Haven’t watched Derry Girls on Netflix yet? Catch yourself on!!
You’re confused by that Northern Irish idiom because you haven’t yet embraced this excellent TV series. If you’re reading this post, you’re at least intrigued, and by the time you’re done, you should be wholeheartedly convinced to spend the next few hours (there’s only 12 episodes, each around 22-24 mins in length available so far) binging it. First, some context:
Created and written by Lisa McGee, the coming-of-age comedy is set in the ’90s in the city of Derry (or Londonderry “depending on your persuasion”), Northern Ireland during the backend of the decades-long conflict between Irish nationalists and United Kingdom loyalists, a period of sectarian violence known as The Troubles. The series follows five teenage friends — Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), their friends Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and Michelle’s English cousin James or “the wee English fella” (Dylan Llewellyn) — as they attend Catholic high school and otherwise navigate the typical pitfalls of teen life, albeit set against a more dangerous backdrop than most.
With two seasons available to stream on Netflix and a third currently being penned, it’s time to wise up (see below). Here are five very good reasons to watch this class show now.
1. It’s ridiculously, laugh-out-loud funny
From the opening monologue that turns out to be a p-ss-take, to the smallest of passing lines from the wonderfully wacky Orla (the moment where she believes a young African boy’s daily 25-mile trek to the nearest well is because he “just really enjoys wells, aye?” springs to mind), to the grandest of colossal f—ups (like causing a priest to rethink his entire vocation), this group of spirited teens’ ill-fated capers will crack you up to no end.
Much of the humor comes from the ridiculous situations the girls find themselves in (accidentally setting fire to the local chip shop for example) often derived from very mundane every-day occurrences. The lightning-quick, witty insults fired from one friend to the other also adds plenty of laughs — captions will help. Every failed attempt the girls make to live by their own rules — whether flaunting their parents’ or headteacher’s direction — winds up in a comical outcome and in doing so, the show neatly sidesteps the cliché of a lesson-well-learnt ending to which many sitcoms fall victim.
Then there’s Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney). The Catholic school headteacher’s disdain for her pupils and most things they say or do provides ample comic appeal. At the first day of school’s welcome back assembly, she promptly warns the new girls to watch their backs then adds, “If anyone is feeling anxious, worried or maybe you just want a chat, please, please do not come crying to me.” There’s not a scene she’s in that she doesn’t steal with as little as an eye roll.
If you didn’t grow up in or around Ireland and the U.K., some of the more specific references might be lost on you, but Derry Girls packs so much hilarity into every episode that the laughs are guaranteed regardless.
2. It’s nostalgic without being fuzzy
It might seem odd to suggest a show set during one of the most fraught periods in Northern Ireland’s history evokes warm feelings for such a time, and let’s be clear in that regard, it does not. The show treats The Troubles with the care necessary, nodding to the seriousness of the situation, but putting the girls’ daily fun at the forefront (see No. 4 on this list).
Derry Girls doesn’t so much tug on our heartstrings as pluck at them as it throws us back to the years of dressing garishly, writing fervently in diaries and believing every setback to be the end of the world. It blissfully recreates the mouth-watering excitement of takeout on a Friday night, the ridiculously dire consequences of high-school corridor confrontations, and the wayward weekends when lightly rebellious plans spiraled into all-out mayhem. Oh, and if you went to Catholic school, there’s a whole other layer of magical throwback moments to indulge in. The show’s un-sugarcoated, more authentic approach to nostalgia inspires as many cringes as it does awws and that’s what sets it apart — plus, the late ’90s soundtrack is dead on.
3. You’ll learn a whole new vernacular of Northern Irish slang
Apparently the cast had a good laugh when they discovered that not only were other countries subtitling their show to make it easier to understand, but were actually captioning it incorrectly (“sh-te-the-tights” became “sugart–s”). The girls speak at a whip-fast pace reeling off witty Irish slang so understandably it can be a little overwhelming for the uninitiated, but my goodness is it worth the extra effort in tuning your ear. A few episodes in you’ll have it cracked, but in case you’re still struggling, here’s a helping hand:
Ball-ache: A genuinely wonderful insult — we’re sure you can guess where it comes from.
To boke: As a verb it means to vomit, but it can also be used as an adjective to describe something disgusting, e.g. “This sandwich is boke.”
Craic: (Pronounced “crack”) You should know this one already. It can be used interchangeably to mean goings-on, eg. “What’s the craic?” or “What’s his craic.” Or it can be used as a substitute for fun/banter/a good time etc., eg. “That was great craic.”
Cracker: Great/wonderful. e.g. “That movie was cracker.”
Cack attack: Um, literally to s— yourself, but can also be used to describe someone who is anxious.
Cacks herself: S—s herself.
Catch yourself on: Probably the best phrase to adopt from this show. It means “don’t be an idiot” or “stop being stupid.”
Class: Another way to describe something great, e.g. “Derry Girls is a class show.”
Critter: An almost-affectionate term of sympathy for some poor soul.
Dander: A walk/stroll, e.g. “Let’s take a dander to the shop.”
D—o: Another excellent insult. Again pretty clear from where the word derived.
Doing my head in: Annoying me.
Dose: A person you can’t stand.
Eejit: An idiot.
F–k-a-doodle-do: An exceptional exclamation of shock.
Knackered: Very tired.
A grass: A tattletale. Can also be used as a verb: “to grass on someone” meaning “to tell on someone.”
Goer: A promiscuous person, probably a woman.
Mind: Remember, e.g. “Mind last week when we went swimming?”
Mouth: Another insult for a person you dislike.
Pipe down: Shut up/be quiet.
A ride: As a noun, a person you’d like to have sexual relations with, as a verb e.g. “I’d like to ride him” … well, we’re sure you get the idea.
S—e-the-tights: A wimp or coward.
Slag: To insult e.g. “She was slagging me off to her friends.”
Your man: Not necessarily someone you, in particular, know but a well-known figure that you’ve heard of. For example, if you couldn’t remember the name of Leonardo DiCaprio you might say to your friend, “You know, your man from Titanic.”
Weans: (Pronounced “wains.”) Kids.
Watch yourself: Be careful, but in a threatening kind of way.
Wee’un: Wee one, could be a child.
Wind your neck in: Take it down a notch. Could also be used if someone is whining and you want them to shut up.
Wise up: Don’t be an idiot.
4. Its treatment of The Troubles
The pilot episode sets the tone of the series pretty quickly. When the chaos of getting ready for the first day back to school is interrupted by the real chaos of a local bridge bombing, Erin’s mom’s first concern is that the act of terrorism will prevent the weans (you read the dictionary above, right?) from getting to school and she’ll be stuck with them another day. Everyday life is at the center of the show and The Troubles are in the background, occasionally intercutting the action. Here’s an example: In season 2, episode 3, Michelle packs a suitcase full of booze to sneak into a pop concert with them and when the girls deny any knowledge of the luggage, the bus they’re traveling on is evacuated and the bag destroyed in case it contains a bomb.
To the girls who have grown up with this backdrop, missing a Take That concert is as serious a situation as a bomb threat. By presenting the narrative this way, McGee shows how the youth of Derry at the time became so conditioned by the surrounding violence that even having their school bus searched by the British army for explosives is literally yawn-inducing — a sad fact in itself. Deftly balancing silliness with sincerity is a skill, and it’s one at which McGee excels.
5. It represents a more relatable kind of teen drama
Some teen dramas are great because they’re so far removed from our own experience that getting lost in the fantasy of a castle-like campus complete with Abercrombie-and-Fitch-model-like students and flashy vehicles is enjoyable viewing (The O.C., Beverly Hills 90210). At the other end of the spectrum, others are steeped in sex, drugs and general disfunction (Euphoria) as kids battle against overwhelming odds and sometimes bad parenting to make it to graduation. One is unattainably aspirational, the other an important reflection of many people’s reality. Derry Girls falls into neither category and is excellent because it’s so universally relatable — even if you didn’t attend Catholic school or grow up with your extended family living in your home.
As a group of teens, the girls (and James — who will be included as a girl from here on out as we later learn Derry Girl is actually just a “state of mind”) are refreshingly average. They’re curious about sex in as far as it’s something on the periphery that they’ll get to when they’re older (well apart from Michelle, maybe); they struggle to scrape a few pounds together to buy candy at Dennis’ Wee Shop on the way to school in the morning; they try to assert their individuality by refusing to wear their blazers to school rather than, say, attempting to sell their virginity on the internet (looking at you Big, Little Lies); they get excited by pop concerts and fried foods and stay up all night “studying” for tests, chugging energy drinks to stay awake. If this isn’t a pretty clear window into my own teenage years, I don’t know what is. The show depicts that in-between part of life that you can’t wait to escape because it just seems so much worse at the time and instead of glorifying it, Derry Girls reveals it for what it truly is: kind of a mess.
*Honorary no. 6: There’s a hot priest.
The first two seasons of Derry Girls are available to stream on Netflix now.