Coming of age in a time of geopolitical conflict is never easy, especially when it’s happening in your backyard. The hit Channel 4 sitcom Derry Girls has taken on this topic since its debut in 2018. Created by Lisa McGee, the show takes place in Derry, Northern Ireland during the 1990s, which were the final years of the Troubles. The Troubles was a conflict that occurred in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. It occurred between Protestant loyalists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom, and Roman Catholic nationalists who wanted the country to reunite with the Republic of Ireland. This bloody conflict cost about 3,500 lives and caused deadly bombings and shootouts, most infamously Bloody Sunday. The five main characters of Derry Girls, Erin, Claire, Orla, Michelle, and James, navigate their way through all-girls (minus James, the only man and Brit in the group, and the butt of endless jokes) Catholic high school while dealing with everything from anti-Catholic sentiments and bridge bombings to boy troubles and irritating peers at school. It has become a hit for a reason- the comedy is quick and witty, the chemistry of the group is dynamic, and it covers relevant happenings of the time in a personal way. Although the show takes place in the middle of a deadly and violent conflict, every episode leaves the watcher laughing. Derry Girls has been applauded for its comedic yet appropriate approach to portraying teenage life during such a dark time in Ireland’s history.
The show’s third and final season premiered on Channel 4 in Ireland and the UK on April 12, 2022, and made its way to American Netflix a few weeks ago. The third season of Derry Girls certainly keeps up with the excellence and hilarity of the past two. They keep up with the running gags of the show (most notably all of the characters ragging on James for being British- “You’re British, five of you managed to colonize half of the world! We thought you might have something up your sleeve!”- and Erin’s overconfidence in her writing skills). Both the teenage and adult characters are incredibly well written and all deal with their own hilarious conflict throughout the show. The show also incorporates on-point cultural references. While the characters are all concerned about the war, they are also concerned about whether or not they’ll be able to get tickets to the Fatboy Slim concert set to occur in Derry on Halloween. The soundtrack is fun and full of 90s music from both inside and outside of Ireland.
As far as sitcoms go, Derry Girl’s finale is near perfect. It still ends with the shenanigans of the friends, but there is something much larger happening in the background: the referendum of the Good Friday Agreement. Taking place in 1998, this agreement would lead to an end of much violence and fighting of the Troubles. This agreement would give Northern Ireland powers of self-governing so long as it remained part of the United Kingdom. This agreement causes a fight between the girls. It is revealed that Michelle’s brother Niall is behind bars for killing someone during the conflict (presumably, Niall was a part of the Irish Republican Army) and Erin is upset by the idea of people who inflicted death being released as a part of the agreement. One of the most powerful moments of the finale includes Erin’s Granda talking to her about voting “Yes”- “What if no one else has to die? What if this all becomes a ghost story you’ll tell your weans one day… A ghost story they’ll hardly believe”. The referendum passes with 71% of constituents voting “Yes” to the agreement, and that is where Derry Girls wraps.
The finale of Derry Girls left me smiling and crying. It’s rare for the media to accurately encapsulate the awkwardness and fleetingness of teenage years, and the beauty of female friendship in the way this show does. It is even more rare for this to be balanced with discussions of major political conflicts occuring at the given time. Derry Girls is a witty representation of a dark and often forgotten part of Ireland’s history and the United Kingdom’s colonization of the island. More than anything, it reminds us that even if our lives are changing every day (shoutout to The Cranberries), both in the grand scheme of things or in our interpersonal relationships, things have a way of working out.
Sofia Nolfo is a Junior Communication Management and Design major who strongly believes that more shows from the UK should be on American Netflix. They can be reached at [email protected].