Here Come The Girls

 

Does anyone remember The Fitz?

No?

It was a BBC2 sitcom written by the acclaimed Co Tyrone stand-up Owen O’Neill about an unhinged family living along the border.

No?

It aired in 2000 and had a cast that included Eamon Morrissey, Bronagh Gallagher, Deirdre O’Kane, Ruth McCabe, Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny.

Still nothing?

Well, that’s not surprising. ‘The Fitz’ died after one series after appalling reviews from critics who desperately hoped it would be the new ‘Fr Ted’.

Ever since Channel 4’s clerical sitcom struck gold, TV executives in the U.K. and Ireland have been trying to find another Irish comedy classic.

Sky 1 came pretty close to replicating the formula with Chris O’Dowd’s ‘Moone Boy’.

BBC Scotland and RTÉ have enjoyed strong ratings for Brendan O’Carroll’s ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’, even if it has received the disdain of most critics.

BBC4’s ‘The Walshes’ and RTÉ’s ‘Val Falvey TD’ stuttered despite having various members of the ‘Fr Ted’ team on board.

Pat Shortt’s ‘Killinaskully’ on RTE has not really been able to find an audience outside Ireland and it remains a mystery how RTÉ’s ‘Bridget and Eamon’ ended up on UK Gold.

So the track record of sitcoms in Ireland remains patchy and north the border, it has been mainly dominated by the woeful ‘Give My Head Peace’ and the debacle that was ‘The Number Twos’ – even if Pearse Elliott’s BBC3 West Belfast comedy ‘Pulling Moves’ deserves an honourable mention.

Playwright Lisa McGee has had one stab at a sitcom so far for Channel 4, ‘London Irish’ which only lasted a series and didn’t quite live up to expectation.

However with ‘Derry Girls’, she has turned closer to home and dipped into her experiences growing up in the city for her latest Channel 4 sitcom.

There was understandable nervousness around Channel 4 greenlighting a sitcom about a group of convent educated teenagers in Derry/Londonderry (whatever you prefer) at the tail end of the Troubles.

How would it play with audiences outside Northern Ireland who tend to shy away from fiction set there?

How would it play too with audiences closer to home and especially in the Maiden City?

How would the makers of ‘Derry Girls’ avoid the exaggerated, overblown performances that have dogged most Northern Irish comedies?

It is, therefore, a pleasure to report that the opening episode of ‘Derry Girls’ suggests this is a sitcom with real laughs and a hell of a lot of potential.

At its heart is Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin Quinn, an insecure teen who is constantly embarrassed by her family including her cousin, Louisa Harland’s Orla McCool.

Orla has no qualms about breaking any personal boundaries and she likes to read aloud excerpts from Erin’s personal diary, much to her cousin’s chagrin.

Erin and Orla knock about with Nicola Coughlan’s rather earnest Clare Devlin, who in the first episode was on a fast for Africa, and Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s gobby Michelle Mallon who cursed like Samuel L Jackson after seeing ‘Pulp Fiction’.

Joining this motley crew is Michelle’s English cousin, Dylan Llewellyn’s James Maguire who ended up being the only boy in the convent because of fears that if he went to the local Christian Brothers school he would be beaten up for being a Brit.

The plot of the opening episode was pretty basic, sketching out many of the characters.

Erin got tongue tied over a boy she fancied and hoped to catch up with him after school.

The girls got into bother over an incident on a school bus in which Michelle tried to intimidate some first years into giving up their seats at the back, only to encounter a rather thran girl.

James was distraught that the school seemed to have made no provision at all for him going to the loo. Clare suffered desperate hunger pangs and they also had to deal with a kleptomaniac nun.

There was a real sense in the opening episode that McGee really knows the territory she is lampooning – a School Assembly scene with a motivational speech from a rather obnoxious prefect was laugh out loud funny (and no doubt chimed with anyone who went to a convent school like Thornhill) and there was also a well landed gag about one of the pupils, Rhonda Gallagher not being expelled even though “she’s in the IRA”.

There was something rather refreshing too about a sitcom set in the final years of the Troubles which treated the conflict more as an inconvenience.

A scene where Michelle ogled a British soldier searching their school bus, while James struggled to comprehend what was going on was amusing.

Rounding out the cast were Tommy Tiernan and Tara Lynne O’Neill as Erin’s parents Gerry and Mary, Ian McElhinney as her grandpa Joe and Kathy Kiera Clarke as Aunt Sara.

With only brief appearances by them in the first episode, it will be interesting to see if McGee lets these characters loose in later instalments.

Inevitably, given the convent school setting and its no nonsense headmistress Siobhan McSweeney’s Sister Michael, some critics have already reached for the ‘Fr Ted’ comparisons.

However with its mixture of gobby and confused teenagers, the first episode of McGee’s sitcom felt more like a Northern Irish version of Channel 4’s ‘The In Betweeners’ and ‘Shameless’.

And while not every gag hit the mark and one or two members of the cast still succumbed to that tendency in Northern Irish comedy to play everything too big, there was much to suggest that ‘Derry Girls’ could be a surprise hit – not least Jamie’s Lee O’Donnell’s potentially star making turn as Michelle.

Some locals may quibble about the accents but there can be little doubt that McGee has a firm grasp on the black humour of her home city, especially in the period ‘Derry Girls’ is set.

But what will be really fascinating to watch in the weeks ahead is how McGee’s sitcom travels with audiences outside of Northern Ireland.

 

 

  • WindowLean

    I’m probably not the target audience for this (over 50) but I thought it was poorly written, badly acted by the main cast (the supporting cast being more experienced actors were better) and perhaps worst of all, it wasn’t funny. Tommy Tiernan’s bemused look cried out “How the hell did I get involved in this?”

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    It’s nowhere near that bad. The juxtaposition of the bewildered English boy among these gobby cadet matriarchs is fun. The fear of the school Principal being greater than the fear of the ra and the Brits is resonant of the period. And it has some great lines, not least “I’m not being an individual on my own”

  • William Kinmont

    I found it very funny and will make time for it next week.I think it does compare to the early shameless and the inbetweeners. I also enjoyed London Irish and hope this can get a longer run. I suppose there are those out there who prefer Mrs Brown which is a mystery to me

  • Neil

    I thought it was pretty funny.

  • hgreen

    I’ve yet to see it but I don’t find yet another NI production set in the troubles refreshing. I’m still getting over the “Number 2s”. Never was a sitcom more appropriately named.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    Yes, I remember ‘The Fitz’ and thought it was a work of genius, particularly the cross dressing eldest son reflecting the schizophrenia of a household straddling the border. Bronagh Gallagher was also enjoyable with her ‘Ireland of opportunities’ new job with every episode. ‘Derry Girls’ is less bizarre but then the bizarreness of the protagonists’ situation speaks for itself.

  • Zig70

    Well I laughed. Several times. It just side stepped the cheese and no more. Looking forward to next week.

  • WindowLean

    Nah, Mrs Brown is shite too!

  • notimetoshine

    London Irish was a great premise but it came ten years or more too late.

    London Irish would have been much better if it was set in the 90s or early noughties. For Irish millennials, the whole cultural trope of the ‘London Irish’ isn’t so relevant and much less relatable. ‘Dubai Irish’ or ‘Madrid Irish’ might be more applicable. Still a funny show though.

  • the keep

    Have to say I thought it was complete gash.

  • the keep

    If Channel 4 could get something close to the genius Black Books the world would be a happier and funnier place.

  • Oggins

    Jez after all these years, we finally have something we agree on 😀. Currently out of the country, but looking forward to seeing Derry Girls with all this hype

  • Oggins

    Early shameless was fantastic and the inbetweeners was a huge success for the right reason.

    London Irish was ok, watchable, but can see why it never ran further.

    I had always aspired to a show based on the influx of Irish to Australia (as I was one) in relation to the backpacking and those who stayed for a few years. Fortunately for all, I do not possess writing skills!

  • Tochais Siorai

    Keep, there might be hope for you yet.

  • the keep

    All it took was comedy!

  • jporter

    Was better than I was expecting, overacting let it down, it’s no Inbetweeners (yet).
    Unfortunately no comedy at the moment comes even remotely close to the recently finished Detectorists. Superbly acted, beautifully filmed, acutely observed genius.

  • willow

    I must say, it looked dreadful based on the trailer, so I didn’t watch it.

  • Ian Rate

    Treat yourself.
    It’s well worth it.

  • Steven Denny

    I started watching Boys from the Black Stuff again… it literally is back to the future on so many levels.

  • Brian O’Neill

    Just finished watching it. I liked it, the characters are good. I watched it on the 4 player but if anyone watched it live did they have the subtitles on the live version?

  • Brian O’Neill

    The IT crowd was also genius.

  • Mirrorman

    Anyone remember local BBC 1980’s comedy ‘Foreign Bodies’? Dan Gordon was in it. It was funny at the time – but I’ve never re-watched it – so can’t say one way or the other if it has stood the test of time.

  • Brian Walker

    Derry Girls has great attitude. It’s a cheeky coming of age comedy with local flavour and style familiar enough to local audiences. But it will be a revelation to GB viewers more accustomed to strong doses of Troubles Britguilt – written mainly by Brits of course. Here was an authentic Derry voice giving those stereotypes a boot up the arse, in broad comedy I grant you but with identifiable characters nonetheless..

    I loved the absence of Troubles victimhood and the of living life in the vivid present that is the experience of teenagers everywhere. But maybe these kids are just that bit more feral to give the comedy its extra bite?

    In this almost believable Derry set in the 1990s, the Troubles are on the turn but in the same post shirt factory age, Girl Power still rules. The Troubles veteran granda is left literally holding the baby. The “wee English fella” the only boy in a girls’ school ( for the CBs would tear him apart) is the product of an auntie’s abortion in England that never happened. Overhearing this breaking news, ” I didn’t know that”, he says plaintively.

    The Brits aren’ t monsters but wimps who keep everybody late when they close the bridge because of a wee thing like a suspect bomb. Orla announces to her mates on the school bus that “you might fancy some of them although you’re not supposed to say that.” Sex rather than violence or at least sex chat is what these kids have in mind. And on paper to. Claire steals Orla’s intimate diary and quotes it (out loud! ) for a school essay

    There’s lots of scope here for character development. I hear Bill Clinton comes to town in a later episode. On the strength of the first, I reckon we can expect to hear more about Monica than Martin.

  • William Kinmont

    I think a lot of good comedy has some clever messages and sories behind the up front blatent silliness the layers adding to the quality. I hadn’t spotted the granda holding the baby bit first time .

  • Brian Walker

    1 wondered about the accents too Brian. The BBC reports no problems but I’d guess there’ll be some, as with the briiliant Rab C Nesbitt.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I was ready for the usual NI comedy over-acting and sure enough there was plenty. But in the 15 minutes of it I watched, there seemed to be some good pace and enough non-obvious laughs to keep it going. I’m a bit of a comedy geek and quite hard to impress I think, esp on sitcoms, but it felt like there was the spark of something there and it felt like someone intelligent was in charge.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    What’s interesting too from an outsider’s point of view – I’m not a Derry Catholic, had you guessed – is what is normalised and regarded as just part of life – and how it is normalised. Apart from the comedy itself I think that’s the most interesting thing for me.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Yes, watched one episode. I recall some laughs but not enough, the old over-effusing thing that bedevils NI comedy, and too many southern Irish accents for a show set in NI (another perennial issue – the acting pool for these things is treated as Ireland-wide and southern actors often seem to think they can do Ulster accents better than they really can. It’s as distracting as those minor characters in the Likely Lads in pub scenes, supposedly working class Geordies, who were either from Leeds or straight out of RADA.)

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Ah Rab C Nesbitt at its best was poetry. And Jamesy Cotter just such a brilliantly observed character. I always felt Belfast and Glasgow both had thousands of Jamesy Cotters, there was something Clyde/Lagan axis about him.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    We still watch Black Books – brilliant. Proper sitcom, proper sicom characters, great writing, great acting. Love it.

    The sitcoms I watch these days tend to be US mainly. I’m currently working my way (with my son though it’s the worst parenting ever) through It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. If you like it dark, with no characters with any redeeming features, it’s genius. You also get Danny De Vito in it from series 2 onwards.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Jimeoin is the man for that

  • Gaygael

    I did not have you pegged as a black books fan. It’s my boyfriends favourite and we have had the pleasure of watching Dylan Moran twice in belfast within the last few years. Colour my prejudice about you. Apologies.

    I think Derry Girls has started strong. Great comedic timing of Michelle and Sr. Michael in particular. I saw much of my teenage friends in the characters. Couple of ropey accents and a over hammed performances but thinking it could be great if it builds on this strong start.

  • StevieG

    Come On!. Lazy poorly written concept and story and overly acted out stereotypes (english boy in Derry and has to go to a all girl’s school and is not allowed to go to the toilet – so xenophobia, nuns (and a dead one), toilet joke, and the Derry mammy!) – the best I heard it described was that it was better than Mrs Brown Boys – all that was missing was the bloke carrying a plank! Also have the British army getting on a school bus! and a bomb on the bridge – Really? I admit to smirking twice but overall I found it a cringeworthy offering using only foul language and unbelievable characters for comedic effect.

  • William Kinmont

    i know plenty of real characters pretty close to those on the screen . i also know some people who swear alot in real life. one of whom when i suggested a swear box in work said she wasnt f##@ing made of money, so very beleivible to me .i think the comedic effect came in all sorts of layers even the toilet humour bit had more than one aspect to it. Have come across alot of positive reaction from very mixed demographic locally my parents have watched it twice which is unheard of.

  • the keep

    I though Dylan was brilliant in Calvary as well though I am biased as I love that film.

    Perhaps if we took away the past from this place we are not to different?

  • StevieG

    I wanted to like it. My point is that the cursing was not funny – I come from Derry in and around this time setting. I found it cliched and somewhat embarrassing – it is lazy writing I am not against people finding it funny – look at Mrs Browns Boys and Give My Head Peace! Just lets not praise it solely because it comes from here destined for a national audience – It’s no Fr Ted, IT Crowd, League of Gentlemen, Black Books, Peep Show, and InBetweeners did the friend interactions/scrapes much better. I will watch the next episode but I hold little hope. Its not new, even for Norn Iron. I have in in the same league as Mrs Brown’s Boys, Allo Allo, Big Bang Theory which lots of people for whatever reason find funny.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    MU, while I could not agree more about Rab, my all time favourite must be Alan Bleasdale’s 1985 TV film “ No Surrender.” Michael Angelis arrives to take over managing a working men’s club in a post industrial wasteland sumwhere in Liverpool. The previous manager has booked for New Year’s Eve three of the worst acts in the world to entertain a triple overbooking of three pensioner groups, one sponsored by the Catholic Church for elderly Irish origin Liverpudlians, in fancy dress, one sponsored by the local Orange order, and a group of dementia patients on their night out. To entertain them the most depressed magician in the Universe played by Elvia Costello, “Rosco de Ville”, pulls his dead rabbit from a top hat before his act disintegrates, a gay comedian and the worst punk band ever all compete for a non existent prize. With every trope of Catholic/ Orange conflict played out while the Loyalist gangsters who own the club torture the ex manager in the back room ( Michael Angelis coming in by accident “ I didn’t see that”), and a dementia group breakdown as the punk band sing “You’re all going to die,” it is the by far the blackest and funniest film to come out of the troubles most significantly set over the water! I would have been proud to have it as one of my credits!

    The cast has some brilliant cameos from Ray McAnally (as a Protestant retired boxer) Joanne Whalley Bernard Hill ( as a bouncer) Andy Marc Mulholland as a Loyalist terrorist on the run and our own James Ellis as Paddy Burke, a blind elderly boxer determined for one more fight with his Protestant opposite number Ray McAnally. If you have not seen it moved heaven and earth to get a copy, of you can find one.

  • William Kinmont

    mrs brown and allo allo make me cringe so its not in the same bag for me . Have never seen bbt.
    I dont watch alot of tv nowadays but will make time for this, havent the nouse or the time or the broadband to set up catch up so will have to hope for no emergencies

  • whatif1984true

    The premise is what if the inbetweeners were derry girls? Hardly original, the derry characters are watered down imitations and where is WILL.
    The first episode had no story just a few feeble setups with no payoffs.
    If they had the guts to cast younger actors they might have hit gold with a younger audience but a younger audience wouldnt get all the ‘troubles’ stuff.
    N. irish historical navel gazing.
    MAYBE it will improve if the cast calm down and the writer gets away from stereotypes or gets considerably crueler and blacker.

  • Jim M

    I thought it wasn’t bad, but it remains to be seen how it will develop. I wonder how much of the dialogue was tweaked to make it understandable to a wider UK audience? Someone said ‘grass’ when surely ‘tout’ would have been used… My wife (Belfast not Derry, but same age as the characters would be now) also said (of the soldiers on the bus scene) that ‘you’d never say ‘but he’s a soldier’, you’d say ‘but he’s a Brit’. I said I thought that ‘Brit’ would be misconstrued as being a xenophobic slur rather than a term for squaddies.