Bomb scares disrupting tanning bed appointments, checking out soldiers and references to hunger strikers. Derry Girls got off to a flawless start on Thursday.
They’re calling it the female Inbetweeners but it’s so much more than that. Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee has talked about how Derry (or Londonderry, depending on your persuasion) was a joyful place to grow up in and, all credit to her, she’s done it justice. The Troubles act as a backdrop to daily life, framing the story without dominating it. Our dark humour, our resilience, the unwavering love that every Derry girl has for her home city (even if we often have to move away) shines through.
But that’s hardly surprising. It was written by one of our own after all, and Derry girls tend to accomplish what they set out to do. We’re ambitious like that.
Derry itself has always been a matriarchal city. Traditionally women have been the breadwinners – ask anyone who remembers working in the factories. Strong female characters are the rule here, not the exception. Just watch Erin’s mammy make sure her husband isn’t subjected to hearing the word ‘knickers’.
If you grew up in Derry you’ll recognise your friends in Erin, Orla, Clare and Michelle. We all went to school with at least one of them. We all had that friend with Michelle’s swagger, Erin’s dramatic disposition, Clare’s tendency to panic or Orla’s deadpan humour. Not forgetting Tina, the hard as nails first year who stole any scene she appeared in as far as I’m concerned.
In a more literal sense many of us recognise the characters themselves. Two of my cousins went to school with a few of the actresses. One of them asked a friend’s mother for advice on the accent.
We’re really not joking when we refer to home as ‘our wee city’. It’s that small. “Everybody knows everybody knows everything about everybody,” as Erin so accurately put it.
Despite being set in the Troubles, it really isn’t about them. It’s about growing up and how it’s the same everywhere. Some teenage experiences are just universal: fancying musicians, finding your favourite lipstick only to have it be discontinued, agreeing with your friends to express your individuality with a denim jacket (until your ma tells you that you aren’t allowed). Even having that one cousin who seems determined to embarrass you (Louisa Harland’s deadpan portrayal of Orla is nothing short of brilliant).
Of course, some of the references are purely a Derry thing. We may not have (many) bomb scares anymore, and army checkpoints are a thing of the past, but the experiences of the girls will speak to anyone who grew up there. The threat of the wooden spoon, the casual references to bombs, Protestants and Friends Across the Barricades.
From Orla’s deadpan readings of Erin’s diary to the quips about the IRA, soldiers and bomb squads being “health and safety gone mad,” Derry Girls is already a masterpiece as far as I’m concerned. A near perfect portrayal of what it means to grow up there.