Derry Girls review – this modern classic comes out with a bang | Television

AAll good things must come to an end, especially if that good thing is a beloved British sitcom. Like a myriad of comedies before it, Lisa McGee’s semi-autobiographical Derry Girls (Channel 4) – a school farce set in mid-90s Northern Ireland – chose to come out on top with its third series. There’s a reason British shows tend to drop out when they’re ahead: they often rely on a single creative force rather than a bustling American-style writers room, which means that they risk exhausting their creators. On a less technical note, the fact that the protagonists believed to be 16 years old are currently played by actors rapidly approaching their thirties (one of whom is 35) means that Derry Girls has never been the most enduring venture.

Even so, it will be a bittersweet goodbye. Over the past four years, Derry Girls has established itself as a cultural juggernaut: not only is it the most-watched series in Northern Ireland ever recorded, but it was recently honored with a reference in The Simpsons (“ I. Am. dead,” McGee tweeted in response). Its success is no accident: the show is a masterclass in finding the happy medium between decades-old sitcom tradition and refreshingly topical. Its nostalgia is bright and cozy like a jazzy 90s sweater; his depiction of young women as morally ambivalent and inherently comical human beings is cathartic and satisfying relief.

We join the gang to find that – in great sitcom tradition – not much has changed. Girls remain their archetype but not enough hackneyed personalities: Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) is still a pretentious budding poet in the vein of Rick from The Young Ones (but with significant world events to write about). Her cousin Orla (Louisa Clare Harland) is always the spaced-out eccentric; Clare by Nicola Coughlan, the neurotic and nerdy goody-two-shoes. Arrogant party girl Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) is still by far the funniest character: not only because she gets all the greatest lines, but also because O’Donnell has vastly superior comedic timing, which means she doesn’t have to ham it quite as much as the rest of the cast. Token boy James (Dylan Llewellyn), meanwhile, is still… English.

The sense of place is as exhilarating as ever. In the two episodes available to watch in advance, the Troubles feature less prominently, in part because Ireland, in this timeline, is entering a period of relative peace. But McGee manages to preserve the tone that makes The Derry Girls not only gratifying but also profound: conflict and dread can continually hover, but the intricacies of teenage life always take precedence. In previous episodes, the scenes that juxtapose the girls’ entirely self-absorbed moments — euphorically dancing on a school hall stage, for example — with their parents anxiously watching the news, end up being so much more than the sum of their parts. parts. As series three opens, The Troubles continues to be mostly an inconvenience, with Michelle snapping at the mere mention of politics, “I’m so sick of peace!” she growls.

Luckily for Michelle, the plot that follows this outburst has nothing to do with the peace process. Or, indeed, anything even remotely noble or constructive. The gang are awaiting their GCSE results when they meet Sister Michael, the sardonic headmaster of Our Lady Immaculate College (the ever-low-key Siobhán McSweeney), who hints that the girls are in for a nasty surprise. Cue – obviously – a break-in at the school to intercept the offending grades, during which the group cluelessly encourage real thieves. The climax involves an interview at the police station with Liam Neeson playing the frustrated detective in charge – a star-studded cameo that underscores the weight of the series, but also serves to temporarily burst the warm, fully immersive bubble that is the universe. Derry Girls.

Our immaculate director… Siobhán McSweeney. Photography: Peter Marley/Channel 4

This punching is all the more noticeable due to the prominence of the stifling nature of the girls’ world, fueling the giddy hysteria that pervades virtually every scene. Its source is partly school life – Derry Girls remains excellent at evoking the atmosphere of an all-girls school: claustrophobic, yes, but also an environment that allows for plenty of unconscious joy. But the show’s real secret is how it revels in the lower-middle-class, low-stakes domestic minutiae of Erin and Orla’s home life. Derry Girls has never neglected its adult characters – Erin’s mother, father, aunt (Orla’s mother) and grandfather – and the place where mundane household chores intersect with the style of Intense family gossip provided some of the show’s most perfectly observed and distinctive storylines (the Case of the Big Bowl from series two is a sublime piece of comedic writing). Previous triumphs in this area mean the stray cat plot of series three’s opener feels a little thin (on the upside, it prompts a great ’90s choker joke), but later episodes ensure that the adult dimension is as fleshed out as ever.

Although that’s theoretically the end, McGee has hinted that she’d like to make a Derry Girls movie – presumably keen to follow The Inbetweeners model (create three hugely popular series of a show, then rake it in with the movie of highest-grossing British comedy of all time). It doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea. Rather, the return of Derry Girls is a reminder that its airless setting, effusive acting, and cozy kitchen sink detailing combine into something approaching the platonic ideal of a TV sitcom. . Derry Girls is that rare thing: an all-new classic, in the best possible sense.

Karl M. Bailey