Derry Girls returns with crazier exploits and more heartwarming moments in season 2 on Netflix
It's almost as though Derry Girls' creator Lisa McGee wanted to give fans every possible thing they might have wanted with this new season: Liberal doses of Sister Michael's world weariness — check; zany capers and improbable exploits aplenty — check; '90s nostalgia via Take That music videos — check; Quinn family weirdness — check; lashings of Irish humour (by which we mean sundry cracks at Belfast's expense) — check; Uncle Colm monologues — check; iconic catchphrases ('Expand and explain! Expand and explain!') — check.
When Derry Girls season 1 premiered on Netflix in late 2018, it did so quietly: There was no fanfare around it, and it wasn't "event TV" despite a warm reception in the UK, where it had been released by Channel 4. The cast — with the exception of the senior members — comprised all new faces, and the press around the show had been so low key that few outside of the UK would have even heard of the show, despite the rampant pop culture cross-pollination that is the norm.
But with its Netflix release, all of that changed.
The tale of five teens navigating their way through the usual (okay, maybe not-so-usual) adolescent challenges while growing up in '90s Northern Ireland, during the Troubles (the violent three-decade conflict between the Protestants/Unionists and the Catholics/Nationalists) made for a riveting and hilarious watch.
Erin, Clare, Orla, Michelle and James may have had to undergo security checks while on their way to school because of bomb scares, but they had typical teen dilemmas to deal with too: like being in detention for attempted bullying (an adventure that involves a dead nun), coming up with money for a school trip to Paris (an adventure that leads them to nearly burn down the bedroom of the fiery lady who runs the local chip shop), chasing down a seemingly dead pet dog (an adventure that sees them perpetrate a hoax about a miraculous "smirking and weeping" statue of the Virgin Mary), or circumventing school censorship. And if all of that sounds absolutely madcap, that's because it was — gloriously so.
While you'd have been quick to pick a favourite or two from among the five leads (now casting votes for: Orla McCool!), there were a bevy of other characters to root for: Sister Michael, the no-nonsense headmistress; Erin's parents Mary and Gerry, her aunt Sarah (Orla's mother), and Grandpa Joe; Denis, the proprietor of the sweet shop; the singularly well-coiffed Father Peter; and the nostalgia-inducing '90s soundtrack — featuring such oldie goldies as 'Saturday Night', 'Push It', 'Everybody Dance Now' and 'Informer'.
Amid its hilarity, there was also something unutterably heartwarming about Derry Girls. Maybe it because The Cranberries' 'Dreams' became the show's de facto anthem (with all its inescapable poignancy — a consequence of lead singer Dolores O'Riordan's death). Or it might have been the bittersweet nature of the protagonists' stories — sure, they were making you laugh your head off with their antics, but at the same time, their streets were being patrolled by gun-toting soldiers, or there were news reports being telecast about civilians killed in explosions. Or maybe it was the way in which the five fiercely stuck up for each other: that with all their individual eccentricities and differences, the bond between them was deep, abiding and unshakable.
Derry Girls' return to Netflix for its season 2 hasn't been low key. Fans outside the UK (where the new season was screened by Channel 4 a few months ago) had bookmarked the 2 August release date. Expectations were high. The young cast — Saoirse-Monica Jackson (Erin), Nicola Coughlan (Clare), Louisa Harland (Orla), Dylan Llewellyn (James) and Jamie-Lee O'Donnell (Michelle) — had become stars with a steadily growing fan base on social media. There was a dedicated coterie of devotees for Siobhan McSweeney (Sister Michael), the adopting of Derry Girl-isms like "Sweet suffering Jesus" and "Jesus wept" (to indicate extreme emotion, or exasperation), comprehension tests for the Irish brogue and research into the usage of words like "craic" and "class", and the ultimate marker that the show had become a true pop culture phenomenon — a plethora of "Which Derry Girl are you?" quizzes.
And while I may have initially been just a wee bit on the fence about whether or not this second season matches up to the full, manic glory of Derry Girls' debut, I had to admit by the end, that it comes very, very close.
The six episodes in season 2 feature story-lines about a "Friends Across the Barricades" camp the five attend (to build bridges — "metaphorical bridges" as Erin points out to Ma Mary — with Protestant teens); a Dead Poets' Society type introduction of a new poetry teacher in school that doesn't quite end with an O Captain, My Captain! send-off (but does involve an attempt to kidnap Sister Michael's favourite religious statue); a Take That concert that has the girls in a tizzy (to attend which, the five must combat parental opposition, an escaped polar bear, at least two fraught drives, and an encounter with a band of
gypsies travellers.) And that's only till the halfway mark of the season! There's also a clogged toilet at a funeral (the five try to flush a stash of hash-filled scones down it); a psychopathic new schoolmate and a prom that doesn't quite go according to plan; and Grandpa Joe's mission to intercept and meet US President Bill Clinton during the latter's visit to Derry.
It's almost as though Derry Girls' creator Lisa McGee wanted to give fans every possible thing they might have wanted with this new season: Liberal doses of Sister Michael's world weariness — check; zany capers and improbable exploits aplenty — check; '90s nostalgia via Take That music videos — check; Quinn family weirdness — check; lashings of Irish humour (by which we mean sundry cracks at Belfast's expense) — check; Uncle Colm monologues — check; iconic catchphrases ("Expand and explain! Expand and explain!") — check. But at no point does season 2 feel like fan service. And if the jokes feel just slightly blunter than season 1, season 2 ups the goose-bump quotient by a mile. You'll feel it when Erin's family and their neighbours come out onto the streets to celebrate peace for their troubled part of the world with the IRA ceasefire of 1994. You'll feel it when James, about to return to his home in England with his flaky mother, is told by Michelle and the others that he truly is, in all the ways that matter, a "Derry girl". You'll feel it when Clinton's words play out over a television set, heralding a new era for Northern Ireland: "And so I ask you to build on the opportunity you have before you; to believe that the future can be better than the past; to work together because you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart."
Derry Girls' global success — considering just how rooted it is in Irish culture and history — may seem surprising at first glance. But a parallel can be drawn to the first episode of season 2: When Erin and the gang attend the Friends Across the Barricades camp, Father Peter asks the Catholics and Protestants to mention the similarities and differences among the two groups. A chalkboard listing "differences" gets filled up very quickly, the one for "similarities" is bare. Then, a misunderstanding results in a fracas between the Catholics and Protestants, and the teens' parents are called to castigate their wains. Erin sees what's happening around her in the room, walks up to the chalkboard for "similarities", and writes: "Parents", as a Protestant teen shares a look of perfect understanding with her.
The near universal love for Derry Girls may be down to that. Sure, its milieu may not be one that most viewers across the world are familiar with at all, but the themes that it is rooted in — friendship and the travails of coming-of-age — those bind together us all.
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