Words | Sara Zarriello
In its very first scene ‘Dreams,’ by the Cranberries, plays whilst Erin Quinn introduces us to her life. Slowly we realise that this story is just as much about the characters as it is about the place. Welcome to Derry.
The series, now beginning to film its third season, started as a small Northern Irish sitcom based on the experiences of its show’s creator Lisa McGee. The show follows Erin and her pals on their many adventures during the 1990s, as she puts it herself, in “a place called Derry. Or Londonderry, depending on your persuasion.” As someone who hasn’t had the exceptional experience of encountering an Irish accent in their life, how melodic and quick witted the Northern Irish accent can be took me by surprise. Now there’s no going back. I’ve never watched a show that measures up to how comedically diverse Derry Girls is. I nearly cried when the first season ended. You can imagine me neck deep in this show’s second season only to find out that its finale was episode 6.
Taking a look back at season one, we are thrust quite literally into the life of Erin. A little self-obsessed, we come to the awakening that although she may think the world revolves around her, this story can’t be told without the crazy people surrounding her. Living with her tight knit family, Erin finds a lot to be embarrassed about and to be fair they find a lot to be embarrassed about her! Granda Joe, played by the ferocious Ian McElhinney, who if you’ve watched Game of Thrones, will be unrecognisable and hilariously wonderful in this role. Then Ma Mary and Da Gerry who are incredibly well cast as Erin’s parents, by portraying characteristics which are the only explanation for her actions. Then, airheaded Aunt Sarah, who takes tanning to another level, and the mother of Erin’s just as airheaded and loveable cousin Orla. Fun fact: try spotting Orla in each of her scenes, she’s always at the back doing something strange! And that leads us to Erin and Orla’s wacky group of friends. Clare Devlin, a little blonde with big brains and a surprising ability to consume copious amounts of energy drinks under extreme study pressure. Then Michelle Mallon who is one shit-talking extraordinaire and, under the impressionable guise of a tough talker, is actually quite the sweetheart once you get her feeling guilty enough. And the constant target of Michelle’s sarcasm is her British cousin James Maguire who moves to Derry in the very first episode, and unwillingly attends the all-girls Catholic high school the others go to. Just watch the first episode, trust me it is crazy but so addictive!
It goes that this story may have started out about the monotonous life of a 16-year-old girl, but it’s actually about all the people she surrounds herself with. All of the characters have their own stories and troubles that can’t be resolved without one another. And if you are unfamiliar with the historical uneasiness of this time in Derry, there was an ethno-nationalist conflict taking hold of Northern Ireland and the centre of the Troubles was Derry itself. For a long time, dating back to the 1600s, Derry has been the site of constant sectarian conflict which continues till today. The conflict is always playing in the background of the show, and often situations arise where the characters need to deal with the conflict head on. The show somehow is able to address the conflict with the precise care and comedic value that enables the plot to strike the right emotional chord with its viewers. Personally I had never known about the conflicts going on in Northern Ireland, and the show actually educated me and spurred me into researching it for myself with great interest. By creating a balance between the characters own issues and the issues of the environment surrounding them, we understand the real value of the show’s title. Yes, the show is about the girls and their teenage years but it’s also about how that plays out in the constantly changing conflicts affecting their education, home and future. It’s one-part Derry and one-part girls.
After having watched both seasons over ten times, and I am not lying, I can say without a single doubt that Derry Girls captures all the catharsis that is teenagehood. For me, my teenage years were the most temperamental of my life. Things outside of myself were just as frantic as my inner self, and that is precisely what being a teenager is about. Derry Girls is able to find that constant nervousness and humour that is special to that time in our lives without exploiting it and purely showing it as teen-angst. Because people put the teen years down to pure angst too often and don’t look at it as a multifaceted living thing. We’ve all had hard times, mine were the hardest as a teenager, but never did I believe that my feelings and actions could be pinned down to simply angst. We are human with an array of thoughts and emotions and actions and we should never be described simply. So in the name of Derry Girls, I would like to strip off its label of “angst!” It’s the most tumultuous time of our lives and it deserves more than angst; it deserves our undivided attention. I give you that here, now – Derry Girls. Watch it, live it, breathe it, because that’s what being a teenager is all about.