Derry Girls on Netflix is a comedy about a group of Irish Catholic school girls in Northern Ireland during the violent period known as “The Troubles”. It may seem odd to have a situation-comedy set during one of the darkest periods of a country’s history, but the show is brilliant and hilarious.
Derry Girls was created and written by Lisa McGee and every episode is great. The occupation of Londonderry by the British Army is always in the background, but it is not the main focus of the girls’ lives. Derry Girls shows how young people tend to live in their own special world of adventures, petty jealousies and enduring friendships, no matter what is going on in the adult world.
In one episode, the girls find a little dog and convince themselves that it is their old dog risen from the dead. They are even able to persuade a young naive priest that this miracle must be investigated. It is only the school principal who notices that this “miracle” investigation happens to be taking place on the same day that the girls would otherwise be taking a difficult history exam that none of the girls had studied for.
In an especially moving episode, the girls are at school doing a silly dance for a talent show. Unbeknownst to them, a deadly bomb has just exploded in another part of Londonderry. The juxtaposition of joy and tragedy highlights the complexity of growing up during The Troubles.
The cast of Derry Girls is wonderful. Siobhan McSweeney is Sister Michael, the school principal whose dry sense of humor is one of the highlights of every episode. She has developed such a fan base of her own that entire websites have sprung up devoted to quotes from Sister Michael.
Dylan Llewellyn is James, an English cousin who has been forced to move in with his Irish relatives in Derry. James has to attend the girls Catholic school, since it would be too physically dangerous for an English boy to attend school with the Irish Catholic boys. He eventually becomes accepted by the girls and fits in to their group.
Ian McElhinney is Granda Joe whose main joys in life seem to be tormenting his son in law, and hating the Protestants.
Louisa Harland is Orla, a likable but somewhat crazy schoolgirl who may be the world’s worst dancer. Saoirse-Monica Jackson is Erin, who realizes that the main problem in Derry is that everyone knows everything about everybody else all the time.
Jamie-Lee O’Donnell plays Michelle, one of our favorite characters in Derry Girls. Michelle is the trouble maker of the group. Her friends never seem to learn that any idea Michelle comes up with is bound to get them all in trouble.
Nicola Coughlan is Claire, the tiniest member of the group, who is perpetually worried and who holds a secret not revealed until the last episode.
Derry Girls has become very popular in the United States. However, many Americans watch the show with the subtitles tuned on, since they find the Northern Irish accents just too hard to follow. We urge Americans not to use the subtitles, and you will be amazed at how quickly your ear becomes accustomed to the language and slang. Constantly reading the subtitles can make you miss the subtle nuances in tone and dialect that are a part of the presentation.
Derry Girls is a breath of fresh air in a land of look-alike comedies. We loved it.