As the Troubles of Northern Ireland finally come to an end, so too must the cheeky hijinks of Derry’s favorite gang of girls (and one annoyingly English boy).
While many teenage sitcoms drag on long after the characters have come of age, creator Lisa McGee chose to conclude this raucous schoolgirl comedy after a relatively short run.The quirky ’90s time capsule closes with wickedly sharp dialogue, hilarious political commentary and a healthy dose of character development. It’s a bittersweet goodbye, but “Derry Girls” knows that adolescence can’t last forever.
Season three finds the gang stretching the bounds of their archetypal roles: Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), the pretentious writer; Orla (Louisa Harland), the spacey oddball; Clare (Nicola Coughlan), the neurotic prude; Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), the cocky rulebreaker; and James (Dylan Llewellyn), the token English boy. In seasons one and two, the ethnonationalist conflict served as a mere backdrop to the highs and lows of girlhood — bomb threats are just another inconvenience, a “Friends Across the Barricade” initiative is an opportunity to shag a Protestant boy, and the 1994 IRA ceasefire is overshadowed by prom night. War is no match for the pathological self-obsession of girlhood. But in the final season, the girls are beginning to grow up and realize they can no longer ignore the importance of a path toward peace.
McGee’s writing is absolutely cracker (as Michelle would say), mixing Irish teenage slang with sociopolitical commentary to effectively toe the line between profane and profound. The dialogue is sharp, witty and so fast-paced that some zingers may fly past before viewers can even process what was said. One blink and you might miss Erin’s fleeting face of disgust or Orla’s obliviously out-of-place smile. The girls find themselves in increasingly ridiculous situations characteristic of a coming-of-age sitcom, but the melodramatic emotions and high-speed comedic timing are anything but typical.
The show’s latest season also spends more time exploring dynamics between its adult characters, from the sardonic Sister Michael to airheaded Aunt Sarah. A high school reunion in episode five gives audiences a glimpse into their own tumultuous adolescence in the ’70s, with flashbacks that draw hilarious generational parallels. Even the mundane becomes exciting through their intense gossip and observations about former classmates, cheekily hinting at the idea that these mothers are no less self-absorbed and superficial than their daughters.
The gang’s wee lesbian Clare perhaps evolves the most, however, as she finally gets her first gay romantic experience and faces a surprise family death, all in the same episode. For a 35-year-old actress, Coughlan portrays a character half her age with a remarkable amount of honesty and heart. It’s a joy to watch her twist herself up into knots at the slightest of obstacles throughout the series. But in this jarring tonal shift, Clare must grapple with the sobering realities of death, this time without a punchline to lighten the mood. Though the episode veers off course from the usual sitcom formula, it serves to punctuate the uncomfortable transition to adulthood and the unpredictable grave events that usher it along.
No “Derry Girls” season finale would be complete, however, without an emotional montage set to The Cranberries’ “Dreams.” The double-length final episode takes place after a one-year time jump, a risky choice but one that makes sense in the context of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Now freshly 18, the girls are finally old enough to vote in the referendum that will determine the future of Northern Ireland.
“I’m not sure I’m ready for the world. But things can’t stay the same. And they shouldn’t,” Erin says, monologuing with honest insight for the first time rather than affected poeticism. The Derry Girls have finally grown up.