Pop Culture Advent Calendar, Day 7: Derry Girls
Inspired by NPR, every day (gulp) from December 1st to 24th, I will be highlighting
a pop culture moment from this year that I loved. Today I talk about my favourite braiding chair TV of the year, Derry Girls
When Derry Girls premiered on Channel 4 earlier this year, it was an immediate hit, the channel's biggest comedy in years. I watched it at the time and found it delightful, and it’s been lovely seeing its reception. A comedy primarily about a teenage girl from Derry growing up during The Troubles, her friends and her family were making people laugh up and down the country.
But I think this is what happens when you give the mic (or the pen, or the opportunity) to someone different, someone who can spin a different tale than what were used to seeing. I’m obsessed with the Emile Sande lyric It’s time to get some airplay on our version of events – and I feel that refrain is what happened with Lisa McGee. Time to hear the story you really want to tell. It's kind of remarkable that teenage girl characters are at the centre of such a huge hit, but then it's kind of not remarkable. It's refreshing to see a sitcom about teenage girls not be critically viewed as another apple that didn't fall too far from the Inbetweeners tree, or the ‘girl version of the Inbetweeners’. This is what happened to my beloved Some Girls, one of BBC Three’s last TV shows, which was outrageous, because it was superior in every way!
There’s undoubtedly a lot that went over my head, as I'm not from Northern Ireland, and didn't grow up at that time, in that terrifying scenario. Really the only thing I can relate to was that I also went to a Catholic all-girls school and lived to tell the weird tales. But the genius of the pitch and writing of Derry girls is that it appeals to people of all ages, while being culturally very specific. It's peak all day in the braiding chair TV, so I have watched it with various family members who have put up with my hair care, and it's extracted a few chuckles from family members of different ages. I don’t want to get all ‘Jess, I’m Irish’, about it. Of course, Derry Girls is very white. And before you think or say anything, black people, and people of colour, are not incongruous with any place in the UK, or any time, if we looked at our history books properly. Really the reason why I say this is because I live for the day where there is a pitch perfect loving funny homage to a...you know what I'm saying. Derry Girls was great because it didn't reinvent the wheel. It just put it somewhere different, gave it a slightly different voice. The ending scene, where Orla, Michelle, Erin, Claire and James are all dancing on stage in school, contrasted with their parents watching a news broadcast of a fatal terrorist attack, throws what Derry Girls is trying to do in sharp focus: to ground the story, to let us not forget that for all the laughs we get out of it, for all the things we relate to, this is a story about this place, about these people, at this moment in time.