By Cara Hosterey
The British sitcom ‘Derry Girls’, set in 1990s Derry, Northern Ireland, follows the turbulent teenage years of protagonist Erin Quinn. Accompanied by her friends Orla, their friends Michelle, Clair, and James they (and that includes James) attend Catholic girls’ secondary school. The underlying issue throughout the whole series is the North Ireland conflict, a war far too complicated to dissect here, but it’s a fascinating topic to research if you have some free time on your hands (as I assume you do).
This show is particularly immersive, as the viewer quickly grows attached to the quirky ensemble. Many characters and character dynamics feel familiar from the very first minute, which is owed to the fact that they are often heavily based on archetypes, albeit in updated form. What seems like lazy writing at first glance I actually deem one of the show’s strong suits. International viewers like myself might feel lost in the entirely unfamiliar setting, but having a few character arcs known to me because they are common in the coming-of-age genre helps navigate that foreign scene.
When I watched ‘Derry Girls’ for the first time about two years back, the show meant something quite different to me. Watching it again now, stuck in quarantine, the teens' experience’s relatability has multiplied by a thousand. I can now relate to the fact that they, as are we, are living in unprecedented and scary times.
It strikes the perfect balance between awareness and escapism. We are reminded that we are not alone while being able to take our minds off of things. We are offered a lighthearted perspective on life during a crisis, as we see the group live a life where there is still room to worry about boys who don’t like them back, their sexuality, rich schoolmates and other teenage worries. It teaches us that it is okay to be concerned about the state of our healthcare system, the economy and consequentially the lives of millions without downplaying the mundane struggles of every-day-life, which does not undermine the severity of a crisis. That might be a piece of wisdom to be implemented of our lives right now, too.
The show’s comedic elements, which might be its ultimate selling-point, are unique and extremely specific t the show’s major themes. The writing both references the time period and culture while offering enough context as to not alienate those unaware of the cultural landscape.
Something a lot of comedies have been guilty of is recycling jokes used a thousand times before, which is what ‘Derry Girls’ avoids at all costs. Sure, we get a gay joke, but it is closely tied to the girls’ experiences in a Catholic, conservative environment, not just a throw-away comment to trigger uncomfortable laughter in the audience. What we instead get this:
Erin: This was written by a girl. A real-life lesbian walks among us.
Orla: I don't really believe in lesbians.
Those two simple lines are not only hilarious (especially when the scene is watched as a whole), but they work to further our understanding of the time period that would inspire such naivety.
Much of the witty dialogue eerily resembles conversations I assume many of us are having rights now if you were only to switch ‘bomb’ with ‘virus’:
Aunt Sarah: Well, I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm not enjoying this bomb.
Mary Quinn: Shocking.
Gerry Quinn: Desperate.
Aunt Sarah: Disgusting and disgraceful. I have an appointment in Tropicana at 12:00. Fifteen minutes in the stand-up. Sure, I'll not get over the bridge at this rate. It's going to play havoc with my build-up. This is what they want. They want ordinary people to suffer. This is what it's all about.
Erin: I’m pretty sure interfering with your sunbed sessions isn’t very high up on anyone’s political agenda, Aunt Sarah.
Two additional items on the endless list of reasons why you should have opened a tap and typed in ‘Netflix’ in your search bar to find this adorable show by now are these: their lovely Irish accents, and the 1990s aesthetic. I’ll admit, for large parts of the show I had to use subtitles as I’d never been exposed to Irish people or media before, but after a few episodes, I was absolutely enamored with their accent. And if you don’t manage to ‘glow-up’ during quarantine (which is a relatively insane idea if you ask me), you might as well be able to properly understand the Irish (and also call everyone you know ‘wee fella’, which is what you will definitely do, I’m speaking from personal experience here). As for the 90s theme, if you spend too much time on Instagram like me, I’m sure you’ll enjoy the layered tops, hoops, and chokers like the next best teenager.
I genuinely believe ‘Derry Girls’ will bring you comfort and solace, a few hours without manically checking the news or staring at the wall in boredom. It is a show that makes you care for its characters and fall in love with them not despite, but because of their flaws. And even if you happen to have seen the show before, I encourage you to revisit it with the newfound experience of the last few days.