“Derry Girls” Is Back and if You’re Not Watching, You’re Robbing Yourself of Joy

This review contains mild spoilers for the season two premiere of Derry Girls.

I lost count of the number of straight women friends who told me they could never be with me, or that they wished they were gay so they could be with me, when I came out. I never knew what to say — I didn’t have any romantic or sexual interest in any of them, but that misguided, condescending response was so much better and warmer than the friends who outright rejected me that I felt lucky to hear it. And so in the Derry Girls season one finale, Clare’s power response to Erin after she tells her she’s the wee lesbian whose diary they published anonymously in the school newspaper filled me with a glee I have hardly known watching gay women on TV. Erin makes a motion as if to push Clare back into the closet and says, “I’m sorry, but I’m just not into you like that.” Clare pulls such a face and scoffs, “I’m not into you like that either; look at the state of you!”

That’s Derry Girls: sharp and quick and hilarious and so surprising. I’ve watched all six episodes of series one on Netflix multiple times and guffawed at least once upon each rewatch. If you’re still unfamiliar with the show, I assume it’s because you enjoy actively robbing yourself of joy, and I’m here to stop you from that kind of self-sabotaging behavior. Derry Girls tells the story of four young women growing up in Northern Ireland in the ’90s, in the middle of the the conflict between Irish nationalists and British loyalists. There’s Erin, the group’s leader, an awkward, opportunistic aspiring writer with a crush on a guy in a local band; Clare, the overeager, overachieving, anxiety-riddled do-gooder whose do-goodism is often desperately naive; Orla, the aerobics-loving Luna Lovegood, who is also Erin’s cousin; and Michelle, a Pernod-drinking misanthropist with next-level swearing skills and a singular focus on losing her virginity. (Also, Michelle’s wee British lad of a cousin, James.)

They attend an all-girls Catholic school run by Sister Michael, one of my favorite TV characters of all time. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if Daria Morgendorffer was an Irish Catholic nun and headmistresses, Sister Michael is your answer.

I’m pleased to report that series two, which landed this week on Channel 4, is just as irreverent, just as uproarious, just as unpredictable. Clare, for example, who agonizes over literally everything, hasn’t agonized at all about coming out to everyone else. The episode opens with Aunt Sarah asking Clare if Protestants make lesbians too, and Granda Joe proclaiming, “I heard that k.d. lang on the radio yesterday. Christ, she’s got some set of pipes on her. Your people are very talented.” (Actually, the episode opens with Enya and a voiceover because of course it does.) And that’s that. Derry Girls saves its othering storyline for the field trip where the all-girls Catholic school is to meet up with the all-boys Protestant school to build (metaphorical) bridges.

That mission does not go to plan. Father Peter returns from his sabbatical — “Do you mean when you shacked up with the slutty hairdresser but then she dumped you?” — and asks the kids to help him make a list of the things Protestants and Catholics have in in common, and a list of things they don’t. The second one is easy: Protestants are richer; Catholics buzz off statues and Protestants don’t; Protestants like to march and Catholics like to walk; Protestants are taller; Catholics have more freckles; Protestants hate Abba. They can’t think of a single thing they have in common. It’s a ridiculous skewering of the in-group/out-group mentality baked into kids that’s as prevalent and insidious today as it always has been. And Clare’s sexuality doesn’t have to be the focal point for the conversation!

The field trip reaches its inevitable conclusion with Clare dangling from a rock rappelling rope being handled by her (full) Protestant counterpart, screaming that he’s going to murder her. (He doesn’t.)

Underneath the quick wit and social commentary, Lisa McGee’s series is actually rooted in a real affection for Derry and for these teenage girls. “Look, I wanted to be an individual but my ma wouldn’t let me,” Erin tells Claire in the first episode of the series, when she shows up for school in her uniform blazer instead of her rebellious jean jacket like they’d planned. “Well I am not being individual on me own,” Clare hisses, ripping off her own jean jacket in a huff. And that’s the poignancy of this madcap show: A group of teenage girls surrounded by armored tanks and soldiers with machine guns, pipe bombs and exploding bridges, just trying to figure out who they are, as individuals, together.

You can watch Derry Girls series one on Netflix; season two is rumored to be landing in March. In the UK, you can watch series two right this second on Channel 4. 

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Heather Hogan is an Autostraddle managing editor who lives in New York City with her partner, Stacy, and their cackle of rescued pets. She's a member of the Television Critics Association, the Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and a Rotten Tomatoes Tomatometer critic. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Heather has written 789 articles for us.

25 Comments

  1. Poor James. People can’t even remember his name. 😛

    I’m buzzing to know if it was me who turned HH on to Derry Girls. A lifetime ago I submitted a hot tip through the A+ inbox, which was included in one of the A+ inbox roundups. If it was me, it will be one of my proudest achievements.

    I adore this show and I adore reading Heather’s writing about this sh

  2. Finally watched this show and was particularly amused by how they portray Catholicism – that they present it realistically in some ways but also exaggerate for TV while poking fun at it. That’s probably the highlight of the show for me.

    I know on the last Derry Girls post people were expressing concern that Americans would watch the show and assume that’s what all of the UK is like so I may be off-base with my realization that chippies are just fried food shops?!! I thought they were like these quaint little shops completely unique to the UK and they’re actually just like the equivalent of a burger joint or something.

    (Also, the show does a good job of setting the scene with regards to culture, politics, and history so I don’t think anyone would assume that Derry is representative of the UK.)

  3. I was really surprised that the show returned with Clare out to everyone — I laughed out loud at “your people are very talented;” it feels like Clare’s agony over telling people (or folks finding out) would’ve yielded some pretty easy laughs. I’m excited to see what they have for Clare this season.

  4. I’m from Belfast in northern Ireland and was a teenager in the 90s and wasn’t sure that everyone from around the world would get all the humour and references but the show has been really well received which is great for the cast and for this part of the world which is normally more well known for bad stuff

  5. I cannot wait until season 2 makes its way onto Netflix. As someone who was a teenager in the 90s, albeit in America, this show resonates so much. Also Michelle is every girl I was attracted to but didn’t realize it at the time. That hair and the hoop earrings and the way she dresses… I was (am) into it.

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