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Derry Girls, Channel 4

Derry Girls, Channel 4

Season 3 of Channel 4's hit sitcom Derry Girls brings us more comedic relief through the lives of working-class teenage girls amid a backdrop of political unrest in Northern Ireland, writes Ashley Suárez

Channel 4’s Derry Girls brilliantly explores the peculiarity of ‘Northern Irish’ culture and working-class experience during British occupation in the nineties. Political unrest intersects with everyday life, and hilarious writing for the ensemble cast, as the show follows a group of school friends and your ordinary Derry family.

Erin, the main protagonist, lives with her extended family (including her cousin, auntie, and grandad), a typical household in the region. It’s a comedic ode to family or friends who take the role of providing shelter during times of personal and national struggle. This fond retrospective approach has captivated audiences globally, being Channel 4’s biggest sitcom since Father Ted (which is also coincidently Irish).

As a sitcom it adopts the traditional character stereotypes specific to the coming-of-age genre. The cast, including Nicola Coughlan, Jamie-Lee O’Donnell, and Louisa Harland, portrays a group of mostly Irish Catholic girls with the comedic exclusion of James (Dylan Llewelly), their English male friend. Much like The Inbetweeners and St. Trinian’s, Derry Girls taps into the quintessential teenage experience. However, the backdrop of civil war contrasts the classic characteristics expected from a show in this genre.

The predominantly female leading cast allows the show to take an entertaining but careful consideration of the ‘Irish girl’, a commonly forgotten perspective in the historical period. However, their experiences do not get reduced to the wider political conflict, instead they replete with absurdity and triviality.

On ‘culture’

While also slammed as ‘profane’ and sometimes perceived as controversial within both Catholic and Protestant communities in the North of Ireland, Derry Girls has managed with time to emotively strike the Northern Irish audience with its humorous representation of ordinary life in Derry.

The show’s likeability is heavily reliant on its unique display of the ‘Northern Irish’ cultural aspects: orangemen parades, cross-community bonding programs, and the simple preference of a chippy on a Friday night. Without attributing unnecessary glamour, the show has managed to evoke a sense of nostalgia over colloquial characteristics as it persuades you to appreciate a commonplace between Catholic and Protestant divisions.

Lisa McGee relishes appealing to the Irish audience with the show. In previous seasons she does this through repeated allusions to local cultural icons, with references to Father Ted, other character cliches such as the one embodied through Uncle Colm, and the indispensable ‘no-nonsense’ nun, Sister Michael. Similarly, the first episode of the third season features the special guest performance of Liam Neeson, who is originally from Ballymena (as referenced in the episode), as an RUC officer.

This ability of the writing to impeccably reminisce over a time marked by nationalised communal tragedy has earned Derry Girls a distinctive space within modern Northern Irish culture. However, Derry Girls also occupies an important place in British TV as one of a few pieces of media addressing British colonialism in Ireland, a subject conspicuously missing from British education. This is becoming ever more relevant as the underlying contradictions of the Good Friday Agreement are sharpened by Britain’s exit from the EU.

On ‘politics’

The first episode of the newest season introduces a sense of resentment towards the ongoing peace processes, conveyed through political commentary offered nonchalantly in the episode. Thus, the celebration of peace at the end of the previous season is rendered meaningless and premature as it is contrasted by an obvious continuation of oppression by the British state onto Catholic communities.

The episode quickly develops into a criticism of the Royal Ulster Constabulary, the police force in the North of Ireland at the time. Their function in the show is to serve as visual representations of the continued occupation of the North.

The characters show immediate fear of the RUC, initially as they are detained by armed and threatening officers. However, the overriding worry is the organisation’s systemic sectarian prejudice. The RUC’s antagonistic manner is clear even in their choice of wording as they add the prefix ‘London’ before Derry, a symbol of British imperialism imposed upon the city.

The positioning of the RUC officers across the table during the interrogation starkly parallels their characters with the protagonists, portraying this unresolved division between the state and the people. This sets the scene for Lisa McGee to openly criticise the force: Erin takes lead and interrogates the officer back demanding him to admit to the organisation’s prejudice towards Catholics.

Anticipating the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ episode set to end the season, the show alludes to anti-cop sentiments which we have seen recently arise within the BLM and Kill the Bill movements. A clear line can be drawn between the RUC and today’s police force of the occupied six counties, the PSNI, and for many, the new organisation represents little more than a rebrand. With sharp politics and sharper wit (and new episodes every Tuesday), Derry Girls is the perfect show for comedic relief.

New episodes of Derry Girls air on Channel 4 on Tuesdays at 9:15pm and are available on demand on All 4

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