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Derry Girls Season One Review

"The Irish Inbetweeners?"
Derry Girls was heavily promoted by Channel Four in the UK and the network has struck gold with their Northern Irish coming-of-age comedy. Set in the ‘90s in the city of Derry (or Londonderry, depending on your persuasion) Derry Girls focuses on five friends growing up in the city. There is Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), a typical 16-year-old girl, her ditzy cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), the necrotic Clare (Nicola Coughlan), the hard-drinking and crass Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn). Together they navigate the trial of growing up during The Troubles. Derry Girls was written by Lisa McGee and based it on her own experience growing up in Derry. The show has already been compared to The Inbetweeners – and there is certainly some truth in that assessment. The creators of The Inbetweeners based their show on their growing up experiences, both shows are focused on a group of school friends - and the four girls in Derry Girls share the same basic traits as the Inbetweeners. Erin is like Simon, the 'normal' one, Orla is as dim-witted as Neil, Clare is a stickler for the rules like Will, and Michelle is the Jay. Like Simon from The Inbetweeners, Erin harbors feelings for someone of the opposite sex who she embarrasses herself in front of – although in Erin’s case the man doesn’t realize she has a crush on him. Whilst Michelle is the crude member - willing to swear the most and embarrasses others - using terms like fanny (in Britain and Ireland it means vagina) - and is the troublemaker, her main concern is getting drunk. The school principal, Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney), is a bit like Mr. Gilbert because she is an eye-rolling type who gives out some biting comments, but she's not as aggressive as her English counterpart. The Inbetweeners has had a huge legacy in the UK and beyond. Shows like Some GirlsDrifters, and Big Mouth have copied its formula and The Inbetweeners movies were so successful that many other comedy shows in the UK have opted for movie adaptations. The copycats have had mixed levels of success –Some Girls was a fun show that lasted for three seasons whilst Drifters, which lasted for four, was just crass crap. What many of these copycats do is focus on the crude humor, showing various forms of bodily fluids, and swearing. There is some of that type of humor in Derry Girls – the first episode has James being so desperate for to pee that he urinates in a trash can. Yet Derry Girls's humor goes beyond that. The characters each have their faults, including Erin’s selfishness and not being as enlightened as she thinks, but they still are generally a likable bunch and well played by the actors. Despite the actors being in their 20s (or, in Nicola Coughlan’s case, 31), they were convincing as a group of schoolgirls who get into trouble and they have brilliant comedic timing. All of them have a moment to shine and hopefully they will all have long careers. I personally found Michelle and Clare to be the funniest characters in the show because they are a clash of personalities, whilst I related with Clare and James the most. The five leads are all unknowns and most of the adult cast members are only really known in Ireland. The biggest name in the show is Ian McElhinney (AKA Barristan Selmy from Game of Thrones) who plays Grandpa Joe, a nonsense type who constantly berates his son-in-law - calling him a "slack Southern shite." McGee is a successful writer in the UK - she worked on shows like Being HumanIndian Summers, and another Irish themed comedy London Irish. She ensured that Derry Girls was filled with hilarious lines and set-pieces throughout its run – some of my personal favorites are when Michelle steals a notice board, a mishap when trying to clean the local fish and chip shop, the pressures of studying for a history exam, and Erin’s reaction when an IRA man reaches into his pocket. The second episode is my personal favorite, but the quality is strong throughout its run. The show is set in the Catholic, Nationalist side of Northern Ireland, so for me there were fears that the show was going to be a parade of Brit-bashing. Fortunately, that was not the case. Michelle makes digs against her cousin for being English, but this could be put down to the fact that she has to share her home with him – the rest of the group are accepting of him. Although Michelle dislikes James for being English, she is not above fancying a British soldier or a member of the Orange Order (with a twisted logic behind it). Although I have to say, if James' mother is Northern Irish than surely that makes James half-Irish. There is humor about The Troubles and both sides get a fair amount of mick-taking – a Ukrainian exchange student (Diona Doherty) gives an outsider’s opinion and she sees the conflict as a bit illogical. Orla enjoys the Orange Order piper music, and considers joining them despite the Orange Order having a dim view of Catholics. One joke in the show is a Protestant boy accidentally ending up in Catholic Derry and just wanting to get home. It’s humorous, but it does highlight a dark undercurrent in Northern Irish society at this particular period, because the communities are so segregated that Protestants and Catholics don’t have any contact with each other. Whilst The Troubles play a part in the show it is just everyday life for the girls. The girls are not fazed by soldiers on the streets and they have concerns that a lot of people can relate to – they want to do well at school, meet people from the opposite sex, and have fun – typical teenage stuff. Even people who do not know much about The Troubles can enjoy the show. As a child of the ‘90s I enjoyed the soundtrack in the series, featuring bands like Blur and Cypress Hill. Whigfield’s “Saturday Night” even led to a little number dance and Dropkick Murphy's’ guitar riff from “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” makes a regular appearance. Derry Girls has already been commissioned for a second season and it is one of the better comedies to come from a British broadcaster for a while. I look forward to seeing what else the girls and James get up to. But because of the school setting the show should only last two or three seasons, like The Inbetweeners and Some Girls.
  • Well-written characters and jokes
  • A great cast
  • Relatable, even if you didn't grow up in Northern Ireland
  • The '90s soundtrack
  • Only some minor gripes


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