Bossy Shouting: Derry Girls

Friendship is Magic (Yes, Again!)

Season 2 of Derry Girls arrived on Netflix last week, so we’re running an expanded version of Dame Sophie’s enthusiastic hollerings about this series from when she raved about it earlier this year.

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Derry Girls, set in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, is here to scratch your “oh, I just love coming of age narratives packed with jokes and pathos and a soundtrack full of 90s bangers” itch. 

The cast, led by a quintet of scrappy, fractious teens, is so good and sharp, each episode is full of delightful capers, and every character is both broad and specific. Perhaps most remarkable of all, the show never lets you forget that the threats of both state-sanctioned violence and retaliatory outlaw violence are ever-present, while also celebrating the characters’ determined pursuit of their everyday lives, in all their hilariously petty, quotidian glory. Excuuuuuuse us, heavily armed occupying army and/or paramilitaries patrolling the streets, Erin and her friends’ body language screams, we have bigger fish to fry, like haplessly plotting to lose our virginity and telling tales to Sister Michael about a crying statue of the Blessed Mother! 

It’s a remarkable balancing act that goes down very smooth; you could easily binge both seasons across a couple of evenings. Be ready to have a tab open to Wikipedia so you can quickly look up answers to your contextual questions, and also be ready to embrace the subtitles. The actors talk fast and I’ll admit I could understand them maybe half of the time without subtitles. 

This seems like a great plan, doesn’t it? What could possibly go wrong???

And because I can’t resist cross-format cultural advisory, I’ll repeat myself again (and again and again) by saying that if the historical backdrop of this show piques your interest, give yourself the gift of reading Say Nothing, by Patrick Radden Keefe, and Milkman, by Anna Burns. 

Say Nothing is painstakingly reported nonfiction: part true crime, part sociological history of The Troubles, part examination of what happens to an extreme ideology when it’s subjected to the inexorable march of time, part rumination on the distinctions between guilt and responsibility and the damage we do by protecting secrets instead of privacy. This is one of those books that is both capital-I Important and an absolute pleasure to read, which is no small feat for a book about murder and domestic terrorism. I can’t recommend it enough. Keefe gave a couple of great interviews on the Longform and Why Is This Happening? podcasts, as well, if you yearn for even more context about his reporting process. 

Milkman is...well. It’s a Man Booker Prize-winning novel about a young woman who has to deal with a stalker who just happens to be a high-ranking paramilitary who casually threatens everyone she loves with potential car-bombings. Looking back over my GoodReads notes, it’s dense, luscious, bleak, dreadful (as in every page is filled with dread, to the point that sometimes you'll be reading and will suddenly realize "oh, I haven't drawn a breath in the last 5 pages, whoops, better inhale"), astringently funny, confounding, circuitous, enraging, and just the teensiest, weensiest bit hopeful. The off-balance feeling you get from reading Milkman is what I imagine all the adults in Derry Girls feel constantly. Their terror is founded on the understanding that a violent, senseless death could come at any moment, for anyone they know, while the kids (wee-uns, subtitled phonetically as “wains” on Netflix) are too preoccupied with their own pursuits to worry too much about the threat of bombings or shootings.

It’s a rare sitcom that tap dances on a knife edge of hilarity and the threat of tragedy, and dramatizes extremely relatable Teen Experiences, and then also reveals deeper levels of itself after substantial background reading. And as our beloved Doctor of TV Kathryn VanArendonk points out, it’s also a show that resonates with our specific political moment, as well:

This issue of Two Bossy Dames was brought to you by a reminder post-it affixed to the cabinet above Dame Sophie’s morning tea setup and this cuuuuuuute trailer for Last Christmas. Feel free to share with a pal who’ll enjoy it <3