Last year, on Thursday, January 4, Channel 4 launched what would become one of their most popular comedies to date. All anyone could talk about was Derry Girls... ‘Are you watching Derry Girls?’ ‘You must watch Derry Girls!’ ‘It’s got Tommy Tiernan as the dad! Tommy Tiernan!’
The raw, rampant gra surrounding Lisa McGee’s creation was so huge, it was enough to turn you off watching it all together — which, I’m afraid, something yours truly fell foul of. Indeed, I’d never watched Derry Girls until this commission.
Why not? Perhaps it was just a feeble rebellion, or maybe it was being saved for a mental rainy day. Or, possibly, I just didn’t want to see Tommy Tiernan shouting for half an hour...
Either way — with the transmission date for series two looming — not only am I trying to persuade you it’s worth all the Twitter hype, after finally binge watching it, I’m now convinced it’s not just The Inbetweeners set in a different town, in a different decade — but with added Tommy Tiernan, less vomiting, and only a few passing references to Clunge’s more familiar cousin, Fanny.
No longer do I wonder if the show merely had people guffawing maniacally around their couches because January 4 is generally when most people are in a post-festive doom spiral and, therefore, primed to laugh at anything. Okay so. Here are the reasons why Derry Girls is a bona fide hit.
Episode one starts with a whimsical voiceover while the camera pans the landscape: “A place called Derry, or Londonderry — a troubled little corner in the north-west of Ireland.”
As the camera closes in on the angelic-looking Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), you realise her cousin, Orla (Louisa Harland), is reading aloud from Erin’s secret diary. And thus, the tone for the series is set.
To be honest, he doesn’t do much, a refreshing surprise. ‘Da Gerry’ is your average Irish daddy; mostly mute, somewhat gormless (on account of living with his overbearing father-in-law) while intermittently staring like a frightened rabbit with both comedic and poignant effect.
Jenny Joyce (Leah O'Rourke) and Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney) in Derry Girls, Channel 4
Hilariously relatable given every convent had a Jenny Joyce (Leah O’Rourke); an annoyingly pedantic prefect, who is a proper weapon on account of her control issues.
The Original Father Stone, you may remember him from his stints on Shay Healy’s Nighthawks (part of RTE’s rebranded Network 2 lineup circa 1988), which saw him drone on and on (and on) about everything and anything. MacAleer’s appearance is somewhat fleeting and sees him pretty much peddling his shtick as borefest Uncle Colm. The genius of this is that it gives you enough of a nostalgic glimmer without over-egging proceedings. As for the lovely locks; they’re all his.
Jamie Lee O'Donnell as Michelle Malone in Derry Girls, Channel 4
Much like Jenny Joyce, everyone had a Michelle Malone in their class — and actress O’Donnell nails it in every scene. For those who have never experienced a Michelle, consider her a more finessed version of Jay from The Inbetweeners. Her cousin is “the wee English fella”, James (Dylan Llewellyn), who is “visiting” from England (his mother, Michelle’s aunty, “went to England for an abortion and never came back...”). He is the only boy in the convent, as the general consensus was if he attended the local Christian Brothers’ school, he’d be beaten up — because he’s English.
You can’t go wrong with a tracklist featuring House of Pain, Dropkick Murphys, The Cranberries, REM, Salt-N-Pepa, Ini Kamoze, and Snow’s Informer , alongside a smattering of En Vogue and a stirring acapella rendition of Wet Wet Wet’s Love is All Around. Okay, so the The Bluebells’ Young at Heart and The Corrs also feature, but it’s all about balance, hi.
Voted the most popular character by the show’s global viewers, her latent cynicism and barely-concealed hatred of naval-gazing priests is both hilarious and heart-warming.
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It’s not just the fashion — complete with quiffs, gel-laden body waves, bunched socks avec Docs, satin bomber jackets, crop tops, and the worst fitting jeans known to humanity — you are also catapulted back to a time when you couldn’t collect your private photos from a shop without “yer wee docket”.
The onslaught of one-liners is so prolific, it’s near impossible to select just a few. But if you find yourself tittering at the mention of “What were you doing up Pump Street with a Cream Horn, Da?”, the concept of swearing on the life of Dolly Parton, and an existential chat about who is and who isn’t “a dick” (“Pat Sharp is definitely a dick”), you are in for a treat. The slew of colloquialisms are used appropriately and mostly declared in proper Duuuuuhrrreey accents — anyone who cannae unnershtand can go an’ shiiiiiete, hi. In other words, there isn’t even a whiff of trying to dumb it down for a wider audience, hence its success.
Derry Girls went global late last year and it has taken American audiences by storm. Sure, despite viewers’ best efforts, the majority had to succumb to the subtitle option, but they stuck with it. Why? Because it features a female-led cast that knows their own minds (despite Claire’s reluctance to “be an individual by myself”) and stick by each other no matter what, all against a backdrop of bombs and gun-toting soldiers.
The fact that it perfectly melds the satire of Father Ted, the bizarreness of Moone Boy, and a faint hum of Mrs Brown’s Boys, means it was bound to be a success.
However, what really hits every viewer is the subtle dichotomy of relatable teens, seemingly living their lives as carefree “dicks” while people are being killed by bomb blasts in neighbouring streets... No one wants to go back to that.
Season two of Derry Girls, Channel 4 on Tuesday at 9.15pm