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12 January 2018

Why you should watch clever coming-of-age comedy Derry Girls

Channel 4’s new series set in 1990s Derry, follows 16-year-old Erin and friends, as they navigate the trouble with being teenage girls – and the Troubles with a capital T.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

“It wasn’t bullying, it was attempted bullying,” insists 16-year-old Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), summoned to her headmistress’s office for threatening a first-year. Erin, like many teenagers, has a particularly keen sense of injustice: as she writes in her diary, “Life isn’t fair.” But Erin has a special claim to knowledge of life’s unfairness. “You see, injustice is something I’ve become accustomed to,” she writes. “I am, after all, a child of the crossfire, surrounded by conflict.”

Derry Girls, Channel 4’s new comedy series set in early 1990s Derry (“or Londonderry,” as Erin says, “depending on your persuasion”) follows her and her friends as they attempt to navigate the trouble with being teenage girls – as well as the Troubles with a capital T.

The Times has called it “an Inbetweeners for clever girls”, but it has more in common with Channel 4’s back catalogue of teen dramas that re-contextualise the coming-of-age of smart, self-aware, culture-obsessed girls: Rae Earl’s My Mad Fat Diary, or Caitlin Moran’s Raised by Wolves. Like The Inbetweeners, it has a prime time 10pm slot, aimed at both the youth demographic and older viewers indulging their nostalgic impulses. The soundtrack features the Cranberries and Cypress Hill.

In the opening episode, the ongoing conflict itself is painted as a vaguely exhausting inconvenience: “Well, I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not enjoying this bomb,” one parent says conversationally. As the Derry-born creator of the series, Lisa McGee, explains, “Sometimes the toughest places to live are also the funniest.”

The specific setting gives Derry Girls its extra layer of complexity, as well as some of its funniest lines. Where else could you find a quote like, “Macaulay Culkin isn’t a Protestant, Ma”? 

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This article appears in the 10 Jan 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Toddler in chief