale bombardment of Ultra Cola. This guy was a mercenary, only out for himself (I'm sure he got a cut).
Funny Word of the Week:
Quinn's "dip-saster" had me laughing.
If Anyone Has a Reason That This Deal Should Not Be Made, Speak Now...
A school review meeting on Super Bowl Sunday, at the same time as the game? Now there's a guaranteed full house. I wonder why Lamm and Li bothered to even make those grandiose speeches just for Daria and Jane, they were going to do what they wanted anyway. And the oddest thing was that no one else could have cared less, most especially Helen who, Super Bowl or no, usually has something more to say about this kind of stuff (like in "Arts 'N Crass").
I think we can all agree that the way Ultra Cola was placed into Lawndale high was wrong. Forcing teachers to mention the product while using specially designed "study aides" in their lessons isn't right, and the principal of the school shouldn't be trying to compel students to use any product. But, does the fact that a school has drinks made by only one company necessarily mean that they are endorsing it, as Daria suggested? If we're talking about what ultimately happened at Lawndale with Ultra Cola, then yes. However, in some schools if you go to their cafeteria, they only have one line of drinks because it's just easier for them to deal with one supply as opposed to two or more. Sure the soda company would probably hope that a few of the student develop some brand loyalty and drink their pop in the future, but if they really tried the marketing blitz that happened in this episode, all the bad publicity it would probably generate wouldn't be worth their while. Though, I completely understand why Daria would be apprehensive of the deal (especially because Ms. Li was in on it) and why most people would be uncomfortable with big corporations having "exclusive" deals with schools. It makes me uncomfortable and should be carefully considered before even entertaining the idea.
Despite what you just read, Daria was right to be upset about her school's apparent sell out. No one else was; they all got something out of it. But that was her problem, she's not really a "doer" anymore, but she had to be one in this case. As Tom told her in his one scene (which was one of the bright spots of the episode), you can bitch and complain all you want as long as you try to do something about it. Also, it's worth noting that Daria's motive to complain was out of some sort of care for her fellow students, which is surely a change for her. Even though she can't stand most of them, she sort of fought on their behalf. Finally, did Daria's complaining to the superintendent really accomplish anything? It seems that way, but he was going to visit Lawndale eventually for something.
Fast Forward of the Week:
It seems that we have lost about six months of Lawndale time (which makes the chance of a sixth season seem even slimmer). The last thing we saw in "Is It Fall Yet?" was the start of school, and then we jump to Super Bowl weekend (which is in January). Then we skip ahead another four weeks later to see the effects of Ultra Cola's proliferation. And while we're one the subject of timing...
Temporal Anomaly of the Week:
Does Lawndale High have an XFL team now? (I realize that anyone reading this in a few weeks might not remember what the XFL is.) Since when do high schools play football in February? Unless, in Lawndale's parallel universe, they play all year round (why else would Kevin almost always wear his pads).
Lawndale's superintendent didn't seem to want to do anything about the Ultra Cola situation when Daria went to see him. He saw her presence as a way for her to get extracurricular activity. Anyway, he didn't seem too concerned with it; Lawndale was running a surplus (a for-profit public school?) and everyone seemed happy. When he finally saw first hand what was going on, he acted to make it right.
"Fizz Ed" never felt right. It had the feel of a let down after all of the emotionally charged material at the end of season four. There was a message in there, that corporations shouldn't be interfering too much with education, but it was drowned out by the fact that the whole soda deal was taken to an extreme so far removed from reality that it was too obvious what was wrong. I understand Daria's problem with it, but for her to come to that conclusion so quickly, especially before it all got out of hand, didn't feel right to me. The message got muted because it was oversimplified. Other than that, it was like a "shout out" to the fans of season one Daria, except that now she cares about the other students and doesn't do anything (everyone remember "This Year's Model"?), as opposed to the other way around. The ads were going away anyway. "Fizz Ed" probably would've fit better in the middle of the season.
Daria as a Whole #1, Alter-Ego of the Week:
Actually there isn't one. Send your complaints to MTV. The Alter-Ego of the Week category has officially been retired (though I was going to do that anyway).
Daria as a Whole #2, Product Placement:
It'll be interesting to see how much reference to Ultra Cola there will be in future episodes. I'd guess hardly any signs that it was ever there will remain.
Daria as a Whole #3, Stolen:
Do I think the plot of this episode was stolen from Rey Fox's fanfic? Again, I don't think so. There are so many fics out there that every episode probably has fanfic elements to them; this one just has a lot more.
Copyright © 2001 Mike Quinn [All Rights Reserved]. Used with permission. The views presented in this review are those of the author, and may or may not necessarily be those of Outpost Daria.