Derry Girls series 2: ‘Catholics really buzz off statues. Protestants don’t so much’
Review: The Channel 4 comedy gives its characters a normal life in difficult times
The first series of Derry Girls (Channel 4, Tuesday, 9.15pm), Lisa McGee’s zingy coming-of-age comedy that seemed to just about hover over the reality of 1990s Northern Ireland, was bookended by terrorist attacks. The first, sending the morning routine of Erin Quinn’s Catholic family into a brief pandemonium, was played almost for laughs: the last thing a busy household needed.
But the second, a more lethal explosion capping an otherwise joyous moment of friendships restored, brought everything back down to earth.
It was a bold reminder within a sitcom that for all its brightly observed absurdities and merrily orchestrated growing pains, living with the Troubles was no joke.
Perhaps that’s why Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), still full of mettle and as quick to gripe, begins the second series with her motley gang strutting off to Friends Across the Barricades, a well-meaning social mixer, in pursuit of “cross community relations”.
Or maybe she has more immediate reasons. “We’re looking for peace, all right,” chimes in her enjoyably brassy pal Michelle (Jamie Lee O’Donnell). “A piece of that fine Protestant ass.”
McGee knows how to layer a joke. It is 1995, Hugh Grant has just been arrested in LA for disturbing a different kind of peace, and even a brief glimpse of Gerry Adams on TV somehow carries an unlikely sexual frisson. His voice must be dubbed by an actor because it is otherwise too dangerously seductive, explains Kathy Kiera Clarke’s wonderful aunt Sarah, still on a plane of consciousness from which I hope she never descends: “Apparently he sounds like a West Belfast Bond.” Is she shaken or stirred?
Boys and girls, in the 1990s, exist in their own kind of sectarian conflict, though, full of fears and fantasies and just as quick to exoticise each other.
The reality of the mixer, is thankfully more mortifying, like a welcome return from Peter Campion’s pin-up priest, Fr Peter, who arrives with a flourish of – what else? – Take That music, more potent than a long spray of Lynx.
Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but in Derry Girls men are from the Fountain, full of moves and Johnny Depp hair, and women are from the Bogside, full of ideas and ready to pounce.
Naturally, the teenagers have their own distinctions: “Catholics really buzz off statues and Protestants… don’t so much?” offers one boy helpfully, clearly fan of season one.
A series of misunderstandings, characters speaking at cross-purposes and shrugging resolutions may be the stuff of sitcom writing 101. But Derry Girls strives for the right to give its characters a normal life, even generic predicaments, in difficult times.
Fr Peter puts it best: “I think we can agree that for generations there’s been a big lack of trust between your communities,” he nods importantly. “And that’s where abseiling comes in.”
I have to admit, I prefer the show’s loopier conceits, like an all-out brawl or the Quinn family’s obsession over their neighbour’s “good bowl”, than its cuter accords. But Derry Girls enjoys the mayhem, less guided by the logic of abseiling: it won’t let you down.