The first lesson of Derry Girls, the Netflix comedy set the mid- '90s during Northern Ireland's Troubles, is to watch it with subtitles. Those Irish accents are lilting and melodic, but to Arkansas ears, the characters might as well be speaking Latin. And not just regular Latin, but gutter Latin filled with slang.
The second is to have some tissue handy to wipe away the tears. Not tears of sadness, but tears that come from laughing so hard.
The show, created by Lisa McGee for Britain's Channel 4, debuted on Netflix last year. The second season started earlier this month.
I avoided it, actually, when the teaser for the first season started showing up in my Netflix stream. The Troubles and Northern Ireland were pretty much the only things that stuck out to me in the description and, not in the mood for another In the Name of the Father or whatever, I kept flipping.
In January, I finally took a more careful look (thanks, relentless Netflix algorithm), realized it was a half-hour comedy and took a chance.
Now I'm running around calling children "wains," telling my friends to "catch yourself on," referring to everything -- even big stuff -- as "wee" and starting every sentence with "Aye."
Aye, Derry Girls, with its crackin' soundtrack, is about four teenage girls and one English boy and their misadventures in Derry, a city hit heavily by sectarian violence between English-backed Protestants and Irish Catholics.
While bomb threats and shootings are covered on television, Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O'Donnell), Orla (Louisa Harland) and James (Dylan Llewellyn) hilariously make their way through the minefield of adolescence.
The show is loosely based on McGee's life growing up in Derry and mostly treats The Troubles as background noise that occasionally interrupts normal life, like when a bomb threat scuttles a tanning bed appointment, or when another security scare halts a screening of The Usual Suspects before Keyser Soze's identity is revealed.
Erin is an unabashed fan of Sinead O'Connor and Murder, She Wrote who lives with her parents, her aunt, her cousin Orla and her grumpy grandfather. She and Orla attend the all-girls Our Lady Immaculate school with over-anxious Clare, foul-mouthed Michelle and James, Michelle's English cousin who is forced to attend Our Lady because his Englishness would get him killed over at the boy's school.
Jackson plays awkward ringleader Erin with a comic physicality, unleashing an arsenal of twisted-up facial expressions. She wants to be a writer, though perhaps her skills aren't as advanced as she thinks. She can also, in true teenager form, be grandiose, blindly arrogant and self-involved. Imagine Erin as a sort of cross between George Costanza and Elaine Benes.
The Derry Girls supporting cast is filled with scene-stealers, especially Siobhan McSweeney as the cynical, eye-rolling Sister Michael of Our Lady Immaculate; Tara Lynne O'Neill as Erin's constantly suspicious mom and Tommy Tiernan as Erin's dad, the subject of nonstop agitation from his father-in-law.
The current season finds the girls, with James in tow, trying in vain to hook up with a group of Protestant boys on a wilderness retreat, attempting to attend a Take That concert, falling under the spell of a new teacher who has obviously just seen Dead Poet's Society, looking for prom dates, befriending a sadistic new student they think is Chinese and plotting to kidnap Sister Michael's prized statue of the Child of Prague -- "Jesus as a wain," Michelle calls it.
And Erin's mom may have cursed someone to their death and the girls try to do drugs, which are baked into scones, for the first time at the wake.
In case it's not obvious, most of their plans fall apart.
The six-episode season ends with President Bill Clinton's 1995 trip to Derry, which has all of the city swooning. Sister Michael's reaction, as she tells the girls that school will not be canceled for Clinton's visit, is priceless.
The new season, which I binged in an afternoon and will probably binge again before you even read this, came at the right time in my TV-viewing life. I'd just finished HBO's uneven but fascinating Euphoria, the graphic, stylized, 10-episode drama about American teenage girls as they deal with mental illness, sexual confusion, drug addiction and peer pressure.
There's no comparing the shows, really. One is a comedy and one is overwhelmingly bleak and heavy (which reminds me of a funny Derry Girls scene where students are asked to name similarities between Catholics and Protestants. They can't).
What's interesting, though, is that Derry Girls, set in what was once pretty much a war zone, is the funny one. It's not always light and innocent, but it is filled with heart and a natural charm.
Aye, McGee and her crew have lovingly taken a city and characters marked by years of trauma and death and have managed to find no wee amount of humor while acknowledging the pathos and absurdity of it all.
MovieStyle on 08/16/2019
Print Headline: Derry Girls is uproarious, just turn on subtitles