“Derry Girls” is an Irish sitcom which first aired in the UK on January 4, 2018. The series takes place in the early 1990s, in the town of Derry, which is located in the north-western part of Ireland. The sitcom centers primarily on four female friends in their teens, who attend Catholic school at Our Lady Immaculate College. The group of girls consists of: their ostensible leader Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson). She is creative, often times self-absorbed, but still a good person; Erin’s cousin, the quirky, Orla (Louisa Harland); the kind-hearted Clare (Nicola Coughlan), who is a bit high strung and is the type of person who is always worrying about getting into trouble. Clare’s behavior contrasts with Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), the bad girl of the group. Michelle, in actuality, is more of a rule breaker and risk taker than the others, but is really not a bad person. She is just a typical teenager trying to navigate those tumultuous years. Michelle’s cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn), who is from England, socializes with the girls, but is often the brunt of their jokes and put downs. He is the only male student permitted to attend the girls’ school, because his family fears for his safety if he were to attend the all Irish boys school. Additional members of the cast, who appear in each of the episodes include, but are not limited to, Erin’s family: Erin’s father, Gerry (Tommy Tiernan); her mother, Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill); her aunt Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke); and her grandfather Joe (Ian McElhinney).
There is a good deal of humor interjected into each of the six, half-hour episodes that comprise the first season. The seriousness, however, of the conflict and political strife that existed at the time, referred to as ‘the troubles,’ while not front and center, is also not ignored by the series’ creator, Lisa McGee (Being Human). For example, in one episode, Erin’s family, and her close friends, leave Derry in order to avoid getting caught up in a march being held by The Orange Order. The order, based primarily in Northern Ireland, is a group of approximately 34,000 men, who are dedicated to upholding the Protestant faith and liberty under the law.
One of the reasons I think the series works well, is because McGee allows the girls to be teenagers, even though, as is often the case, they are being played by older people. In general, the girls face realistic problems for their age, such as how to earn money for a class trip, or how to figure a way out of whatever trouble they’ve gotten themselves into with the school’s headmistress, Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney). The only difference is that because the series takes place in Northern Ireland in the early 1990s, the girls live with the ever present problems of ‘the troubles’ always on the periphery of their lives.
Additionally, another aspect of the series that I found refreshing, is that the girls and James, talked like teenagers; they didn’t sound like people in their late 20s. I remember watching certain shows, that shall remain nameless, which aired in the 1990s, that had their characters converse in dialogue that sounded completely disingenuous. In addition, “Derry Girls” does provide, as does “Stranger Things” for those who didn’t come of age in the 1980s, a glimpse into the time period, and, in essence, of how much simpler the world was at the time. For example, cell phones were for the most part in their infancy. A person could make and receive phone calls, take a low resolution picture, as well as send and receive a text, but that was the extent of it. Cell phones weren’t the hand held, mini-computers, that they are today. Social media was years away from coming into use. There was no Facebook or Twitter, so, if you were a teenager, you had your friends, who you saw every day, and socialized with after school and on the weekends.
I don’t want to reveal too many more specific plot points than I already have about the series. That would be doing a disservice to those of you who want to watch it. The sitcom certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but if you’re not easily offended, I would recommend watching at least the first two episodes, to get a sense of the series. The first season is currently available to stream on Netflix. As of the writing of this post, the second season of “Derry Girls,” will air on Channel 4 in the UK, in March of this year. No word yet, on when Netflix will make the second season available for streaming.