Tuesday 26 March 2019

Derry Girls returns on a high, with hope, hilarity, and some lovely wee Protestant boys

Series two, episode one review

Derry Girls, Channel 4
Derry Girls, Channel 4

Holly Hughes

After a poignant finale that had fans reaching for the Kleenex and a comforting cream horn, Lisa McGee’s (Raw, London Irish) Derry Girls returned to our screens tonight.

The success of a comedy series following the lives of four precocious teenage  girls in “a troubled little corner in the North West of Ireland”, might have seemed dubious. Yet Derry Girls has been Channel 4’s biggest comedy launch since 2004 and has gone on to  global fame – despite its use of a vernacular barely comprehensible to the rest of the world (we all tried valiantly to catch ourselves on).

So what can we expect writer McGee and director Michael Lennox (The Back of Beyond) to extract from the lives of the girls, the wee English fella, and the family second time around?

**WARNING: SPOILERS FOR DERRY GIRLS, SERIES TWO, EPISODE ONE**

After series one ended with the rupturing news of a bomb attack; season two sets about building bridges. In the first episode, which aired on Channel 4 tonight, the girls (with wee English fella in tow) attend an outreach program with Protestant boys in an attempt to overcome religious prejudices. Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) seems to have grown up considerably, waxing poetic on the peace she wants to build between the communities. “We’re doing it for peace alright,” Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell) says. “A piece of their fine Protestant ass.”

Read more: ‘It’s ‘Slainte, mother*******’ being shouted at nine o’clock in the morning, walking back from the gym’ - Derry Girls reveal impact of show ahead of new series 

As the students struggle to find similarities between Catholics and Protestants, building bridges might be harder than they thought – particularly when Clare (Nicola Coughlan) finds herself dangling from a rope held by a Catholic-hating Protestant in what Coughlan described as “the worst day of my life”.

Speaking of Clare and her, as Coughlan describes them, “s**** the tights” cliffhangers, viewers will be delighted to learn that, after a faltering exit from the closet last season, Clare has no intention of going back in again. While some characters still struggle to accept the existence of the luckless James (Dylan Llewellyn), Clare’s sexuality is supported from the get-go and, surprisingly – or, perhaps not, given his love of obstinate contrariness – it is good old Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney) who takes it upon himself to champion the voices of lesbians everywhere and educate himself on the talents of this new people. Giving K.D. Lang and by extension, Clare, the nod of approval they’ve been waiting for in inimitable Joe fashion, his support is summed up in a back pat, a wink, and sumptuous one-liner: “You’re a very talented people.”

This positive encouragement doesn't prevent Clare and James from engaging in a slightly disturbing, hilariously intense battle for some male Protestant attention, the passionate commitment to which is only be rivalled by the man-grabbing saga Michelle and Erin valiantly undertake. Cornering, propositioning, swapping, and generally terrifying the male populace in the quest for a harmonious religious union – Sister Michael cover your ears – the girls are determined to do everything they can to ignore Ma Mary’s shrewd advice to not come home pregnant.

A stand out character in the first series, the sardonic Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney) makes a welcome appearance in the first episode of season two. No battle of will, principle, unrequited love or gender could ever overshadow the all out war between Sister Michael and the luscious-locked Fr Peter (Peter Campion), who returns to once again ponder the meaning of it all in sultry tones and wistful gazes into the middle distance. Prepare for a barrage of Sister Michael’s favourite expletives and eye rolls so dramatic you’ll be left wondering if someone should call an ambulance.

Elsewhere, with Ma Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill) and Da Jerry (Tommy Tiernan) keen to rekindle a frisson of romance with a night out to the cinema and Aunt Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke) fanning the flames of ardour with Ciaran (the photo stickler mad for red tickets from series one) perhaps hope for harmony, peace, and romance is on the horizon. Unless, of course, you’re the superstitious type who will read into the fact that Mary and Jerry’s chosen date night movie is The Usual Suspects and is gatecrashed by, well, the usual Quinn suspects.

With rumours of a family wedding and Bill Clinton’s Presidential visit to Derry all expected to feature in future episodes, perhaps progress to harmony –  in the Quinn household and possibly the North itself – is on the horizon. Writer Lisa McGee points to the hope evident in series two: “Derry Girls is showing us coming out of uncertain times".  With Ardal O’Hanlon set to join the cast this season and Kevin McAleer to reappear as Uncle Colm, there are many reasons to be hopeful for the continuing excellence of Derry Girls, even despite the devastating news that Orla (Louisa Harland) won’t be pursuing step aerobics. However, before we mourn the loss of the legwarmers, be assured that Orla has a new calling which is sure to keep audiences entertained.

Read more: 'What date of birth did I say?' - Derry Girls' Nicola re-enacts Nadine Coyle's famous Popstars passport gaffe she used to get her audition

With the launch on Netflix of the first series, Derry Girls has reached across cultural and linguistic divides with its portrayal of the adolescent experience. "There is something universal about being a teenager,” says McGee. “That sort of selfishness – everybody can remember being like that”. Derry Girls resonates because it’s the cringe-inducing comfort of the familiar – the raw pain, sexual confusion, the family experience of growing up, and it's all as evident in the new series opener as it was throughout the first run.

The show’s success has been embraced by Tourism NI with a specially-created Derry Girls tour (www.derryguidedtours.com) that takes visitors around the series’ most iconic sites. Fans can now debate whether Joe ordered a cream finger or cream horn on Pump St, visit Dennis’s Wee Shop (unless you’ve given your money to poor Ethiopian Kamal) and even try to catch a glimpse of the elusive Toto on Bishop St.

The 90 minute tour promises to mix history with hilarity as visitors wander the streets that bore witness to the city’s poignant past - but also observed the pivotal moment Michelle wonders if an incendiary device down her knickers is enough for an army stop and search.

Most importantly, fans can seek out on the new, three metre-high Derry Girls mural, a feature that symbolises Derry’s adoption of the show – wee English fella and all.

Read more: Nineties nostalgia to that Derry dialect - 9 reasons why Derry Girls is a bona fide hit

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