'Derry Girls' is Your Next Netflix Marathon

Any series that opens to the tune of “Dreams” by The Cranberries is one after my heart. With its flyover views of the eponymous city itself, Derry Girls does just that through its initial scene sequence. The show that has garnered endless acclaim and praise by viewers and critics alike first made a splash on the U.K.’s Channel 4 in early 2018. In December of the same year, the series was picked up by Netflix and premiered internationally. Since then, it has become a favorite among viewers worldwide.

Derry Girls tells the story of a group of Northern Irish teens in the ‘90s living through the Troubles, a sectarian conflict between state security forces and paramilitaries that spanned decades. The name of the city of interest was even a point of contention for locals, with British sympathizers referring to it as Londonderry while mostly Irish-Catholics called it Derry.

The group of friends at the center of the comedy include the ever-ambitious Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), party girl Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), neurotic Clare (Nicola Coughlan), spacey Orla (Louisa Harland), and “the wee English fella” James (Dylan Llewellyn). Together they attend Our Lady Immaculate College, an all-girls school that James joins after moving to Derry to live with his cousin Michelle.

After a school bus ride that involves a stop by armed soldiers—a typical occurrence for Derry students during the Troubles—Michelle starts in on what becomes a series-long running joke: belittling James at every opportunity. She reveals that 16 years ago, her Aunt Kathy went to England to get an abortion (another nod to the socio-political landscape) but instead returned years later with James. Out of fear that he will be bullied for being British at the local boys school, James instead attends school with the girls—where he is nonetheless mercilessly tormented.

At school, one of the breakout stars of the show is introduced through Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney). Sister Michael is the cynical, foul-mouthed nun who those of us who attended Catholic school could only dream up. As headmistress, she deals with the day-to-day challenges of teaching in an all-girls school, something that naturally leads to her utterances of “Oh Christ,” and “Please don’t come crying to me.” Essentially, Sister Michael voices all the things we knew our religious instructors had to be thinking at one point or another. She truly is the show’s unsung hero.

The beauty of Derry Girls in part comes from its cinematic structure. Each episode is 20 minutes long, leaving room for nonstop laughs in intensive intervals. Season one has only six episodes, so while it’s easy to breeze through the series in one sitting, you lose nothing in terms of quality.

The plot follows the group as they find themselves in a number of shenanigans, involving everything from a brief stint working at the local chip shop, to imagining an apparition from the Virgin Mary before a major exam, to going on a short holiday while avoiding the Orange Parade. Within the lines of humorous dialogue, there are also moments of poignant realization.

Two major instances involve both a scene where a foreign exchange student from Ukraine confronts the girls with the senselessness of the Northern Irish conflict—“Chernobyl was terrible nuclear accident. You people like to fight each other and no person understands why”—and one where Clare comes out to her friends as a lesbian. After initial pushback and a lack of sensitivity from Erin, they eventually reunite onstage at a talent show during the final episode. All the while at home during this closing scene, Erin’s parents—“Mary and Gerry from Derry”—as well as her Granda Joe and Aunt Sarah watch the horrifying events of a bombing in the region unfold. This juxtaposition of youthful innocence and the harsh realities of living within conflict is what makes the series stand out beyond your typical sitcom. 

Writer and creator, Lisa McGee, developed the show based on her childhood upbringing in Derry. “It wasn’t even going to be set during the Troubles, really,” she says of the show’s early vision. “I just wanted to write about me and my friends, and the way we behaved in school, leave the Troubles out of it. But that didn’t feel truthful either, because I don’t have an experience without it.”

“This sounds really presumptuous, but I thought I could put right all that stuff I hated. The army, for example, don’t do any jokes in the show. If they were cracking gags it would diminish things; it would feel unreal. To ground the world, you have to make its threats really real. Of course, that doesn’t mean the girls themselves have to take them seriously.”

When viewers tune in to Derry Girls—particularly non-Irish viewers—captions are a must in being able to keep up with the fast-paced dialogue laced with thick accents. Numerous slang terms are used throughout, as well, so don’t be afraid to pause between episodes and brush up on your Northern Irish slang. “Catch yourself on” will surely become a favorite.

Renewed for a second season just after the first episode premiered, Derry Girls returns to Channel 4 this March for its second round of brilliant comedic storytelling. Netflix has not announced when season two will be available for international viewers, but it will likely be available later this year.

In the meantime, indulge yourself in the show’s cleverness and even re-watch season one—the short episodes make it easy to do.

Sláinte!