Derry Girls season 3: We’re Taken by surprise when a certain Irish actor puts in a cameo

Contains spoilers: On the evidence of this gags-galore first show, the final season will be a blast

Derry Girls is the most successful Channel 4 sitcom since Father Ted, and it does not feel like a coincidence that both shows celebrate and fondly pastiche a specific strain of Irishness. With Ted, the satire was directed at the magical realist underbelly of rural Ireland in the God-fearing dog days immediately before the Celtic Tiger. In Ireland we felt seen for the first time by a comedy – which also resonated in Britain.

Lisa McGee's 1990s-set series (Channel 4, 9.15pm), which is drawing to a close in its third season, is different in that it is at once a rollicking comedy and a sincere attempt to reclaim the North from the stereotype of Troubles misery. As a bonus, it's wonderful nostalgia telly and, having helped put a rocket under the Cranberries revival, for its third run-out the soundtrack is festooned with period-appropriate anthems by Bizarre Inc and Beck.

A clunkier show would make a song and dance about the fact that it’s taking its final bow. Derry Girls just gets on with it. Gags zip back and forth with abandon as we catch up with tightly-wound Erin (Saoirse Monica-Jackson) and school chums Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) and Michelle’s fish-out of water English cousin. James (Dylan Llewlyn).

It’s the night before they receive their GCSE results. And to calm their nerves they’ve decided to swing by their local video library with the vague intention of renting Braveheart (“This Scottish drag queen takes on the entire English army”). Alas, a chance encounter with formidable Sister Michael (Siobhán McSweeney) leads them believe the exams have not gone their way.

They're devastated: "We're girls, we're poor, we're from Northern Ireland, and we're Catholic … what chance do we have?" protests Clare. What to do but break into school and retrieve their results 12 hours ahead of schedule?

A fun secondary storyline sees Erin’s father Gerry (Tommy Tiernan) clashing with his forbidding father-in-law, Joe (Ian McElhinney), as it becomes apparent Joe’s new cat is a homicidal killer. “The pigeons, the mice, that’s how it starts,” says Gerry. And he’s correct, as the cat soon claims its latest victim, Fluffy the Rabbit.

Things are going off the rails for Erin and the gang, too. Having broken into school, they accidentally help two thieves stage a robbery – a ludicrous piece of plotting that McGee and the cast sell effortlessly.

Which results in their arrest and a face-to-face with an RUC detective played by Liam Neeson, clearly having the time of his life in the role.

One mishap leads to another as it inevitably does on Derry Girls and soon Neeson is in a delicious two-hander with comedian Kevin McAleer (as Joe's droning brother Colm). It's like watching a surreal mash-up of Taken and an RTÉ late night comedy revue circa 1989.

The Derry Girls crew have already left the show behind in some ways. McGee has gone on to write the fun Donegal-set potboiler, The Deceived. McSweeney was recently in an adaptation of Graham Norton's Holding. And Coughlan has been so busy making Netflix mega-hit Bridgerton that her Derry Girls screen time had to be reduced due to scheduling conflicts (though there is loads of her here).

And so, fans might be forgiven for fearing the concluding series could be an afterthought. Nothing could be further from the case and, on the evidence of the first episode, this will be a victory lap to savour.

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