Derry Girls is the 21st century Father Ted in more ways that one. Just as Ted provided a springboard for Graham Norton, Tommy Tiernan and others, so Lisa McGee's Maiden City sitcom has put a spotlight on a new generation of Irish talent.
Derry Girls returns later this year for a third season. In the meantime the show's Nicola Coughlan will be shortly back on our screens in series two of Regency bonkathon Bridgerton while Siobhán McSweeney (Sister Michael) is filming Disney+ comedy, Extraordinary. And now there is Channel 4's new prison-set drama Screw (Channel 4, Thursday), starring Jamie-Lee O'Donnell, who so memorably lit up Derry Girls as the irascible Michelle.
Screw has been billed as a comedy-drama – writer Rob Williams has credits on Killing Eve – yet chuckles are at a minimum in a first episode that really only gets going in the final scenes and which risks leaving leaving Derry Girls fans underwhelmed.
O’Donnell plays Rose, a trainee officer at a grim British lock-up who worries she’s out of her depth the moment she sets foot behind bars. She has her work cut out, in particular, impressing her boss, Leigh (Last Tango In Halifax’s Nina Sosanya).
Leigh has problems of her own – and not just the African bullfrog one of the inmates has been hiding in his cell. She’s in her early 50s and it has been made clear by the powers-that-be that she’s a little long in the tooth for her job. And that it might be time to let a young person with fresher ideas take over.
Rose could not be more different from the larger-than-life Michelle in Derry Girls. And O’Donnell displays impressive dramatic range – and a flawless English accent – as she gets under the skin of a character riven with insecurities.
But Screw is really about Leigh, a teak-tough veteran with dark secrets that may be about to unravel as she is forced to reapply for her position and her smarmy boss wonders why she hasn’t included her birth cert with her application. Later Leigh accesses a database of inmates and pulls up the details of a prisoner shut away for forgery. She is a person with something – maybe lots of things – to hide.
Rose has a few skeletons in her closet, too. After her first day in her new job she is confronted by a masked figure who asks if she’s “all in”. This clearly is an invitation to participate in a criminal conspiracy. Just what kind of conspiracy remains to be seen.
These bombshells regarding the lead characters and their hidden identities are chucked in at the very end. Screw would have probably functioned better had it cranked up the pace a little earlier. Instead, most of the opening instalment takes the form of a leisurely portrait of a day in the life of a penitentiary. O’Donnell is impressive. However, her first big post-Derry Girls project is, as of yet, a prisoner to a script that is going nowhere slowly.