Despite being raised in a region also known for whiskey and folk music, I have very little in common with the typical Irish coming-of-age story. Sure, I've watched Sons of Anarchy about a billion times and have researched the IRA and know the basics, but as an American (one from the South, none the less) who was very much not alive for the Troubles and that whole period of history, I know very little about Derry, Ireland, and their struggles. I let that keep me off the show Derry Girls for too long, but I finally watched it and was in awe at how fantastic it is – no matter where you live or how little you know about Irish history.
Derry Girls is a coming of age comedy series set in the 1990s, but it's not a nostalgia-fest or a history lesson or even a show about girls bonding with their mums and growing up – this is a hilarious look at small-town shenanigans that transcends time and geography. True, my teenage experience didn't involve being stopped at military bomb checkpoints on the bus to school or trying to socialize and find common ground with Protestant boys, or even hating the British, but despite all that, this show still makes sense and speaks to my teenage experience. If you need an American comparison, think of it as a Northern Irish Freaks and Geeks…but better. If an Irish comparison is more your speed, it's been called the most successful Irish comedy since Father Ted.
At the heart of being a teenager is the feeling of being trapped in a small town, misunderstood by your parents and authority figures, and wanting nothing more than to hurry up and be taken seriously and make decisions for yourself. Derry Girls shows this through the lens of 16-year-old Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) along with her cousin Orla (Louisa Harland) and friends Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), and Michelle's cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn). It's all rooted in real history and feelings, but the scenarios are absolutely hilarious, like telling the whole town about witnessing a miracle of a crying Virgin Mary statue…that turned out to be crying tears of dog piss. Or like the scenario that sees the trio in detention already…but then matters get worse when they're accused of killing the elderly nun running detention with their bad behavior.
All-in-all, I can describe Derry Girls all day long, but the only real way to connect with it is by giving it a chance and watching an episode or two…or twelve. True, there's only a dozen episodes so far, but it's already connected with audiences all over and taken the world by storm, especially since its appearance on Netflix. Derry Girls is Ireland does 1990s nostalgia without being condescending and managing to still connect with shared human experiences through humor. And at the end of the day, isn't that what connects us all? At least, that's probably something the Derry Girls would say to avoid getting into trouble.