Courtesy of Channel 4
There are a lot of criminally underrated television shows out there, but none are as underrated as “Derry Girls.”
“Derry Girls,” created by Derry-native Lisa McGee, is equal parts charming, heartwarming and hilarious in its depiction of the lives of four Irish teenage girls and one British boy during the Northern Ireland Conflict of the 1990s. The show originally aired on UK’s Channel 4 but was picked up by Netflix for American viewers.
“Derry Girls” is one of my favorite shows because it’s absolutely brilliant in everything it does.
At the heart of the show is the town of Londonderry itself, sometimes called Derry depending on your political swing. Derry, being the second-largest town in Northern Ireland, is filled with soldiers, bomb threats and the tension of a decades-long war. However, Derry is also loaded with quirky and lovable characters that cope with the conflict of the civil war through ridiculous schemes and hilarity.
The show’s protagonists are amusing caricatures of teenagers in the 1990s, especially given the fact that the actors who play them are well past their teenage years. The show’s main character Erin narrates the series, trying her hardest to be as poetic and romantic as possible. Like most teenagers, Erin’s biggest problems seem to boys, popularity at her all-girls Catholic school and her overbearing family.
Erin’s cousin Orla is the quirky oddball of the friend group, who often says dumb or weird stuff for comedic effect. While some TV shows use the dumb friend trope as filler, Orla is anything but. She may not be the brightest, but she’s naive, doesn’t give a care in the world for boys and is a pro at step aerobics. In season two, Orla explains that one of the differences between Catholics and Protestants is that “Protestants hate ABBA.” She’s wonderfully different and doesn’t give a care in the world.
The third girl of the friend group is the skittish and anxious Clare, who tries to be the voice of reason when the girls decide to do something ridiculous. Clare is easily the most lovable of all the characters. She always tries her hardest but can never quite get the hang of anything. Among her many antics, she tries to go without eating for 24 hours to make a political statement about starving children in Africa but only makes it a fraction of the time. She tries to speak Cantonese to the new exchange student who she believes to be from China but is actually from Ireland. Clare is a goody-two-shoes who somehow never actually does the right thing, which is perfect next to the fourth girl in the group, Michelle.
Michelle is the bad girl with dyed black hair, ’90s scrunched curls and an obsession with boys. Michelle is almost the antithesis of Clare in that she doesn’t care about doing the right thing but always manages to get in trouble no matter what. On the girls’ way to a concert in Belfast, for example, Michelle sneaks a suitcase full of vodka onto the bus; the others think the suitcase has a bomb, however, and the bomb squad is dispatched as a result.
Finally, there’s Michelle’s cousin James who moves to Derry from England and is affectionately named an honorary member of the Derry Girls at the end of the second season. James is usually the butt of every joke because he’s the only boy at the all-girls Catholic school. He’s English, and he doesn’t have much of a backbone when it comes to sticking up for himself. Although he is often bullied by the other girls, James is fiercely loyal and tries to be another voice of reason in the group, though often to no avail.
Within Erin and Orla’s family, just as much chaos ensues. Erin’s mother Ma is just as high-strung as Erin and often does stupid things to save her own hide. Orla’s mother Sarah is dumb and ridiculous like her daughter but obsessed with stardom and fashion. The girls’ grandfather hates Erin’s dad and is often seen telling him to shut up and get away from his daughter.
“Derry Girls” is the kind of show where unbelievable and bizarre plotlines occur but you don’t even care. Ridiculous scenes are what make the show perfect. From seeing a statue of the Virgin Mary cry to falsely being accused of cursing and killing their great aunt, every offbeat plot in the show will have you laughing out loud and falling in love with the flawed but hilarious characters.
Beside the girls and their families, there’s also plenty of unique and funny characters that parade around Londonderry. There’s Sister Michael, who runs the all-girls Catholic school with a glass-half-empty type of attitude, and there’s Father Peter, a young, handsome priest who captures the girls’ hearts in a bid to finally prove the existence of God.
“Derry Girls” screams the 90s in everything that it does. The outfits in the series are trips back to a time of perms and funky jackets and super high-waisted jeans, although none can compare to the girls’ classic school uniforms. On top of that, the soundtrack flips from traditional Irish music to classic 1990s hits, including songs like “Zombie” by The Cranberries, which is about the Irish Conflicts.
The show perfectly captures the awkwardness of growing up and trying to figure life out. In the first ten minutes of the first episode, the girls decide to add denim jackets to their Catholic school uniform but are quickly forbidden to wear them by their mother.
When Clare meets up with the girls and sees them without their denim jackets, she exclaimed, “What’s all this? I thought we going to be individuals this year!”
“Look, I wanted to, Clare, but my Ma wouldn’t let me,” Erin responded.
“Well, I’m not being an individual on my own,” Clare said frantically, throwing her denim jacket on the ground.
However, Erin and her friends also have bigger problems in their lives than setting fire to the local fish and chip shop and being individuals. They’re living through the Irish Troubles, in which the Irish Catholics were fighting the British Protestants in a series of bombings and attacks that lasted decades.
The most interesting part of the show is how mundanely the characters seem to perceive the war. It’s not that they don’t care; it’s that they’ve been living with it for so long that it’s all they know. In the first episode, the girls’ school bus has trouble getting to school because of a bomb threat on a local bridge. Instead of being worried, their parents argue about how they’re going to get to school. When a soldier enters the bus with a huge rifle in his hands, Michelle comments on how good-looking he is.
The Irish Troubles seem to be the least of the girls’ problems, but some scenes show the parents crowded around the television waiting to hear for a ceasefire. In these scenes, “Derry Girls” is just as heartbreaking as it is hilarious.
In one scene, Erin’s crush and prom date doesn’t show up to take her to the dance. Just as she’s miserably walking upstairs to take off her expensive prom dress, the doorbell rings and the door opens to James standing outside, ready to take her to prom. In the last episode of season two, James’s mother comes to Derry to take him back to England on the same day that American President Clinton gives a speech to the town about the end of the conflict. Cut with actual footage of the real Bill Clinton actually giving a speech in Derry in the 1990s, James decides to stay in town and proclaims, “I’m a Derry girl!”
“Derry Girls” is the kind of show that you rewatch over and over again and it never gets old. I’ve watched it at least four times and I die laughing every time. If you need a new Netflix show to watch over the holidays, you can’t do any better than “Derry Girls.”