Published on January 22nd, 2019 | by Kim Kurtenbach0
UK show Derry Girls (on Netflix) is better than just a funny TV show from Ireland; it’s a heartfelt, hilarious, time machine and trip overseas.
If Winnie Holzman had grown up in Northern Ireland, you might have gotten Derry Girls instead of My So Called Life. The show is a little bit Breakfast Club, a little bit Freaks and Geeks, but set against a rich tapestry of politics and war, an all-girl Catholic school, a challenging economy and a changing world. These background influences come into clear focus through the effect they have on the everyday life of four girls (and the wee English fella). These moments are humorous and daring, but also respectful of the conflict of the times, the way the Wonder Years addressed Vietnam and the protests against it. And despite the presence of the army in the background and the talk of bombs, the only gun fire is the rapid machine gun of jokes and quick editing — both the camera work and the carefully chosen, lyrically spot-on soundtrack.
Part overseas holiday, part time machine, Derry Girls takes away everything unnecessary. No mobile phones, social media, America, or male-dominated cast here, this is the story of four girls (and a wee English fella) attending an all-girl Catholic school. The laughs come fast and furious, not requiring a first time viewer to be patient during the adjustment period. There is no adjustment period. The show finds itself minute one and simply gets on with it. It’s such an Irish thing too, as the people of Ireland can be brutally (and hilariously) straight-forward when it suits them. An early laugh comes when, after a failed attempt to co-ordinate outfits, one of the girls shrieks, “Well, I’m not being an individual on my own!” The girls are constantly terrified of blending in until they effectively disappear, and equally terrified of standing out at the risk of being a singularity.
The girls (and the wee English fella) are awkward and embarrassing, hysterical, crass, daft, cocky and psychotically unconvincing in their moral standing. This isn’t the softer side of girls because, fuck that, this is funnier and much more real. The actresses are excellent at maintaining consistency in their performance, often able to express the clear individuality of their character with a single word or gesture. The magic of this series is no different than that of a young band recording their first proper record. Full of enthusiasm and energy, with no mind on how things could go terribly wrong or fail. Young and talented bands don’t overthink, but simply crank out hooks and melodies and songs with aggravating ease. They know when they’re working with great material. Derry Girls cranks out jokes and gags and plant/payoff situations with clever simplicity. This is how you can tell when someone is really good at something: they make it look like anyone could do it.
The Channel 4 show has been a massive hit in the UK (the network’s biggest hit in five years), but provides that audience – especially the Irish – an entirely different level of entertainment because that’s where subtleties of the show are understood. We won’t get the same satisfaction as an Irish audience, but we get boundary-pushing entertainment at its best. What the show provides for the US and Canadian audiences are three great rabbit holes for internet searches:
- The language. The Irish language often comes across to me as very musical, with a vast range of rise and fall in their voices. There is great melody to the way they speak and, frankly, it’s refreshing to hear because Americans and, yes, Canadians, sound quite flat when we speak. You’ve got subtitles for the tricky parts but you’ll get used to the accent once you catch on. There’s not a lot of h’s in Ireland. Thinking is tinkin’; thunder is tunder, and so on. ‘Th’ sounds become a d, where ‘this’ becomes ‘dis’. The letter r is always pronounced, and so on. You’ll get the hang of it faster dan you tink. Plus, you get to look up cool words like wains and craic and punt, and hear great sentences like Aye, it’s a crime – so are those ski pants Clare, but it didn’t stop ye from pulling them over your hole this morning or She’s a bit of a goer, is our Kathy, riding rings around him, so she was. Kill me, these girls are hilarious!
- The cast: All kinds of research to do because the cast and crew is all but unrecognizable to us. Yet, one cast member is a legendary stand-up comic and another has a reoccurring roll on Game of Thrones. The four girls (and the wee English fella) seem to have Rachel McAdams syndrome (or Matthew Broderick syndrome), playing much younger than their age. I swear that one of these girls, in particular, must have a painting of herself in an attic somewhere. Creator and head writer Lisa McGee finally got her dream show, but why has it taken so long and what other great movie or TV discoveries lie within the CVs of all these people?
- The Irish history: Who are the Orange Vests? What was The Trouble in Ireland? Why is it that “Foreigns fucking love the Giant’s Causeway”? Why the sharp, relentless jokes at the expense of the English, and why are they so well received?
Derry Girls is a comedy, yes. And a damn good one. But it’s also a tour guide and a history lesson waiting to happen. The show is great on the surface but has loads of depth, too. I suspect that with so much information, dialogue and comical punches, it will hold up very well to multiple viewings. This will be important when I watch it again in a few months for the second (okay, third) time, as we all wait for new episodes. Bring on Season 2, Derry Girls is absolutely cracker!