Dan McGinn on May 11, 2022, 12:23 am | Readers 2423
It was ‘Derry Girls’ but not as we know it – yet strangely, also as we know it.
The fifth episode of the final series of the Channel 4 sitcom was not about Erin, Orla, Michelle, Clare and even the supremely irritating, Jenny Joyce.
It was all about their mothers instead.
We saw all five of the mammies as parents and as teenagers as Lisa McGee’s sitcom played with dual narratives about a school reunion and the events of a leavers disco for its pupils 20 years earlier.
The story was framed, though, by a quote from one of the city’s most famous sons, John Hume.
“Somebody once said that the trouble with the English is that they never remember and the trouble with the Irish is that they never forget.. “
Why was that so pertinent?
Because this episode was a parable about secrets buried in the past, long held grievances, revenge and tragic misunderstandings.
The episode began, though, in typical ‘Derry Girls’ fashion in the Quinn family’s kitchen, with Kathy Keira Clarke’s Sarah reading a book about Russian history.
“Make me a cup of tea will you, Mary?” she asked her sister.
“I would do it myself but the Bolsheviks are about to kick off.”
It was a struggle, though, to find milk or anything in the fridge, as Tommy Tiernan’s Gerry quickly found out.
Tara Lynne O’Neill’s Ma Mary had cleared everything out as part of a new healthy eating plan.
That meant no sugar, no dairy, no carbs, no meat.
A no food diet, Gerry called it although there were loads of satsumas.
His wife explained she had to drop a dress size before the school reunion in six hours time.
The oranges diet was just 25 minutes old.
Gerry was curious why Sarah was engrossed in a book about Russian history.
“i’ve always been into Russia, Gerry, you know that,” she protested, with him retorting that it was true, she did once own a furry hat.
Sarah was determined to dazzle everyone at the reunion with her knowledge of Russian history because they all thought she was a bimbo in school.
Meanwhile Saoirse Monica Jackson’s Erin and Louisa Harland’s Orla had been tasked with working out how Mary could shift the pounds.
Orla’s contribution was carrying a healthy eating pyramid diagram, while Erin worked out that if Mary jumped up and down on the spot for five hours, she would shift almost a stone.
“Is there another way we can shift half a stone before 8 o’clock?” Mary desperately asked.
“Cut off a leg?” Gerry helpfully suggested.
Ian McElhinney’s Grandpa Joe arrived, asking his daughters if they had weighed in yet.
He wasn’t bothered by the diet, as Jim from across the road was doing him a fry.
Gerry, who had to get a new suit for the reunion, thought they were making a lot of unnecessary fuss but it emerged Mary was desperate to impress Jenny Joyce’s mum “Janette Joyce, formerly O’Shea”.
Not that she wanted to admit it, hinting instead at a dark secret from their school leavers’ disco 20 years before.
At the school reunion, Foy Vance’s covers band singer welcomed the Class of 77 back to school with a rendition of the Carpenters’ song ‘Close to You,’ while a starving Sarah weighed into the vol-au-vents.
Her date, Jamie Beamish’s photo shop assistant Kieran turned up in a light blue suit that matched Gerry’s.
Clare Devlin’s dad, David Ireland’s Sean also wore the suit which it turned out was on offer in Dunnes Stores.
Siobhan McSweeney’s Sister Michael was surprisingly on hand to keep an eye on proceedings but explained she was there to guard the school’s valuables because the past pupils were so untrustworthy.
As Mary, Sarah and Philippa Dunne’s Geraldine Devlin engaged in small talk, their tongues suddenly wagged as Michelle’s mum, Amelia Crowley’s Deirdre turned up with a man who was not her husband.
Deirdre explained her husband was working nights and the mystery man turned out to be Alex Gaumond’s Rob, her “cousin from America,” except he was from Canada – a fact that everyone seemed to ignore.
Rob’s presence, however, triggered memories of the leavers disco, as he had been present then too with a Polaroid camera.
When Jenny Joyce’s mum, Justine Mitchell’s Janette sashayed into the reunion with her tight-lipped surgeon husband, Tobias Beer’s Richard and ignored them, Mary couldn’t contain her anger nor her determination to unearth a secret from the past that would bring her down a peg or two.
The fifth episode of this run was arguably the most narratively ambitious yet, with McGee shuttling back and forth between events in 1997 and 1977.
Instead of the usual 1990s soundtrack, there were songs from Johnny Cash, Chic, Rod Stewart, Stiff Little Fingers and Foy Vance’s 1990s covers band giving us a blast of “our national anthem,” the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’.
There was archive footage too of riots, paramilitary slogans daubed on walls and a young John Hume delivering that quote.
While McElhinney was the only regular cast member to appear in both storylines, we got amusing teenage versions of the five mammies and Rob.
The joke, of course, was how much the teenage versions of Mary, Sarah, Geraldine and Deirdre had the same traits as their 1990s daughters.
Shauna Higgins’ wee Ma Mary was full of grand plans for their final disco and Dearbhaile McKinney’s Sarah was a bit spacy.
Clare’s mum, Lucy McIlwaine’s Geraldine whipped herself up into a frenzy about having to wear her frock inside out.
The teenage version of Michelle’s mum, Jessica Reynolds’ Deirdre was a rebellious punk who constantly dismissed her Canadian cousin, Martin Quinn’s Rob – just like her daughter treats James.
Claire Keenan’s Janette, however, didn’t quite ape her goody two shoes daughter Jenny’s mannerisms but her 1990s adult version certainly did.
There was a lot to absorb in tonight’s episode – so much that it immediately demanded a repeat viewing.
But did McGee’s dual narrative work?
It did and it didn’t.
In the 1990s storyline, Clarke, Tiernan and McElhinney were unquestionably the star turns, delivering the best lines.
There was an amusing sub-plot about why Janette’s husband didn’t say a word, with Gerry, Joe, Kieran, Sean and Rob trying to break his silence.
In the 1970s storyline, McElhinney also came out on tops as an overprotective, younger version of his beligerent self, telling his daughters: “No drinking, no smoking, no drugs or dancing with boys..no talking to boys”.. before handing Mary a hurling stick.
Not every joke landed – particularly in the 1970s section where Therese Cahill’s Sister Benedict felt like a very pale imitation of Sister Michael.
Nevertheless, you couldn’t fault McGee’s narrative ambition.
The dual narrative was certainly an experiment worth trying.
However if there ever is a ‘Derry Girls’ spin-off, this episode didn’t quite convince that a 1970s version is the right route to take.
As a parable, though, about confronting the past and overcoming shame, a terrible misunderstanding and a desire for revenge, it was undoubtedly clever.
As we head towards the final two episodes of McGee’s sitcom next week, the choice of Dublin band, Aslan’s ‘Crazy World‘ was a very smart one indeed – serving as an apt anthem for all the mums and dads
Get ready for next week’s final two episodes, though. It’s going to be emotional.
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 communications and public affairs and is also a film and television critic with his own blog They’ll Love It In Pomona which covers the latest cinema and television releases.
For over 20 years, Slugger has been an independent place for debate and new ideas. We have published over 40,000 posts and over one and a half million comments on the site. Each month we have over 70,000 readers. All this we have accomplished with only volunteers we have never had any paid staff.
Slugger does not receive any funding, and we respect our readers, so we will never run intrusive ads or sponsored posts. Instead, we are reader-supported. Help us keep Slugger independent by becoming a friend of Slugger.
While we run a tight ship and no one gets paid to write, we need money to help us cover our costs.
If you like what we do, we are asking you to consider giving a monthly donation of any amount, or you can give a one-off donation. Any amount is appreciated.