Daria centered on a smart, overtly cynical, upper-middle-class teenage girl, Daria Morgendorffer, dealing with day-to-day life in her American suburban town, Lawndale. Series co-creator Glenn Eichler in a 2005 interview gave the otherwise unspecified locale as "a mid-Atlantic suburb, outside somewhere like Baltimore. They could have lived in Pennsylvania near the Main Line, though."
For comedic and illustrative purposes, the show's depiction of suburban American life was a deliberately exaggerated one. Daria's hometown of Lawndale was filled with archetypes, and Daria herself served as the series' observer. In The New York Times, the protagonist was described as "a blend of Dorothy Parker, Fran Lebowitz and Janeane Garofalo, wearing Carrie Donovan's glasses. Daria Morgendorffer, 16 and cursed with a functioning brain, has the misfortune to see high school, her family and her life for exactly what they are and the temerity to comment on it."
The show follows Daria through her high school years, ending with her graduation and acceptance into college. Daria and her best friend Jane Lane share their droll observations about their school and life. Though Daria initially has a crush on Jane's brother Trent, who plays guitar in a local rock band, her attraction remains unrequited, as she never reveals this to him.
The dynamics among the characters change during season four, when Jane begins a relationship with Tom Sloane, son of one of the town's richest families. Though Daria is hesitant to accept Tom at first, she and Tom find themselves becoming closer, culminating in a kiss in the season finale. The emotional and comedic turmoil among Jane, Tom, and Daria was the centerpiece of the TV movie Is It Fall Yet?, and fueled some of the subsequent final season's stories.