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Against the backdrop of the late 90s political upheaval in Northern Ireland, a group of mischievous teenagers navigate the chaos of adolescence at their Catholic girls’ high school in this BAFTA-winning comedy series.
The most visible of the cast is actress Nicola Coughlan, who plays Claire, but is now better known as Lady Whistledown of Bridgerton. Taking home the 2023 BAFTA for Best Comedic Performance, Siobhán McSweeney plays Sister Michael, the eye-rolling headmistress. She’s since been on Murdoch Mysteries and Death in Paradise, among other shows.
Sometimes a show comes along and transports you to a certain time and place with such specificity it gives you a whole new understanding of what it was like to be there. Derry Girls is that kind of show. The place is the city of Derry in Northern Ireland, the time is the ’90s, the waning years of the violent political conflict quaintly referred to as “The Troubles.” Bill Clinton is on the TV, arriving to great fanfare and hope that he’ll bring peace to the land. But the history and headlines are merely a backdrop to the hijinks of a group of teenage girls (plus one boy) up against relatable high school problems: school, crushes, dating, friendships, and family quarrels.
They manage it all with a rebelliousness that seems to course through their Irish veins. After their parents put the kibosh on a trip to Belfast for a Take That concert (worried because a polar bear escaped from the zoo), they sneak out and go anyway, only to scare themselves with far bigger fare. After they accidentally set fire to their school during a religious retreat, they attempt to cover it up by blaming a statue of the Virgin Mary (she moved…as they do).
While truly an ensemble show, the series is built around aspiring writer Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) and frequently features side storylines involving her immediate family and neighbors. The tight-knit group of friends that make up the show’s core include Erin’s oddball cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), overly cautious Clare (Coughlan), troublemaker Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and James (Dylan Llewellyn), Michelle’s English-raised cousin who has to attend their all-girls Catholic school to avoid potentially dangerous anti-English sentiments at the boy’s school. The situation is played for laughs but, like many of the humorous elements in the show, there’s a dark truth at the heart of it.
The show’s creator Lisa McGee, a native of Northern Ireland herself, weaves in her own personal experiences growing up Irish and Catholic during that time—so it’s no wonder the show’s depiction of ordinary life carrying on under extraordinary circumstances feels so authentic.
Brace yourself for broad humor and wickedly profane and colorful insults, and Irish slang that will make you want to add the English subtitles. It’s all balanced with a warmth and nostalgia captured perfectly by the forgotten 90s soundtrack.
Like the community and era they represent, the Derry Girls bring a feisty resilience and wit to their teenage troubles, and in spite of the larger Troubles surrounding them, they’re unafraid to speak their minds and stand up for themselves.
Your best school mates, past or present. The comedy ranges from sharp sarcasm to the profane to broad physical gags, so there’s sure to be something here to make anyone laugh.
After Derry Girls took home the 2023 British BAFTA TV trophy for Best Scripted Comedy Programme and Best Comedic Performance, actress gave a rapid fire speech: “So I’ve been warned not to do a political statement, so as my mother laid dying in Cork, one of the very last things she said to me was would I not consider retraining as a teacher. If she could see me now, getting a Bafta for playing a teacher. Joke’s on you.”
Where to find it: Netflix