Warning! Mild spoilers ahead:
“Look, I wanted to be an individual but my ma wouldn’t let me.”
Within the first five minutes of the series one premiere, Derry Girls, created by Derry-native Lisa McGee, poised itself to be a riotous throwback to the sort of teenage shenanigans most of us stumbled our way through.
Taking place in 1990s Northern Ireland, smack dab in the middle of The Troubles, the show centers around the optimistic Erin, her out-there cousin Orla, the disastrous Clare, boy-crazy Michelle, and Michelle’s cousin, the “wee English fella” James. Together, the merry band of misfits wreak havoc in their convent school, the local chip shop, and all over their British-occupied city.
A hilarious look into the real lives of teenage girls (and one boy), Derry Girls shows just what it’s like to be an unlikeable girl. Not to say that the characters are unlikeable, but these aren’t the sort of watered down, palatable teen girls that are often portrayed in media. And for that, the show is better.
Michelle’s tactless. Clare is often spineless. Orla happens to be purely unhinged. And more often than not, Erin has a bit of a holier-than-thou complex. They lie to a priest, set an apartment above a chip shop on fire, and...well...I don’t think I can fully explain the awful hilarity that is the scene with Sister Declan in Episode 1. There's an entire episode centered around the girls (and James) lying to a priest that they witnessed a holy miracle, just to get out of an exam.
The girls make horrible faces, say horrible (hilarious) things, and wear some truly horrible 90s fashion. But never once do they feel anything less than actually real, the sort of girls (and James) you can see you and your friends in.
For so long, the divide between teenage boys in media and teenage girls has been dishearteningly large. While the boys have been allowed to be raunchy and awful and real, the girls have to be still likeable, still pretty, still surface level. But recently, the tides have been shifting.
With Derry Girls' breakout success, due in large part to the Netflix merger that’s led the show to international audiences, it marks another example of newer, popular media leaning into the gross (and yes, I do mean gross) of teenage girlhood.
While each episode of the show is connected in a linear way, there aren't many overarching plots that span the series. Instead, each episode is woven to the next through the relationships that the girls have with one another and their family. While this can could across as a bit contrived in a lesser show, the writing of Derry Girls is so tight and clean it instead puts the friendship at the forefront. This allows the audience to develop feelings for the characters, not just the big, dramatic plot.
I can't even choose one element of the show to pin as it's strongest. Between the wonderfully believable acting (I was shocked to find out that Nicola Coughlin who plays Clare is 30 years old) to the gut-busting humor of the script, each episode is a masterclass in how comedies should be shot and written.
Complete with a truly jam-packed soundtrack, tacky hoop earrings, and actual historical context, the show delivers on its period-piece promise without being alienating to the modern viewer.
Series one lasted six episodes, with each newest addition layering on both jokes and complex intricacies to the characters themselves, with the final episode of the series focusing on Clare’s coming out as a lesbian. Despite the often embarrassing-to-watch schemes the girls fall into, Derry Girls is a smash hit destined to become a proper classic.
The series two finale aired on April 9th, with a series 3 renewal announced shortly after.