There are so many streaming options available these days, and so many conflicting recommendations, that it’s hard to see through all the crap you could be watching. Each Friday, The Verge’s Cut the Crap column simplifies the choice by sorting through the overwhelming multitude of movies and TV shows on subscription services and recommending a single perfect thing to watch this weekend.
What to watch
The first episode of Derry Girls, a sitcom created by Northern Irish playwright Lisa McGee for Britain’s Channel 4. Based loosely on McGee’s experiences growing up in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, in the early 1990s, in the waning years of the sectarian violence familiarly dubbed “the Troubles,” the show acknowledges the era’s mounting tensions while also telling lighthearted, hilariously profane stories about teens being teens. The first episode — titled “Episode One” — introduces the cast of Catholic schoolgirls. Saoirse-Monica Jackson plays Erin, an intensely self-conscious youngster who is stuck rooming with her weirdo cousin Orla (Louisa Harland). The two are pals with the skittish Clare (Nicola Coughlan) and the cocky Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell). At the start of a new school year, Michelle has been saddled with her own cousin, James (Dylan Llewellyn), an English kid assigned to be the first male to attend the all-girls Our Lady Immaculate College. (The authorities are afraid he’ll be beaten up at a boys’ school.)
Why watch now?
Because Derry Girls’ second season has just been made available in its entirety on Netflix.
Not enough Netflix subscribers know about the delight that is Derry Girls, a fast-paced, funny show that packs a lot of snappy dialogue and adolescent antics into each 22-minute installment, mixed with some rich period detail. In the second of the series’s six-episode seasons, the kids from Our Lady Immaculate scramble to get concert tickets and make plans for a prom — typical teenage business. But they also attend a symbolic peacemaking summit with a Protestant school, and they look forward to a state visit by President Bill Clinton, in hopes the US can help stabilize the region.
Season 1’s first episode establishes Derry Girls’ 1990s milieu, with its references to Macaulay Culkin and Pulp Fiction. But its most telling sign of the times comes with the opening image of soldiers in an armored vehicle, rolling through the Londonderry streets while the Cranberries’ “Dreams” plays on the soundtrack. Within the first minutes of episode 1, Erin’s family is hearing reports about an unexploded bomb on the bridge that leads to the school, and they’re wondering whether that day’s classes will be canceled.
At the same time, the world-weary tone the characters take to the Troubles is an immediate tip-off that Derry Girls won’t be too heavy. (Orla’s mother, on finding out that a potential explosion might keep her from hitting the tanning bed, grumbles, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m not enjoying this bomb.”) The political situation is just context. A more common moment for the show is when Erin’s mother won’t let her wear a denim jacket to the school instead of the Our Lady Immaculate uniform blazer. When the denim-jacketed Clare sees Erin has wussed out on their planned wardrobe switch, she quickly takes hers off too, saying, “I’m not being individual on my own!” That sort of wry humor is what Derry Girls is all about.
Who it’s for
Fans of comedies about unruly women.
In the early 1990s, British comedian Jennifer Saunders wrote and starred in the bawdy sitcom Absolutely Fabulous, about an aging libertine and her equally wasted best friend, still trying to live like hip 20-year-olds well into their 40s. The show was enormously influential, inspiring a wave of American TV shows (like Cybill, Veronica’s Closet, and Sex and the City) about ladies inclined to overindulge in everything from sex to intoxicants to the latest luxury goods. That spirit lives on in series like the Pop Channel’s current Florida Girls, where the wanton women aren’t rich, but they also aren’t letting minor setbacks like probation and unpaid bills keep them from enjoying wild times.
Similarly, the girls in Derry Girls don’t let restrictive nuns or bomb threats keep them from swearing, fighting, and lusting after boys. (At least they don’t smoke, although Orla does carry a lighter because, as she says, “I just like meltin’ stuff.”) Much of the first episode is about the ladies getting sent to after-school detention for threatening to beat up an annoyingly unflappable first-year student — an offense Michelle insists was merely “attempted bullying,” unworthy of punishment. The big appeal of this show is that these characters’ self-centered concerns feel so real. There are bombs in the streets, but they’re more upset when a nun confiscates a lipstick that’s been discontinued. Whether viewers are willing to admit it, this kind of “But how does this affect me?” tunnel vision is honestly relatable.
Where to see it
Netflix. For a male-centered version of the Derry Girls-style foul-mouthed UK high school hijinks, try the sitcom The Inbetweeners, which is also available on Netflix.