Just hours before the airing of the second episode of ‘Derry Girls’, writer Lisa McGee had great cause for celebration.
Channel 4 announced it had commissioned a second series of the 1990s convent school sitcom.
After the enthusiastic response to the opening episode, hopes were high that the show would deliver on its initial promise.
Episode two got off to a very strong start, with another cringeworthy school Assembly for the pupils of Our Lady Immaculate College.
Once again, eager to please prefect, Leah O’Rourke’s Jenny Joyce led a God awful acapella version of the Troggs/Wet Wet Wet’’s ’ ‘Love is all Around’ – prompting Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s rebel pupil Michelle Mallon to declare “Sweet Jesus!” and Siobhan McSweeney’s headmistress, Sister Michael to ask a teacher: “Did I not ban this one?”
Enjoying some of the best lines of the episode, Sister Michael acknowledged that Year 13s preparing to resit their GCSE Maths might be feeling worried or anxious but “please do not come crying to me”.
Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin Quinn, Nicola Coughlin’s earnest Clare Devlin, Louise Harland’s spaced out Orla McCool and O’Donnell’s Michelle were breathless with excitement at the news that the school trip this year would be to Paris – with foul mouthed Michelle fantasising about getting off with French boys.
However they were shocked to learn they had to raise £375 each.
Naively believing Jenny Joyce that they could always dip into their trust funds, Erin, Clare and Michelle were shocked to discover from their parents there were none and that they might be poor.
As they waited on a mammoth order in the chippy for their families, Orla proposed selling their organs but the much more sensible Clare suggested finding a job, prompting Michelle to declare: “There are no jobs in Derry! Isn’t that what everyone says?”
Michelle’s solution was to steal the situations vacant board from the chippy so they could get first dibs on all the plum jobs but they were soon rumbled by Tracey Lynch’s fearsome chip shop owner Fionnula.
Veteran Co Tyrone comedian Kevin McAleer also made an appearance as the extremely boring Uncle Colm who paid Erin’s family a visit to give a long winded account of the trauma of being tied up in his home by a masked gang and tied to a radiator while they stole his van.
”It’s a good job that I had the Economy 7 on the timer”, he mused as Ian McElhinney’s Grandpa Joe, Tommy Tiernan’s Gerry Quinn, Tara Lynne O’Neill’s Mary Quinn and Kathy Keira Clarke’s Sara struggled to feign interest through the mountain of greasy fast food.
Episode two of McGee’s comedy continued to put a very Derry spin on the sort of comedy mined in ‘The In Betweeners’ and ‘Shameless’.
But while it undoubtedly had its moments, episode two of ‘Derry Girls’ still felt like a comedy that is finding its feet.
Jamie Lee O’Donnell remained the star turn as Michelle, while Louise Harland’s leftfield Orla also showed some potential.
While her cousin Erin dreamt of the literary Paris of Samuel Beckett, Orla wanted to go to “meet Nicole” from the 1990s Renault Clio ads.
Some cast members – Jackson and O’Rourke in particular – succumbed to that tendency in Northern Irish sitcoms to overplay one liners.
Even though Tiernan and McElhinney were given slightly more to do in this episode, they still felt rather underused.
But if there was one big disappointment, it was the rehashing of McAleer’s boring old culchie routine from his ‘Nighthawks’ days on RTÉ.
As a stand-up, McAleer, like Tommy Tiernan, has proven over the years he is an inventive and often very funny comic.
However this just felt like a tired retread of past glories and it was too reminiscent of Ben Keaton’s boring, cladding obsessed priest, Fr Austin Purcell in ‘Fr Ted’.
Meanwhile Dylan Llewellyn as the token male pupil in the convent struggled to make much of an impression – bar an impassioned speech about why his character, James hated chippies which earned the group expulsion from Fionnula’s chippy.
While it is good to see ‘Derry Girls’ getting a chance to develop its characters with a second series, it will need to do more than just mine 1990s pop culture references like the slow motion walk to ‘Little Green Bag’ in ‘Reservoir Dogs’, Michelle’s wicked tongue and Northern Irish sayings.
Indeed, the best moments of this espisode were those that sent up the girls’ experience of school.
While McGee once again proved she can deliver some laughs, the time has come for ‘Derry Girls’ to really hit its stride and prove it can sustain the laughter throughout an entire episode.
Dan McGinn is a journalist who was previously the Ireland Political Editor and Ireland Deputy Editor of the Press Association and has worked for the Irish News, Belfast Telegraph and other publications and for TV and radio. He currently works in public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog, They’ll Love It In Pomona covering the latest cinema releases.