The Nuclear Option

 

No sooner had the debate begun about how ‘Derry Girls’ really measures up as a sitcom, than BBC Northern Ireland decided last week to air the first of three new episodes of ‘Give My Head Peace’.

Thanks BBC because you just reminded everyone what a massive leap forward Lisa McGee’s not quite perfect Channel 4 sitcom is for Northern Irish comedy.

Now entering the second half of its six episode run, the fourth episode of ‘Derry Girls’ again delivered some sharp, laugh out loud moments, even if, once again, it didn’t completely work.

Episode four found the girls back in church where a group of teenagers from Chernobyl were paraded in front of the congregation before they were dispatched to live with local families.

The “wains from Chernobyl” were introduced by Niall Cusack’s priest who told his parishioners they were there to get their lungs cleared.

Siobhan McSweeney’s sarcastic Sister Michael commended him on his homily but snapped back at him: “Keep it moving. ‘Rawhide’ is on in 15 minutes”.

Addressing the congregation, she mused that sending Chernobyl’s young people to Derry during the Troubles was not quite a case of moving from the frying pan into the fire but rather into a wok.

Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin Quinn and her cousin, Louisa Harland’s Orla McCool were delighted to have landed a “wain from Chernobyl”.

Diona Doherty’s Katya, however, did not seem to share Erin’s belief that Derry was “a cracker place” and she also had to put up with everyone calling her a Russian.

Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s thrill seeking Michelle naturally turned up with her much derided English cousin Dylan Llewelyn’s James and Nicola Coughlan’s earnest Clare in tow.

In typical fashion, Michelle announced her intention to lose the rest of her virginity to “a Cossack”.

Katya turned out to be a rather gruff Ukrainian girl who immediately took a shine to James, much to the surprise of Erin, Orla and Clare who had all bought into Michelle’s insistence in the previous three episodes that he was gay.

Meanwhile Erin’s mum Tara Lynne O’Neill’s Mary grew suspicious when her widowed father Ian McElhinney’s Grandpa Joe winked at someone in Mass.

Her suspicions that he might have a fancy woman mounted when it emerged he had bought two buns in the local bakery and had been spotted up Pump Street with a cream horn…

Yup… It was that kind of episode…

And while Erin continued to go all gooey at the sight of Anthony Boyle’s wannabe rock star/DJ David Donnelly in the local chippie, Michelle had her eye on Michael Shea’s rather reserved member of the Chernobyl group, Artem who had been tethered to Leah O’Rourke’s Jenny Joyce whose house he was staying in.

A party at Jenny’s house provided an opportunity for James, Michelle and Erin to pursue their objects of desire, Clare to challenge prejudice in her own misguided way, Orla to tackle a chocolate fountain and everyone to dance to Whigfield’s disco pop hit ‘Saturday Night’.

The fourth episode of ‘Derry Girls’ moved along at its trademark, breakneck pace and it again demonstrated McGee’s flair for ribald humour and a good one liner – a joke about slagging off the Pope, involving a Union Jack dress was a particular joy.

And while O’Donnell’s wild child act dominated the first three episodes, it was encouraging to see Jackson come into her own as Erin and a delight to see Ian McElhinney also getting his moment to shine.

Nevertheless Tommy Tiernan as Erin’s dad, Gerry continues to feel terribly underused and he seems a remarkably meek character for a fearless, boundary pushing stand-up comedian to play.

Maybe Gerry’s day will come.

As with previous episodes, the latest instalment had its bumpy moments and sometimes it resorted to some all too easy gags.

However episode four of ‘Derry Girls’ delivered enough laughs to justify the second series that Channel 4 has already commissioned.

As McGee dreams up that second series, she can do so in the luxury that a rival channel in Northern Ireland is still churning out a sitcom that was lame at birth and is about as funny as ‘Talkback’.

 

 

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.