The Write Stuff

You know a programme has made it into the public’s consciousness when the marketeers start to cash in.

Sitting on a packed tube train to Heathrow, my smartphone buzzed as I received an email from Hastings Hotels just hours before the final episode of ‘Derry Girls’ aired.

An ad for the Everglades Hotel read: “Be A Derry Girl” – immediately conjuring up images of hordes of tourists in green school uniforms and wild hair, freaking out about exams, boys and Provos in the boots of their cars.

“Come and visit the Everglades Hotel and live the life of a Derry girl,” the copy read.

“Explore the walled city, relax with a cocktail and enjoy the craic in this vibrant City.

“Our special offer includes :-Luxurious overnight accommodation; Full Irish breakfast in the morning; Walled city tour; Derry Girl cocktail; Complimentary wifi; Complimentary car parking..”

A Derry Girl cocktail?

Is that not Pernod straight from the bottle?

Episode six found Lisa McGee’s comic creations – Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin Quinn, Louisa Harland’s Orla McCool, Nicola Coughlin’s Clare Devlin, Jamie Lee O’Donnell’s Michelle Mallon and her put upon English cousin, Dylan Llewelyn’s James Maguire – back in the corridors and classrooms of Our Lady Immaculate College.

Before that, there was drama in the Quinn household as Tara Lynne O’Neill’s Mary obsessed about darks in the wash and interrogated Kathy Keira Clarke’s Aunt Sarah about where her’s were.

Ian McElhinney’s Grandpa Joe was having none of it and suggested she put on a half load – something Mary could never contemplate.

Joe was in foul form because he was suspended from driving again – blaming police bias against Catholics.

“Gerry is a Catholic and he’s never been suspended,” Mary protested.

“He’s also a prick but that’s by the by” Joe grumpily retorted as his put upon son in law, Tommy Tiernan’s Gerry prepared to drive him to do a big shop.

Orla, meanwhile, uncharacteristically snapped at James on their return from school because of her obsession with step aerobics.

A proud Sarah said her instructor believed she had the ability to “go all the way” but it was clear Orla was feeling the pressure.

While Joe did his big shop, Gerry called into a photo shop where Jamie Beamish’s rather enthusiastic assistant Ciaran insisted that he needed a docket to collect Mary’s photos. Needless to say, Gerry didn’t get the photos without the docket because Joe wouldn’t vouch for him.

In Our Lady Immaculate College, the pupils were working on the school magazine, The Habit, when they were informed that’s their seriously ill fellow student and editor Louise Kerr would not be returning.

Siobhan McSweeney’s Sister Michael said: “I suppose the only thing we can do now is..”, only to be interrupted by one girl who suggested: “Pray for her?”

“Sure, what good would that do?” their headmistress responded dismissively.

Sister Michael suggested a new editor but Leah O’Rourke’s irritating Jenny Joyce wasn’t keen, proposing the edition be cancelled instead.

Seizing her moment, Erin volunteered to step into Louise’s shoes but lost the entire editorial team who resigned in protest over her ruthlessness.

Left on her own to produce The Habit, Erin struggled to come up with compelling editorial content and recruited Michelle, Clare, Orla and James to the cause.

She struck it lucky when the gang came across a juicy story from an anonymous pupil on her struggle with being a teenage lesbian and this brought them immediately into a censorship battle with Sister Michael.

Episode six found Lisa McGee’s ribald sitcom in typically foul mouthed and mischievous form, with each cast member getting a chance to shine.

Kathy Keira Clarke’s Aunt Sarah was on top form and has grown as the series has unfolded, as has Tommy Tiernan’s increasingly exasperated Gerry.

Louisa Harland turned in her best performance yet as the rather leftfield Orla, with a delightful final sequence involving Madonna’s ‘Like A Prayer’ that was reminiscent of the American indie comedy ‘Little Miss Sunshine’.

Dylan Llewelyn has also come into his own and was especially good in this episode – providing audiences outside Northern Ireland with a character that not only reflects their bewilderment at this rather different part of the world but shines a light on the ridiculous prejudices in both communities.

As always, there was a canny choice of 80s and 90s songs – Blur’s ‘Girls and Boys’ getting an outing.

Once again, McGee delivered quotable one liners – with Siobhan McSweeney’s cynical Sister Michael enjoying the lion’s share.

As with the previous five episodes, the sixth was skilfully written – not least in the way it brought the series to an end with a reminder of what life was really like in Northern Ireland in the 1990s.

It was a smart and gutsy conclusion.

While not everything has worked in this series, McGee has created a sitcom that has significantly raised the bar for television comedy in Northern Ireland without sacrificing local nuance.

She has also raised expectations of series two.

As people look to fill the gap left behind by ‘Derry Girls’, they may well gaze south towards BBC3 and RTÉ2’s Cork sitcom ‘The Young Offenders’.

But it will be a brave advertising exec who comes up with a promotion, urging us to “Become A Young Offender”.

 

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.