Admittedly, when I heard Channel 4 was producing a sitcom in mid-troubles Northern Ireland, I had my doubts. Although, they do say comedy equals tragedy plus time, and Derry Girls proves just that. Created and written by actual ‘Derry Girl’ Lisa McGee, this fast paced, joke per minute, smash hit tackles the troubles, and comes out on top.
McGee takes the humour established in her first Channel 4 show London Irish, and brings it full form in this raucous sitcom. In all the countless portrayals of troubles era Northern Ireland, none demonstrate the take it on the chin humour, that carried a nation through political conflict, as well as Derry Girls. The show represents“ ordinary people in extraordinary times,” by giving nod to the factory girls, and the all important chippies that held the city together. McGee’s decision to put women at the front and centre of her second comedy, is no accident either, tired of the “very violent and very male” portrayal of the troubles, she instead taps into the “very female strong” aspect of the city. This unique perspective on a troubled time, makes for a stellar all female comedy ensemble, unlike anything else on TV at the minute.
The show heralded as a “female Inbetweeners,” focuses on catholic school girls Erin, Orla, Clare and Michelle, along with “the wee English fella’ James,” as they navigate their teenage years. The core four tackle the real issues of the time: rival schoolmates, chasing boys and trying not to get expelled. Each character somehow manages to feel familiar in their own way, bringing their own brand of comedy to the show. Saoirse Jacksons deserves all the awards, if only for unique facial expressions as Erin, while Clare’s (Nicola Cloghlan) weekly breakdowns, work to remind you of the sheer melodrama of your formative years. The foul-mouthed Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’ Donnell) brings crass wise cracks that for a Derry person, ring a little too true. Meanwhile, the eccentric innocence of Orla, (Louisa Harland) and the utter confusion of James,(Dylan Llewellyn) juxtaposes brilliantly against the tense backdrop of the show, which at many points is reduced down to a sheer inconvenience.
The tough love humour of the city, is exemplified in the family’s treatment of Gerry, (Tommy Tiernan) Erin’s father and the only Southerner in the family. The culture clash is epitomized in a hilarious episode where the family is forced to deal with the IRA head on, when one sneaks into the boot of their car when they try to cross the border. The setting allows for this kind of unique situational comedy, which cements the shows mass appeal, allowing it to bring in nearly 3 million viewers in its first night.
No Irish comedy would be complete without a nun or a priest, and Head Mistress Sister Michael does not disappoint. Her dry wit and questionable faith, already have twitter calling for her own spin off. Complete with a knock out 90s soundtrack, that I’ve had on repeat since it dropped on Spotify, Derry Girls had all the makings of a coming of age hit, and its success is more than deserved.
In this instance, writing what you know has really paid off, as the show has already been renewed for season two. Show creator Lisa Mc Gee sums it up when she commented that “sometimes the toughest places to live are also the funniest.” Being a comedy, the cities violence takes somewhat of a back-seat to the gallivanting of the teens, even so we are reminded of fatal events of the troubles, in its final episode. Played out by the late Dolores O’ Riordan of the Cranberries, we watch the Quinn families solemn reaction to an attack reminiscent of the Omagh bombing, in contrast to the girls dancing at school, unsuspecting of the tragedy unfolding elsewhere. These poignant final moments, bring needed pathos to the show’s otherwise light-hearted humour, and ground it in real events of that time.
So if you’ve not seen the show, catch yourself on, and gone do yourself a favour by catching up on All 4 now. Also, for all you non Derry folk, yes subtitles are available.
by Alannah Fleming
Alannah Fleming is a 24yr old politics graduate from Ireland, who is somehow still surviving in Glasgow. She spends most of her time watching YouTube, regretting not being a teen YouTube sensation, and overall just trying her best. She enjoys bad slasher movies, freaking out at Shonda Rhimes’ story-lines, and all the work of David Fincher. Her favourite movies are La La Land, Gone Girl, Grease and Obvious Child, and you can bet she will fight you to death on why Fight Club (despite its embarrassing fan base) is still a good film. Find her on Instagram at lanafleming and giving Twitter another go at AlannahSFleming.