Derry sign / Duncan Grant / Geograph.
Find me a TV show that shows teenage girls in all their raucous yet insecure high-school glory. Go on, ya wee eejit.
Until I watched Derry Girls, that search would have been futile. But then I entered the world of Our Lady Immaculate College, and the TV landscape of teenage girls changed for me forever. Guess what? Teenage girls are funny on the small screen and a comedy about high school girls is possible. Shock horror.
These characters are not the adult-like and perfect young women of Gossip Girl. They don’t come close to the cartoonish heroines of Riverdale. They’re not the one-dimensional, angsty love interests who were passed off as gritty and real in Skins.
The high school students in Derry Girls are fumbling and funny and not at all carefree. The trivialities of their lives are mountains and they’re going to make a fuss about them. As they should. They fake a miracle; start a fire; become involved in the sudden death of a nun; go on a boring family road trip.
Thick Northern Irish accents, raw and funny screenwriting, and a team of amazing female leads are more than worth the two hours of watch-time. The background context, which is the winding down of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, adds depth and political nuance to the show. In the foreground is a lot of entertaining 90s fashion and a celebration of everything stupid about being a teenage girl.
A fact: teenage girls are hilarious. I can’t count the number of times that lunchtimes at my all-girls school ended with my friends and I in fits of laughter. We weren’t being ‘giggly’ or ‘hysterical’. We were making jokes and teasing each other. Often our humour was light-hearted and fun. Sometimes it was raw and emotional.
Another fact: teenage girls can be stupid. They make mistakes. They’re awkward and insecure as they learn and grow. But they can laugh about themselves and the people around them.
As obvious as those facts are to anyone who knows or has been a teenage girl, they’ve never been apparent to me from TV shows in the past. Female characters on the small screen are either children or adults. The children are innocent; the adults are sexualised. Between those, there’s a void. The awkward humour of growing up and learning new things as a young woman is not celebrated. Coming of age is about sex or nothing. It’s certainly not about discovering who you are as a person, the way that it is for young men.
Case in point: The In Betweeners. A show about teenage boys being dickheads. Boys who are generally bad at life. There has, as far as I know and excluding the tween wonder that was Angus, Thongs, and Perfect Snogging, never been an equivalent for girls.
Drake and Josh, Malcolm in the Middle, Boy Meets World, American Vandal, Freaks and Geeks – all of these shows and more celebrate the mundane hilarity of life as a teenage boy. Girls are incidental to the plot or romantic interests at most.
Derry Girls flips the narrative to focus in on teenage girls. It shows girls who value their friendships with each other more than their relationships with boys. Those friendships demonstrate how girls depend upon each other for support. That dynamic deserves to be celebrated on Netflix.
The only downside to Derry Girls is the short season. There are just six twenty-minute episodes. If you’re anything like me, you’ll manage to binge watch those in one sitting. But once it’s over, you’ll smile and think about how cool you were in high school. Then, it’s just a matter of waiting for season two for the next dose of high school hilarity.Support Villainesse