Review by C.J. Bunce
When Derry Girls´ first two short seasons landed on Netflix in 2020, it made our list of the Best TV of the year. Three years later, including a long pandemic delay, and the most watched series in the history of Northern Ireland is back. The crazy thing is the series leads haven’t changed a bit, and the first episode begins right where the last episode left off. Waiting for the results of their grades–which will determine whether they amount to anything or not in their eyes and the eyes of their parents–at the local video store the girls catch up with Sister George Michael, Siobhán McSweeney’s disinterested head of their Catholic girls school, who leads them to believe they’ll all be held back. But the best part is securing the Pride of Ireland himself for a cameo as the local police official who must interrogate the girls after they are found breaking into the school for a preview of their grades.
That surprise guest actor is Liam Neeson, of course. And Neeson is 100% invested in the role–the perfect straight man for the chaos in front of him.
The first two seasons of Derry Girls was the funniest 6 hours of television I had seen in years. The tears in your eyes kind of funny. It follows four Irish teen Catholic girls and a British boy in Derry, Ireland in the 1990s leading up to the cease fire with the IRA. The real-life trauma was fortunately only backdrop to writer Lisa McGee’s semi-autobiographical tale. It’s great coming of age material, and fantastic humor.
Saoirse-Monica Jackson drives each episode as 16-year-old (now 17?) Erin Quinn, the insecure everyteen trying to balance the gloom and doom of each new day as a teenager and the desire to measure up to her friends. Nicola Coughlin is studious, smart, and manic Claire Devlin, always first to throw everyone under the bus when a plan goes awry. Louisa Harland is Orla, Erin’s “sub-normal” cousin. But the best writing always seems to go to Jamie-Lee O’Donnell as the mouthiest ruffian of the mouthy bunch, Michelle, who has brought along her male cousin, Dylan Llewellyn’s James, the first male at the Catholic school, who everyone assumes is gay.
How can 29 and 30-year-old actresses pull off playing high schoolers? That’s some of the magic of the show. They’ll probably be familiar to everyone who went to a big high school with several cliques. And the Catholic school doesn’t temper the nature of their expression of teen angst.
They all make up an impressive cast, on par with the best group of friends to ever grace a TV set. Also back to make sure the audience doesn’t notice a difference between season 2 and 3 is series director Michael Lennox. And yes, he is successful. And it’s not only the girls (and one boy) and the funny nun that make it work, as the adults often get a third of the story. And we see why the kids are so messed up, thanks to actors Ian McElhinney (Doctor Who, Horatio Hornblower, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’s General Dodonna) and Irish actors Tommy Tiernan, Tara Lynne O’Neill, and Kathy Kiera Clarke.
But make no mistake: Derry Girls is not a series to binge watch. The episodes are just too good, and must be watched over time for maximum TV fun.
In short: Derry Girls is pure gold. Watch all the seasons, including the new third season, now on Netflix.