I’m a sucker for Britcoms and coming-of-age stories. So Netflix hit me right in the algorithm when it recommended Derry Girls. Originally airing on Channel 4, this ’90s-set sitcom follows five friends through their turbulent teen years growing up in Derry amid the Troubles, a “low-level war” between Catholics and Protestants. While that might sound intense, the girls’ day-to-day struggles involve such comic obstacles as an enraged chip shop owner, a flirtatious foreign exchange student, a beguiling IRA member, and an unhealthy obsession with dance aerobics. In short, it’s good, weird fun.
Created by Lisa McGee, Derry Girls will thrill Inbetweeners fans. Though less blue than that boy-centered series, it’s easy to see parallels between the two shows’ central friends. At the center of this series is Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), the group’s hopeless romantic and its most easily irritated member. Erin often aspires to greatness—be it wooing the dreamy David Donnelly who’s in a band!—or taking over her high school’s newspaper. But her reach reliably exceeds her grasp, making for hilarious hijinks.
Her cousin Orla McCool (Louisa Harland) is loyal but almost criminally stupid, meaning she’s the Neil of the group. Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) is their Jay, a horny and arrogant big-mouth who reliably gets the group into trouble. Which makes worry-wart Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan) their Will, smart but absolutely terrified of irking any given authority figure. Instead of a sneering principal who might date her mum, these girls have a sneering nun (scene-stealer Siobhan McSweeney) who rolls her eyes with a gloriously ungodly disdain. And then, rounding out this motley crew of “girls” is Michelle’s cousin James Maguire (Dylan Llewellyn), who is always the odd man out as he’s English, a “dick” (according to Michelle), and the only boy at their all-girls academy.
Over the course of season one, this fivesome gets into a wild range of trouble, from potentially smuggling a wanted man across a checkpoint, to framing the IRA for a house fire, faking a religious miracle, and being accused of murdering a nun. Yet the tone of the series is always bright, even when mercilessly irreverent. This is in part due to the lightly camp performances of the cast, who are always mugging and crackling with jokes, and in part thanks to an editing style that relishes in a hard cut to land a more provocative punchline. But it’s not all high school shenanigans. McGee also shines a mirthful light on the home life of the Quinns, building amusing bits with Erin’s moony aunt, her mother’s obsession with laundry, and her grizzled grandfather’s ongoing efforts to oust her dear dad from the family. (In an unexpected similarity to Rick and Morty, her put-upon dad’s name is Jerry! Well, Gerry.)
Between family and school misadventures, McGee carves out a world that’s distinct yet familiar. Even if you never had to face the vandalism and violence of the Troubles, you can likely relate to the girls’ sloppy struggle to seem cool, woo a cool boy, or stumble into self-discovery. Or perhaps you connect to the familial bickering that is barbed but loving? Or maybe you too knew a Catholic priest who had a swoon-inducing power over every parishioner he came in contact with? (Ours was nicknamed “Father What-A-Waste.”)
In all this, McGee offers a tender insight about this tricky and deeply stupid age, where we are hormone-driven monsters with egos that are big and brittle, and concerns that are petty, even when the world around us is at war. Derry Girls develops a world that’s familiar enough to make us cringe in recognition, but daffy enough to allow us to laugh even in the face of tragedy. With just six episodes, it’s an easy binge. And its season finale offers an enchanting blend of small victory and major upset that will make you hungry for more.
Season one of Derry Girls is now on Netflix. Channel 4 is making a second season, but its debut has not yet been announced.
Header Image Source: Netflix