“Derry Girls” Review: “Skins” Meets “Everything Sucks” in a Hilarious Coming of Age ’90s Romp

When Channel 4’s sitcom, Derry Girls, landed on Netflix over the holidays, I clicked on it instantly because a reader from the UK had already told me it’s gay and also that I wouldn’t be able to understand the accents. I’m pleased to report that it is gay — in fact, it features one of my favorite coming out scenes ever — and that watching Lip Service, Skins, and Coronation Street completely prepared me to understand every word that came out of every character’s wee mouth. (Did I get that right? Do you just say “wee” in front of everything you like, you real live northern Irish pals?)

I can’t help but compare Derry Girls to Skins and Everything Sucks because it’s a coming of age series, set in northern Ireland, in the ’90s, and there’s a lesbian character — but I wouldn’t stop at that comparison. This is is a show centered on four young women, created and written by a woman, and instead of ignoring the politics of the day, it puts the conflict between Irish nationalists and British loyalists in the middle of everything, even opening the series by diverting a school buses around a bomb threat on a bridge. (And Aunt Sarah’s tanning bed appointment.)

Erin Quinn is a fifth year at her local all-girls Catholic high school where she spends most of her time hanging out with her flighty same-age cousin, Orla, and their two best friends: antagonistic world-class swearer Michelle and high-strung do-gooder Clare. Oh, and Michelle’s cousin, “the wee English fella” James, who isn’t tough enough to go to the all-boys school. Every episode, their hijinks start innocently enough: they don’t want to sit at the front of the bus so they try to bully some first years, they’re not prepared for their exams so they try to get out of them, they want to take the school trip to Paris but they don’t have any money — but by the second act, things have always unraveled in the most absurd ways (death, fires, divine miracles) and they can’t sidestep consequences of their actions no matter what schemes they concoct. Their ever-present conscience and comeuppance takes the form of Sister Michael, played with such deadpan irreverence by Siobhan McSweeney I couldn’t get enough of it.

The series explores the girls’ relationships with each other, their parents, their hormones, their popularity, their attitudes about growing up in the middle of a serious military conflict, and most especially their town. Nearly every way they rebel is accidental. They won’t even ditch their school blazers for jean jackets. “I’m not being an individual on me own!” Clare shouts in the first episode.

Shows about teenagers often either treat the characters like adults, saddle them with the writers’ sentimentality about their own childhoods, or patronize them with grown-up judgment. Derry Girls writer and creator Lisa McGee sidesteps all of those traps, managing to capture the fresh, frenetic, wacky energy of being in high school and allowing the characters to be in on every joke. And oh, there are so many jokes. Visual gags and affectionate digs at northern Ireland and less-than-affectionate digs at England and cutting dialogue that no one’s safe from, especially not the church. It’s genuinely, rawly, categorically funnier than any show I’ve mentioned in this article or watched in ages.

I don’t want to tell you who’s gay because I don’t want to ruin the surprise of the aforementioned coming out, but I will tell you the reveal takes place in the final episode and by the time it does, you’ll be able to say, “Classic Derry Girls!”

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 854 articles for us.

55 Comments

  1. I love Derry Girls so much!

    I don’t really see much similarity between Everything Sucks and this, other than them both being set in the 90s. Derry Girls manages the time setting seamlessly in comparison and is a on a completely different level character- and humour-wise (full disclosure: I thought Everything Sucks was pretty mediocre).

    I loved how all the actors were committed to the craziness of their characters. Erin’s facial contortions are a thing of joy to behold.

    The gayness at the end was cute but, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, I wouldn’t be bothered if they were all straight, it is that good.

    Can’t wait for season two!

    • I agree with you! I would have loved this just as much without the gayness!

      I think the reason it reminded me of Everything Sucks was the way it used ‘90s bops to such great effect and the fact that there’s no modern tech which changes the way everyone — esp teenagers — interact with each other. But yes this so very much better.

  2. I’m well excited to watch this! I was a bit turned off at first because the uniforms are so similar to my school ones that it gave me flashbacks. But I’ve heard a few quotes and it sounds like it’s totally up my street.

    Also I moved to Scotland a few years ago and now everything not big is wee, whether I wanna denote its size or whether it’s just a wee thing that exists.

  3. I skimmed over it while browsing netflix last night, I’m glad to find out it’s a funny show, will probably give it a chance tonight. I don’t like nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, but if they make it a point to highlight political conflicts I’m THERE for the 90’s theme.

  4. Yes I just finished it two nights ago. I didnt realize it was only 6 episodes, it finished sooo abruptly! But I did love and really want more. It was hilarious and I love how much I didnt ever expect the funny stuff they did, the jokes and stuff were so fresh

  5. So much of norn irish media is so cringy that when this first was coming out everyone I knew was sceptical and we were more than pleasantly surprised! Its such a great show and I had no knowledge of the gay bit until it, well, came out. I havent heard a songle person over here slate it and I cant wait for season 2

  6. I loved this show much I’m pretty sure I’ll rewatch it at least 10 times. This year.

    But, I’m sorry to tell you… the teenagers are definitely not played by teenagers. Not the main 5 anyway. Their ages vary from 25 to like 32 from what I found when I immediately googled them all to see where I could see more of such fantastic talent.

    I loved how the conflict is a part of the story, not the center of it. I read an interview with the writer where she talked about how that was important to her. I can’t think of anything else I have seen easily available internationally that is set in NI and not focused on the conflict.
    (I’m sure there are, but I mean to say not as high profile)

    and I wholeheartedly agree that the nun was comedic gold. So glad there’ll be a 2nd season!

  7. I love Derry Girls.

    It was both funny and (for me) educational. I have a few friends from Ireland and Northern Ireland and they gave me a semesters worth of education about “The Troubles”.

    Can’t wait for season 2.

  8. Derry Girls is fuckin’ class so it is! As well as wee, you need to throw in a few occurrences of “hi” or “aye” per sentence. They don’t really need any context, they serve as punctuation almost. Also as Derry, (never London-bloody-Derry, aye no matter what those fuckin’ Brits might think) is a good Caaaatholic city and county hi, you’d need a few Jesus, Marys and Josephs throughout your sentences to pass as a real native, dya get me, hi?

  9. Ok so I put it on as I was having dinner and it was so refreshing and fun! It’s just six episodes so I finished it in less than three hours. Very bingeable, left me wanting for more. Especially since the gay reveal doesn’t happen until the last episode! Definitely recommend it.

    Also I was really proud of myself for understanding about 95% of it with no subtitles? As an ESL speaker it feels like a huge accomplishment.

  10. “I can’t help but compare Derry Girls to Skins and Everything Sucks because it’s a coming of age series, set in northern Ireland, in the ’90s, and there’s a lesbian character — but I wouldn’t stop at that comparison.”

    Uhhhhh… where does the “set in Northern Ireland” part come into that comparison? You realise “they’re both the UK” doesn’t make Bristol and Derry similar right? Like, you may as well say it’s an obvious geographic comparison between something set in Texas vs Alaska?

    • I think for someone not from the UK finding similarities between cities in the UK isn’t unusual? Like if I saw a tele show about 16yos at school in Texas and Alaska, I’d probs categorise them both as American School programmes.

      There’s a whole host of differences between 90s northern Ireland and mid naughties Bristol, but there’s also a lot of similarities.

      • I get that that appeared to be what HH is going for, but whew, I think you’re understating it there. NI’s culture hardly developed in sync with the mainland; it remains essentially a colony. Honestly I’m not sure the similarities between Bristol and heavily republican Derry (not yr kind of republican, any USers reading), where that colonial history is felt particularly strongly, are necessarily more than between Bristol and Austin TX. Either way, it is really, really weird to see someone kinda go “oh hey, Derry, I know what the UK is like!”

        • I get that culture depends on a lot more than physical distance, but as an American it amuses me when Europeans try to talk about the US. Which is how you feel too but to me you’re quibbling over the difference between two UK cities that are only 8 hours apart and make that analogous to two entire US states and not even specific cities within them. For reference, Texas itself is 3 times the size of the UK and Alaska is 7 times the size of the UK. To get from one to the other without flying would take like 60 hours. That’s over TWO DAYS of continuous travel. The two cities in question in the UK are at least in the same biome.

          So it’s interesting that the two UK cities are so wildly different to you that you would make that comparison, even hyperbolically. The vast size differences between the US and UK are probably informing how people from each country comprehend the other. I’m afraid my tone is coming across differently than I want it to so let me say that I appreciate your perspective and learning more about cultural differences within a country.

          But I wonder what a more similar US analogy would be. Dallas and Austin? Atlanta and Memphis? NYC and Chicago? LA and San Francisco?

          • I think a US analogy would have to be based on geopolitics rather than travel time. Remember that you can drive from Bristol to France quicker than to Northern Ireland; I don’t think that anyone would be disputing the cultural differences between Bristol and Calais?!

            I’ve spent a while thinking of US analogies, and in the specific instance of Derry vs rest of UK, I don’t think there is one, because of politics and history. I wondered about Texan secessionist strongholds vs liberal cities, but it doesn’t really work. I think analogies in Spain could be drawn more readily.

            For other UK cities, sure I could see comparisons made.

          • Not even close with any of those comparisons I’m afraid, from where I’m sitting. To be clear, despite partially shared administration, NI and England are *not* the same country. Reardless of physical distance, virtually all US states have more shared history than these two countries do.

          • Ha, Sally, I’d never even heard of Calais so that shows you how much I know about that part of the world. But I do see your point that England and France are just as different as England and Ireland are.

            I’m also thinking about how Gilbert said “Like if I saw a tele show about 16yos at school in Texas and Alaska, I’d probs categorise them both as American School programmes.” It’s funny because when I watch shows about students set in California or the Pacific Northwest it feels so foreign to me because I’m from the other side of the country. And if you’re talking about A-levels and marks and jumpers as a student in a TV show then the shows are going to seem similar to me.

            Also I somehow misintrpreted angelica’s original comparison. I thought she wasn’t understanding how different various states/regions are in the US but that was actually the point. And the more I reread the thread the more I’m wondering how I missed that…

    • Hi! I’m sorry if it seemed like I was trying to say that Derry and Bristol are the same. I know they’re not: culturally, politically, historically, geographically, religiously, cuisine-wise, tradition-wise, agriculturally, etc. Derry’s also nothing like Portland in the ’90s, of course, which is where Everything Sucks is set. I was just trying to make some broad comparisons to other really well liked shows with queer characters that might help people know if they would be into this show too. There’s definitely some Skins vibes here! I for sure didn’t watch it and think, “That’s Derry! Now I know what the UK is like!” I’ve watched about ten billion English/Irish/Welsh/Scottish TV shows and traveled in the UK extensively which means I know there’s no way to point at *one* thing and go “Oh, this is what the UK is like!” People can’t even agree on what’s a proper Victoria sandwich on GBBO!

      • Thanks for the response. I think it’s the fact that you said you can’t help to compare it to Skins “because it’s… set in Northern Ireland”, which — sure, there may be other Skins comparisons (I’ve barely watched any), but really that line does feel like someone saying “I can’t help compare [x show set in Texas] to [y show] *because* it’s set in Alaska”. Like, to the person above who suggested, I’m really not being hyperbolic – it’s not like comparing Liverpool to Manchester or even London or Edinburgh, or maybe say Louisville to Nashville, but a comparison that instinctively elicits a huge double take.

        • Sorry to see that you got “America-splained” by the other people commenting on your original comment there Angelica.

          Though I have to say that it is interesting to see how these situations seem to happen a lot on the internet…

  11. Why would you want jean jackets when school blazers are hot? Lest you think I’m a dirty old woman, I came out when I was in my last year of school, where, yes, we wore blazers and gym slips and the works. My first lover and I conveniently shared a double-English class where we could sneak off for an hour and a half. Ahem.

    For *some reason*, I still seem to have a weakness for adult women doing the schoolgirl look.

    HOWEVER, one thing I have noticed lately is that I’m a little more reluctant to watch shows featuring young women’s coming-out stories (or teenage sexuality in general). I pretty much had to close my eyes with Elena’s cute scenes with Syd in One Day at a Time. So I’ll probably give this show a swerve.

    • I swear I am not on the promo team for this show, I just want you to be happy @trixr . Which is why I gotta say, GIVE IT A TRY! Seriously, without meaning to spoil anything, the coming out story is only a small part of the show. It doesn’t figure in a majority of the episodes. And even when it does, it’s not super-cute or emotional. I mean, you it gives you some feels through your laughter but it’s not melodramatic…

      I don’t really know how to describe it without saying too much. But I just want to say I COMPLETELY understand your aversion (I loved One Day at a Time overall, but also can’t quite deal with the cute gf bits without cringing). But I really, truly, don’t think it’s a reason to avoid bringing this gem into your life. But feel free to punch me if I’m wrong.

  12. I will need to check this out…after I finish watching Glee which I’m watching now for the first time. Well, the seasons after season 1 for the first time. It is very weird hearing songs that I haven’t heard in years.

  13. Heather, based on your recommendation I watched this entire series yesterday and loved it! It was exactly what I needed right now so thanks!

    Now I need to go read all the history books/websites because it turns out I know f*ck-all about the politics in Northern Ireland at the time… or now… or ever.

    • okay, so: I saw the title of this article and the fact that it definitely had explicitly gay content in it, and *then* decided to watch this series, so the whole time i was looking out for a queer moment and i DEFINITELY thought it was going to be Erin having a crush/getting together with?? Charlene Kavanaugh! that longing look she gives her! I was COMPLETELY blindsided by it actually being Claire!!

      • Haha that’s so funny and understandable! Erin and Charlene totally had chemistry, even for a fleeting moment. I was actually shipping Orla and Jenny until episode 6…they have a dreamy weirdo quality in common and I have a soft spot for that. Who knows, maybe in Season 2–their school deserves more than one wee lesbian.
        However, thinking back, it makes sense for it to be Clare, and she is indeed sweetly lovely!

    • but it being Claire was sweetly lovely! I realised later that she’d never shown any interest in men (unlike Erin, Michelle and even Orla) (not that necessarily indicates lesbianism, but still).

      I also really loved it because she’s an anxious, studious, vaguely-socially-aware (she fasts for Kamal (!!) and so on) lil dweeb and it reminds me quite a lot of myself at that age.

  14. Heather: a ”proper” Victoria sandwich is two sponge layers, with a filling of raspberry jam ( plum at a push), and cream on top of the jam. All else is heresy, probably committed by the same people that put milk in tea before water *shudders*

    • I read reasonably recently that milk-first might be a class thing originally. For us working-class types, milk went in first in case it was “off”. You can smell it when you pour it out, and you haven’t ruined an entire cup of tea (obviously you’d throw away the bad milk, rinse the cup, and drink your tea black).

      I grew up with a fridge myself, unlike my recent ancestors, but these things get passed down.

  15. I just started watching this show tonight and am so glad I did, it is absolutely hilarious! Beyond the brilliant writing & acting, the costumes & music are so spot-on the time period. Both give me flash backs to high school, in a good way.

  16. only read this if you’ve seen the show!!

    Is it only me who was upset by how this show handled Clare’s sexuality? Her best friend tells her that she’s gonna puke right after she comes out and has one of the worst reactions to a coming out I’ve seen on television. She tells her to go back in the closet, and rejects her coming out to her, specifically saying “Don’t blame me” when Clare said she helped her realize it was okay. Obviously, that happens in real life, and that’s not the part that upset me, but the quick turnover of this, where Clare is forced to forgive her by the end of the episode, and dance with her like her like everything’s okay. I really enjoyed this show up until that part, and felt very protective of Clare since all her friends besides James weren’t supporting her. I just found the way they handled it very damaging, and I don’t understand the praise for the show because of it. It made me really sad to see Clare’s story handled this way, and within the span of the last ten minutes made me hate every other character besides her on this show.

    • I’m just a bit confused about this reaction from everyone in the comments, how is it one of the best coming out scenes ever? It was so disheartening to see the main character of the show take such a hateful stance.

    • Hmmm I get where you’re coming from, but I think that the way Erin initially reacts is very true to her 16-year-old in the early 90s character and not the show’s stance. It pokes fun of her for being a bit of a hypocrite and then shows us that she clearly feels awful for how she reacted. That feels more real to me than her being, like, 2019 levels of woke about it.

      I definitely would love it if they explored the storyline more in the new season and did clarify all of the above, though!

  17. I watched this on your recommendation and I did love it, although I have to say that it’s nothing like Skins at all – it’s much closer in tone to the Inbetweeners (albeit much less crass). It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, whereas Skins is much more of a drama with comedic moments.

    In saying that this show is tops. The coming out stuff and the sweet family moment in the finale were both really well done and reignited my love for the Cranberries!

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