The Irish sitcom, BAFTA nominated “Derry Girls,” first aired in the UK on January 4, 2018. Recently, Netflix released its second season, which, as was the first, is comprised of six episodes. The second season, like its predecessor, takes place in the early 1990s, during the last years of The Troubles. The series revolves around five friends in their teens, who reside in the town of Derry, which is located in the north-western part of Ireland. The teen girls consist of: Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), she is the main protagonist of the series, who is intelligent and a bit self-centered. Erin’s behavior is indicative of typical teenage behavior, where everything is magnified ten-fold, whereas an adult, would find Erin’s impending sense of doom laughable. There is also Erin’s cousin, Orla (Louisa Harland), who more than occasionally, in spite of being physically present, has her mind somewhere else. Next, there is Clare (Nicola Coughlan), a girl who is perpetually worried about, well, just about everything, especially getting in trouble at school. She’s the moral compass of the friends, who is always there to lend her unsolicited and ignored advice, when it comes to the group avoiding getting into their latest dilemma In addition, there is Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), who, in spite of being the foul-mouthed, rabble-rouser of the group, is still a generally good person, at the core of her nature. Lastly, there is Michelle’s cousin, the kind-hearted, James (Dylan Llewellyn), who is from England. He socializes with the girls, because he doesn’t have much choice in the matter, but is often taunted and teased by them. James is, in fact, the only male student that has permission to attend school with the girls, at Our Lady Immaculate College. The reason for this is his family fears, given the time period, for his well being, if he were to attend the all boys school. (As an aside: The Troubles in Northern Ireland lasted from 1968 through the Good Friday Agreement, which took place in Belfast, on April 10, 1998. The Troubles centered on a political and nationalistic conflict, between those in Ireland, who yearned for a united Ireland, apart from British rule, and the largely protestant population of Irish people, who wanted to remain loyal to England. The violence that sprang from it, produced a great deal of bloodshed, as well as several thousand deaths. Those of you who are interested, should delve deeper into the subject, because it is a very involved history).
One of the aspects of the show that I like, is that it doesn’t focus on The Troubles, to an overwhelming degree. The Troubles exist, but for the most part, they are relegated to the periphery of the show. The series creator, BAFTA nominee Lisa McGee (Being Human), has stated in interviews, that she purposely structured the series, in the aforementioned way. She had no desire to present Ireland as a dark, dreary place, where everyone was walking around on guard, and feeling miserable.
The five friends frequently get themselves into trouble, usually of their own making. One of the things I enjoy most about the show, is seeing how they collectively come together to figure a way out of whatever predicament they find themselves in. The friends’ decisions, on how best to proceed to get themselves out of trouble, more often than not, yields very funny results. For example, in the episode “The Concert,” a polar bear has escaped from the zoo, which coincides with the girls wanting to go to Belfast to see a fictional boy band called “Take That.” This is the first time the band has appeared in Northern Ireland, and the girls fear it might be their only chance to see the band. The girls decide no escaped animal is going to keep them from seeing the concert, so they lie to their parents and get on a bus to Belfast. The only problem is, that while on the road, the bus is stopped by British soldiers, and when one of them asks the girls if a suitcase belongs to them, they deny it, causing everyone to have to evacuate the bus, so it can be searched by the bomb squad. The truth is, that the suitcase belongs to Michele, who has loaded it up with vodka, but is afraid to admit it. The series’ creator, who based parts of “Derry Girls” on her own upbringing, has a good deal of sympathy for her characters, so while they do get themselves into trouble, which is sometimes exaggerated for comedic purposes, they’re never placed in too much peril.
Nostalgia for the 1990s, especially as it pertains to the music of the early 90s, also plays a part in “Derry Girls,” much in the same way that pop culture references frame the 1980s in “Stranger Things.” As with “Stranger Things,” the world was a more innocent place, as pertained to the use of technology, back in the early 1990s. The girls and James, can’t interact via text-message on their smart phones, or instant message one another on a computer, but must actually meet up face to face to converse, or at the very least, call one another on a landline phone. Furthermore, bullying, as wrong as it is in any form, was confined mostly to school in those years; social media, and the way it is used today as a tool by some cretins to go after certain students for a variety of reasons, wasn’t in existence back when the show takes place.
Additional members of the cast, who appear in each of the episodes include, Erin’s family: her 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 also the school’s resident snitch, Jenny Joyce (Leah O’Rourke). In addition, the role of Sister Michael, the headmistress of Our Lady Immaculate College, is portrayed by Siobhan McSweeney (Porters). McSweeny brings a good deal of nuance to her portrayal, and her commentary, that is often laced with cynicism, is some of the funniest dialogue on the show. The adults, in general, on “Derry Girls” are neither intrusive, dull, nor are they more entertaining than their teenage protagonists. They have the right amount of screen time, to let the viewer know, that the girls and James are cared for, but it doesn’t take the focus off the teens, where it should be, for any great length of time.
As I stated when I reviewed season one, the series certainly won’t appeal to everyone, but for those of you who are not easily offended, I would recommend giving it a chance. The episodes are no longer than 30 minutes in length, so after an episode or two, you’ll get a general sense of what the series consists of. The first and second seasons are currently available to stream on Netflix. As of the writing of this post, “Derry Girls” has been renewed for a third season. The series will continue to air on Channel 4 in the UK. No word yet, on when the third season will begin filming, or when it is expected to premiere.
Overall, “Derry Girls” tends to steer away from pathos, and focus more on lighthearted, comedic moments in the girls’ and James’ lives, even though, they are living during a tumultuous time in Ireland’s history. I would imagine, that most people, regardless of where they grew up, will be able to identify with a great deal of what the girls and James are going through as teenagers, where, as stated earlier, every problem is magnified. My only problem with the second season of “Derry Girls” is that it takes next no time to watch, so I would have welcomed more episodes.