Derry Girls is the show about your awkward teen years that you need to watch
Let’s talk about Derry Girls for a minute: In the current, over-saturated TV landscape, the Netflix series cuts through the clutter. For those who are unfortunate enough to have not seen it yet, Derry Girls is a perfect high school sitcom about five friends attending an all-girls Catholic school during The Troubles in Northern Ireland. The stunning ensemble of supporting characters include a very underwhelmed nun who hates her job, a mother who can’t even believe that her daughter wants more than what she has, and a father who will never be good enough for his father-in-law. The specificity of the characters is what makes the show great.
By setting the series during The Troubles in Northern Ireland, a turbulent time in history, Derry Girls uses real-life historical moments to strengthen the comedy. It takes shots at the British, devoting an entire episode to the Irish Catholic girls’ school getting to know the English Protestant boys’ school. Yes, of course it breaks down that historical conflict, but what really matters is how this time period relates to the main characters.
This description might make the series sound like historical fiction, but I can assure you that Derry Girls is a sitcom—a character-driven sitcom. It never feels like the writers are spinning their wheels, trying to put these well-developed characters in goofy situations so the audience can get a quick laugh. These characters inhabit a world that is not beautiful or easily put together—their homes and schools are a mess. If you were hoping for a lighter teen show à la Saved by the Bell or Boy Meets World, you’re not going to find that here. Derry Girls digs into the grungy, real, and hilarious world of actual high school teenagers. Protagonist Erin leads the group of five friends with her anxiety and brown-nosing, and her life is our way into their reality. Erin lives in a dream world where her high school poetry is good enough to impress her very cool teacher and win a Pulitzer. She’s every one of us who ever shushed other students so that the teacher could talk. (I’m a life-long Erin.)
Clare, Erin’s second-in-command, is a hyper, stressed-out possum of a girl who is struggling with her sexuality and trying to protect her reputation. She’s terrified of authority—pointing to the fact that high school brings out all kinds of tendencies, from brown-nosing to rebelling. We all fell somewhere on that spectrum growing up. Personally, I was a teacher’s pet through and through and see myself most in Clare.
Michelle, the loud, brash outgoing misfit of the group, just wants to kiss guys and not take shit from anyone (her badass eyeliner is a subtle, perfect touch). Orla, tagging along with a very vacant look in her eyes, somehow slides through every scuffle untouched. And finally, James, who is British (built-in conflict! We love it!) and goes to their girls’ school because everyone fears that, as a Brit, he’ll get the shit beat out of him at a Northern Ireland boys school. (They’re not wrong.) This is one of those instances where the writers use of history sharpens comedy. For two seasons and counting, James has been able to provide context for jokes referencing the time period because it’s cleverly built into his purpose on the show.
“With conflict ravaging their doorstep, they are still most worried about impressing their cool teacher and keeping their diaries out of snooping hands.”
The main conflict of the leading characters’ lives is not The Troubles, so that’s not the focus of the show, either. They’re worried about school papers, meeting hot Protestant boys, and making goo-goo eyes at hot priests (they did it first, Fleabag). The audience POV is that of the girls, not of the outside world. Their interactions, needs, and wants are the highest stakes in the game. With conflict ravaging their doorstep, they are still most worried about impressing their cool teacher and keeping their diaries out of snooping hands.
In this group of friends, each of their strengths is another’s weakness, and that’s where their relationships work so well. Characters are pushed out of their comfort zones by each other, immediately yielding wonderful and hilarious results. Michelle’s overtly sexual behavior pushes the sexually immature Erin to try her best to flirt, while Clare’s need to people please consistently gets in Michelle’s way.
Derry Girls is spectacular. Who among us hasn’t pretended that we’re giving a speech to thousands while we’re sitting in our bathtub? Its gritty, honest, raw, bright, and ultimately hilarious detailed world resurrects my high school self that just wants to headline the ninth grade talent show and be seen.