Derry Girls review: An irreverent yet sobering, cynical yet uplifting gem

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Credit: Netflix

Derry Girls, now streaming on Netflix, follows the hilarious misadventures of five Catholic teens and their families in conflict-ridden 1990s Northern Ireland.

It’s that time of year again. You’ve just started your holiday break, and you’re looking for a show to binge. Look no further than Northern Irish sitcom Derry Girls, which is now available on Netflix. The six-episode first season has the perfect mix of snark, heart, cringe-worthy antics, hilarious Catholic school assemblies, and 90s nostalgia.

The setting

Derry Girls is set in Derry (or Londonderry), Northern Ireland and follows five Catholic school classmates and their families during The Troubles of the 1990s. Since we Americans are notoriously ignorant of world history, here’s a quick recap.

The Troubles, which began in the 1960s, was a deadly conflict that resulted from the partition of Ireland a few decades earlier. It was more of a political conflict than a religious one, but the factions were largely intertwined with two faith traditions.

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Unionist/loyalists, who wanted Northern Ireland to remain a part of the United Kingdom, tended to be Protestants. Nationalist/republicans, who wanted Northern Ireland to join the sovereign Republic of Ireland, tended to be Catholics.

At this point, you’re probably wondering why this show is a sitcom. Well, as Derry Girls‘ creator Lisa McGee brilliantly conveys in each episode, life went on. The situation was abnormal, and yet it was normal for the residents of Northern Ireland, which is why the comedy works. The storylines don’t focus directly on the conflict but are influenced by its presence.

Without spoiling anything, it’s also important to note McGee does poignantly address the tragedy of the conflict by the end of the season.

Lastly, by virtue of its setting, the show has a wonderfully nostalgic soundtrack, featuring The Cranberries as well as American pop and hip hop of the era.

The tone

Derry Girls probably won’t appeal to all audiences. Since its mostly about teenagers, there’s quite a bit of cursing (including f–k) and some crude humor. The show can also come across as insensitive and offensive, and it is undeniably irreverent. But here’s the thing: Derry Girls is a satire.

The characters are flawed to varying degrees, and they often behave badly and selfishly. Much of the time, you won’t be rooting for them; and, more importantly, the show won’t be rooting for them. Derry Girls doesn’t condone its characters when they’re being insensitive or offensive. It calls them out on it.

An argument could be made that maybe the characters get off too easily at times. For the most part, though, Derry Girls succeeds in its goal of delivering quality satire as well as heartwarming moments.