Regularly scheduled programming: ‘Derry Girls’ shows the beauties and hilarities of teenage girlhood

A drawing of the cast with "Derry Girls" written at the bottom.
(Katherine Tan • The Student Life)

This column contains minor spoilers for season three of “Derry Girls.”

A family stands in front of a TV watching a broadcast reporting one of the worst bombings of the Northern Ireland conflict. A group of girls save their best friend from embarrassment as she dances on stage at a talent show. “Dreams” by The Cranberries plays in the background. The finale of the first season perfectly encapsulates the beauty and perfection of “Derry Girls.”

“Derry Girls” was written and created by Lisa McGee and is available in the United States on Netflix. It follows a group of teenage best friends growing up in Northern Ireland in the last years of The Troubles conflict in the 1990s. The group consists of Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan), Orla McCool (Louisa Harland), Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) and Michelle’s English cousin James Maguire (Dylan Llewellyn), who is sent to the all-girls school out of concern that he’ll be bullied at the boys school.

The third and final season of “Derry Girls” premiered on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom in April 2022, which is about when my deep jealousy started towards our friends across the pond that were able to watch it right away. After months of narrowly avoiding spoilers on TikTok, the season finally became available on Netflix on Oct. 7.

Last week, I rewatched the first two seasons to prepare for the new episodes, and I was fully reminded of how spectacular and masterful the series is and how a lot of my love for it comes from its centering of young female friendships.

“Derry Girls” is hilarious. I find myself laughing out loud throughout the entirety of the 20-minute episodes, and I frequently quote my favorite lines in a horrible but well-meaning Irish accent. I would highlight specific characters as the funniest, but everyone from Erin’s mother Mary to the teacher Sister Michael at school stands out with their own iconic and hilarious lines.

In addition to the dialogue, the show has incredibly creative writing that puts the group in unpredictable situations every episode. Think of the crazy scenarios of “Broad City” but aged down to high school and a bit less raunchy. In the first episode of season three, the group tries to break into their school after hours to see their exam results and ends up arrested after they unknowingly help two men rob their school’s computer lab.

While the comedy is enough to make “Derry Girls” stand out in an oversaturated media landscape, it reaches perfection in its integration of historical moments. The show is based on the creator Lisa McGee’s experience growing up in Northern Ireland during The Troubles. What makes the series so incredible is how it is able to use a time of fear, conflict and turmoil in both the foreground and the background of the plot.

At its heart, “Derry Girls” is a show about a group of teenage girls dealing with their own teenage problems — but also living with the presence of violence looming over them. The girls can’t get to school in time because a bomb threat shut down the bridge. They try to take the bus to a concert with a suitcase full of vodka, and when they see Sister Michael, they pretend it isn’t theirs and the bus has to stop to investigate the suspicious package.

To say that The Troubles play no serious part in the show would do a massive disservice to the incredibly moving and emotional scenes, like the signing of the Good Friday agreement that essentially ended the conflict in season two. The show is so beautiful and powerful because it centers a group of flawed, hilarious and complex teenage girls – and James – who get into wild situations while living through something historic.

They aren’t always leading activist groups or joining in on a call for peace; they are too worried about getting in trouble with their mothers. When they go to a program that tries to bring together Catholic and Protestant children, Erin claims to be going to mend borders, but the girls’ main concern is how hot the Protestant boys will be. The show never paints these concerns as shallow or sees them in a condescending or patronizing way, however, but rather as a wholesome portrait of adolescence.

“Derry Girls” is a show I will be recommending until basically everyone I have ever met has seen it. It is one of the funniest shows on TV right now, and it has a wonderful plot and writing, multidimensional characters and compelling personal dynamics. All of this plays out against the backdrop of a complicated and historical conflict. Everyone can find something relatable in “Derry Girls.” As Michelle says at the end of season two — “Being a Derry girl, well it’s a fucking state of mind.”

Claire DuMont SC ’23 is one of TSL’s TV columnists. She is currently watching a bunch of classic scary movies she’s never seen, because she’s decided she likes scary movies now. Because it’s October, she is also rewatching ‘American Horror Story,’ but only during the daylight (she has limits).

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