Derry Girls Brings Raucous Humor and Teen Angst to ’90s Northern Ireland
It is a truth universally acknowledged that everything is heightened when you’re a teenager. The combination of roiling hormones and nascent adulthood amplifies every emotion, every crush, and every argument. Now place that teen drama against the backdrop of a decades-long ethno-nationalist conflict where armed soldiers walk the streets and bomb scares are a part of daily life.
Welcome to the world of Derry Girls, a teen comedy set in ’90s Northern Ireland amidst the Troubles, the ongoing conflict between the Protestant British Loyalists and the Catholic Irish Nationalists. The series follows melodramatic Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her flighty cousin Orla (Louisa Harland) and their friends, uptight Clare (Nicola Coughlan), boy-crazy Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn), who is forced to attend their all-girls Catholic school out of fear that the Irish boys will beat him up.
It’s wildly refreshing to see a teen series centered around a group of girls stumbling through adolescence and the requisite drama, panic and angst that go along with it. The talented cast have terrific comedic chemistry together, and their group scenes, often revolving around a harebrained scheme, reach hysterically funny heights. Classic teenage experiences, like after school jobs, editing the school newspaper, or attending a party quickly reach a fever pitch as the girls unwittingly cause havoc in their small town.
The series, created and written by Lisa McGee (London Irish), allows the girls to be fully formed characters. They smoke, drink, curse, lie, and stumble through the pitfalls of adolescence while remaining steadfastly loyal to one another. The series also finds plenty of humor to mine in the girls’ parents and the deadpan school principal Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney in a scene-stealing role), who cleverly subverts the “mean nun” cliche.
The wacky teen comedy is deftly woven in with the Troubles, which become a part of the community’s everyday life. Roadblocks and bomb scares become mundane complaints about traffic. A weekend camping trip becomes urgent as Erin’s family seeks to get out of Derry during The Twelfth, a Protestant parade with the potential for violent conflict. A school talent show goes gloriously off the rails as another devastating bombing hits Northern Ireland.
With only six half-hour episodes, Derry Girls is a quick watch (although I recommend watching it with subtitles to catch all the Irish slang). Though we’re only in the first week of the new year, Derry Girls is already laying claim as one of the most delightful series of 2019. Do yourself a favor and check it out on Netflix.
(image: Channel Four/Netflix)
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