In its first two episodes, Lisa McGee’s feisty sitcom ‘Derry Girls’ hasn’t been afraid to tackle sacred cows.
But after making some jokes about Catholic schools, the Channel 4 sitcom finally went the full hog on Catholicism in episode three, bravely – or rather foolishly, depending on your point of view – inviting comparisons with the biggest sacred cow in Irish comedy ‘Fr Ted’.
This week’s episode found the gang on a study sleepover for a history exam in Erin’s house and they were all suffering varying degrees of sleep deprivation and stress.
Nicola Coughlin’s Clare was the most hyper after consuming five – or was it 23? – cans of a caffeine infused energy drink.
Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s wild child Michelle boasted that she had been guzzling Pernod – although no one was going to actually challenge that claim.
Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin was in mourning over the loss of the family dog Toto.
Everyone – including her mum, Tara Lynne O’Neill’s hard headed Mary Quinn – suspected this was her pre-packaged excuse for poor grades in the history exam.
Dylan Llewelyn’s English born James was so beside himself with exhaustion that he couldn’t tell “my rebellions from my uprisings”.
This prompted a retort from Michelle that Martina Anderson would have been proud of: “And who’s fault is that? If you lot had stopped invading us for 5 f**kin minutes there wouldn’t be so much to learn”.
As for Louisa Harland’s Orla, well she was just spacy – so no change there then.
Stuffed with an Ulster Fry prepared by Ian McElhinney’s Grandpa Joe while he ranted about Mrs Malarkey cheating at the bingo with a special pen, the gang trudged like death row prisoners to school.
Erin spotted a dog that looked exactly like Toto with a British Army patrol and soon they were pursuing it around Derry’s Walls and into a church where they encountered the infamous Mrs Malarkey.
Clare was convinced a statue of the Virgin Mary in the church smirked at her while Erin chased the dog.
Michelle and Orla also claimed to have seen the smirk but when the statue appeared to shed tears, the Derry Girls thought they had a bona fide miracle on their hands with the added bonus of getting out of the exam.
This led to another appointment with Siobhan McSweeney’s weary headmistress Sister Michael in her office and also Peter Campion’s impossibly good looking, trendy priest Fr Peter on whom even James developed a man crush.
With all the instant celebrity – a Spice Girls style page 5 photo shoot was arranged by the Derry Journal – and free bon bons, would the weeping statue story actually hold water?
Three episodes in and we all know the formula by now.
McGee and director Michael Lennox delivered another snappy, raucous episode, with Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s Michelle continuing to enjoy many of the best lines.
Her brief summary of the Famine – “they ran out of spuds and everyone was ragin'” – has to be one of the best tongue in cheek lines of the series so far.
However there was encouraging evidence that Nicola Coughlin’s goody two shoes Clare could yet develop into one of its strongest characters and Louisa Harland’s wired to the moon Orla is having her moments.
Dylan Llewllyn continues to take one for the team as the much derided James, although Saoirse Monica Jackson still needs to dial down the exaggerated antics of Erin.
McGee was astute enough not to ape too much the bizarre world of ‘Fr Ted’, although Peter Campion’s Fr Peter could have been ripped from the Linehan and Matthews’ playbook.
In fact, one of the joys of the series so far has been the show’s steadfast focus on developing its own brazen identity, while acknowledging 90s pop culture influences.
McSweeney’s cynical Sister Michael remains a real delight and feels fresh.
And while ‘Derry Girls’ has often felt like Northern Ireland’s answer to ‘The In Betweeners’, episode three actually seemed to be tipping a nod to ‘Only Fools and Horses’ – especially with its weeping statue storyline.
As with previous episodes, most but not all of the jokes hit their mark and Tommy Tiernan as Erin’s dad Gerry still feels underused.
But it remains an entertaining and fizzy comedy with real laugh out loud moments.
Hell, even celebrity Richard Osman tweeted before this week’s episode aired: “Absolutely my favourite new show. Warning: is rude.”
I wonder how ‘Derry Girls’ would fare if he ever decides to run on Twitter #theworldcupofsitcoms?
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.
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