“Derry Girls” is a sitcom set in Northern Ireland that portrays typical teenage life amidst the Troubles, an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland from the late 1960s to 1998. It follows the adventures of Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), their friends Clare (Nicola Coughlan) and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn).
James is an interesting character — as the only boy in an all-girls school and the only non-adult male in the show, one would think he’d stand out. In the beginning, he did. He was placed in Our Lady Immaculate, a Catholic girls’ secondary school in Derry that the other main characters also attend, rather than the boys’ school, because school officials were worried that he would be bullied there due to him being English. Unable to use the girl’s restroom and not allowed in the men’s faculty one, he suffers through the first day of classes, but ultimately finds his place.
Although the creators initially used James for comedic value, by the beginning of the second season, “Derry Girls” begins to use James more to stand up against toxic masculinity. When Miss De Brún begins working at the school and everyone copies her winged eyeliner, James is no exception. He is neither from Derry nor a girl, but he ends up fully embracing being the fifth Derry Girl. He realizes by the end that he wants to remain in Derry instead of going back to England with his mother, and runs back to the rest of the girls shouting, “I am a Derry girl!” — a complete transformation from the beginning of the show where all he wanted was to be perceived as a man.
Another interesting aspect of this show is its allusion to real-life events. Bill Clinton’s visit to Derry, the IRA Ceasefire of 1994 and peacebuilding student programs all really took place in Ireland and were beautifully captured in “Derry Girls.” Lisa McGee, the creator of the show, draws from what she remembers during those times to make it relatable and funny.
She told The New York Times that she wrote to President Clinton’s daughter to invite her to catch a movie at the Strand — just like how the Derry Girls in the show invite Chelsea Clinton to their local pool to check out the wave machine. The Peacebuilding Program was also a real thing McGee experienced, and she told Channel 4 that it was all about fancying the boys and not about peace.
The third and final season is yet to be released, but Nicola Coughlan, who plays Clare Devlin, has dropped a teaser about the ending already: “It’s really magical. I cried and cried and cried when I finished reading the scripts. Because, you know, it’s our last one. It’s bittersweet, but I think we’re sending it off in style,” she said in an interview with Radiotimes.com.
Inserting elements of teenage comedy, “Derry Girls” shows us real life in Northern Ireland without downplaying the conflict at the time. McGee has lived these experiences, and that comes out authentically through the show for everyone to see, making it both an educational and entertaining watch.