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

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Credit: Netflix

The teens

While largely an ensemble show, the protagonist of Derry Girls is 16-year-old Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), who is one of the most complex characters.

Erin generally tries to be a good person and often means well, but she tends to act selfishly, self-righteously and hypocritically more often than not. As her best friend Clare Devlin (Nicola Coughlan) sarcastically remarks, “You know what I admire most about you, Erin? Your unshakeable principles.”

Clare, by contrast, goes out of her way to stand up for what she believes in, even if her demonstrations tend to be somewhat shallow. She is by far the nicest and most thoughtful character and not as reckless as her friends. She actually snitches on them hilariously often for fear of getting blamed for something they did.

Orla McCool (Louisa Harland) is Erin’s lovable, nosy, athletic and rather daft cousin, who lives next door. She has the most laugh-out-loud lines and a wonderfully enthusiastic demeanor. While not the smartest character, Orla is quite admirable for being unapologetically true to herself.

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Michelle Mallon (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) is the literal firestarter of the group, who would probably be considered a cool kid if she ran in a different social circle. She says “f–k” as much as she says “the” and drinks regularly, even while pulling an all-nighter to cram for an exam.

James Maguire (Dylan Llewellyn) is Michelle’s cousin, who is mercilessly ridiculed (especially by Michelle) for having grown up in England. He now lives in Derry with Michelle and his aunt, who enrolled him at the all-girls Catholic school for fear that he would be beaten up at the all-boys school, on account of his being English. James is actually quite a nice guy, though, especially considering how much flack he has to put up with.

The adults

Since Erin is the show’s protagonist, her family is heavily featured, namely, her ma Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill), her da Gerry (Tommy Tiernan), her aunt/Orla’s ma Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke) and her and Orla’s granda Joe (Ian McElhinney).

Mary runs the Quinn household and often acts as a parent to all of the kids. She’s somewhat strict, very witty and often gets hilariously worked up over very minor issues. Sarah, like her daughter Orla, is both lovable and not particularly bright. She “reads” tarot cards, loves being the center of attention and often acts rather child-like.

Gerry and Joe have a hilariously strained son-in-law, father-in-law relationship that will definitely feel familiar to Modern Family fans. It’s reminiscent of Phil Dunphy and Jay Pritchett’s dynamic — except Joe is definitely harsher than Jay, and Gerry is not as happy-go-lucky as Phil.

Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney), the school principal, rounds out the primary adult cast. She’s not an archetypical ruler-wielding nun, but she’s not sweet either. She’s straight up savage, and it’s breathtaking — quite literally because you’ll be laughing at all of her lines. Sister Michael’s dry humor is absolutely a highlight of Derry Girls, and McSweeney’s deliveries are phenomenal.

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The accents

To answer your lingering questions: yes, their Northern Irish accents are thick. And, yes, it will take some time to get used to since Northern Irish accents are not commonly heard in America. If you’re concerned, keep in mind that Netflix offers subtitles for all of its programming.

Trust me, though, following along without subtitles is not that difficult. Early on, you’ll need to listen carefully, and you might need to rewind to hear certain lines of dialogue again. However, after an episode or two, you’ll get fairly accustomed to the accents, which are quite nice to listen to. So get binging!