In times of great TV abundance, great television is even more important. Which is why it's important to shine a light on Derry Girls, Netflix's newest teen-centric series. The show hails from Northern Ireland —and it is distinctly Northern Irish, from the accents to the backdrop to the show's sense of humor.
Derry Girls follows a group of fifth-year students at Our Lady Immaculate College as they navigate the delicate inner workings of teenhood. The main four girls fall in love, squabble with fellow students, and get blamed for the death of a 98-year-old nun. Meanwhile, Ireland undergoes one of its most tumultuous periods in recent history.
Before you launch into Derry Girls, which arrived on Netflix December 21, please enjoy this primer.
The figures at the center of Derry Girls are as follows: Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Orla (Louisa Harland), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), and James (Dylan Llewellyn).
Erin and Orla are cousins, while Michelle and Clare are just close friends of Erin. (Orla, dreamy-eyed and slightly eerie, is part of the group by virtue of her relation to Erin.) James is a newcomer; an English-born cousin of Michelle's, he starts classes at Our Lady Immaculate College because his family is worried about his well-being at an all-boys school.
And what is Derry?
As stated in the opening lines of the pilot, "Londonderry" is a city in Northern Ireland. It is more commonly known as Derry. This is not to be confused with Derry, Maine, the town in which It occurs.
What exactly is happening in Ireland?
Derry Girls takes place in the mid '90s, right when The Cranberries were hitting their peak ("Dreams" plays during the opening moments of the pilot) and Macaulay Culkin was the go-to movie darling. At this time, the "Troubles" — a period of roughly three decades of intranational violence — were still haunting Northern Ireland. (While the Republic of Ireland gained its independence in 1922, Northern Ireland remained a part of the United Kingdom, and still does to this day.) Derry is seen as a pseudo epicenter of the Troubles. The site of the 1689 siege of Derry, the town exemplified the tension between Catholics (who tended to be nationalists) and Protestants (who tended to be of the unionist, which was the ruling party at the time). The town was also the site of Bloody Sunday, one of the most violent incidents of the Troubles. By the '90s, the violence in Derry had mostly faded. A peace accord titled the Good Friday Agreement was ratified in 1998, signaling the end of the so-called Troubles.
Derry Girls plays out on the backdrop of this tension. The pilot features a bombing on a bridge that results in heavy traffic for the adults in the show. On a ride to school, the girls' bus is stopped by soldiers for no apparent reason. In a later episode, Erin's family escapes the city during parades held by the Orange Order, a Protestant organization.
The central characters are all Catholic — at least loosely so — by virtue of the Catholic school they attend.
Is the show brand-new?
No. Although this is marketed as a Netflix Original, Derry Girls premiered in January of 2018 in the U.K. on Channel 4. Lisa McGee, the show's creator, grew up in Derry and has said that she worried such a female-heavy show wouldn't get much viewership. No such luck, though: Derry Girls was reportedly Chanel 4's most-watched comedy in 14 years. In June, the show won Best Comedy at the Irish Film & Television Academy Awards (IFTAs). In November, it was announced that Netflix had picked up the show for international distribution. A second season of the show is already underway, having started production in October of this year.
Anything else I should know?
Episodes are all under 30 minutes, and there are only six episodes. Watching the whole series will only take you three laughter-filled hours. Enjoy!
This post has been updated to fix inaccuracies regarding Northern Ireland's independence.