A ’90s Teen, Now a Mom, and I Love Netflix’s Derry Girls

by NatS

The summer was a whirlwind of camping, beaching, kid-wrangling and general chaos; a blender-blur of fun. My husband and myself are tired! So, you can imagine how excited we are for the fall and winter: slowing down, pulling on cozy socks and the routine of watching a few shows at night by the fire. Now that it’s dark earlier in the day and our children are going to bed before 9pm (yes!), we’ve had time to contemplate our next batch of TV show choices. With a Game of Thrones-size hole in our viewing habits, our neglected TV hasn’t been on since June and wouldn’t you know – Netflix has UPDATED. Like, a lot. So, we didn’t know where to start.

I’d seen a few mentions online about the show Derry Girls, whose Season 2 premiered in August. I suggested to my husband we give it a go. He was skeptical. C’mon, GLOW was good, right? Mind you, my choices range, and I love comedy and drama, but to be honest: we are always looking for our new The Great British Baking Show. You know, the kind of soothing chamomile tea type of show we can watch before bed that will lull us into deep, restorative sleep and won’t give us bad dreams or wake us up to pee at 4am. That kind of show.

Derry Girls definitely hits a sweet spot. Following five friends and their adventures in Derry, Northern Ireland during The Troubles in the 1990s, this show unpacks the triumphs and pitfalls of the teen years amidst a turbulent time. It strikes just the right balance: the hilarity of this group’s teenage antics juxtaposed with the darkness of the times they live in. It takes me back to my own high school experience: the goofy personalities of each character, their Catholic school exploits, the struggles in their lives, their obsessions with boys, and not to mention the dead-pan nun. It’s like Sweet Valley High on speed and with a twist: a national conflict continues while characters are eating breakfast and getting ready for school.

In these character’s complicated world, the idea that someone is better or worse off than you is brought into sharp, hilarious focus in season one’s “The Children of Chernobyl” episode. When children from the Chernboyl disaster arrive in Derry for some “fresh air” (according to their priest), the gang thinks these kids from afar have truly suffered and will enjoy all that Derry has to offer. But these kids are more the same then different, both experiencing civil instability while being hormone-fueled humans.

When you’re 15, it’s hard to imagine the life and realities of others, let alone the truth of your own. I mean, aren’t we all stuck in a bubble when we’re that age? I remember being driven to my first movie date, in tears, because my mother wouldn’t let me in car with a Senior that had sheep-skin seat covers. Life was seriously over for me. Looking back, can you blame her? I see the palpable parent devastation in each episode and FEEL IT. Ahh, I can’t wait to ruin my own daughter’s future dating life, too.

Season One offers short, funny, often hard-to-decipher episodes that had my husband and I laughing out loud. My favorite part is the music: it’s both a balmy backdrop and focusing thru line for each show. The soundtrack of Right Said Fred meets Flogging Molly meets Salt-n-Pepa nails it and even has its own Spotify station. You can not, I repeat: you can not hear enough The Cranberries songs in your daily life. These songs bring me back to my 17 year old friends’ basements blaring Nirvana, back to the wide-eyed optimism of my animal-rights, black eye-liner, feminist, Ramones-loving self.

I affectionately connect to this show with my dual lens: mother and once rebellious ‘90s teenager. It hits deep: that you can only protect and control so much in this world. In one episode, I watched the parents on the show stare in horror at the TV as a nearby bridge is bombed while their teenage babies are miles away at school, on stage, at a class talent show. These kinds of scenes are nerve hitting real, and got me thinking about more than The Spice Girls. More than anything, I related to the reality of what it means to be a child in this messed up world.

If you enjoy the fever-pitch absurdity of 30 Rock and the warmth of, say, Downton Abbey, this show is for you. But it’s the details and story of a war-torn teenage experience that will gut you. This show is a messy mix of friendship, faith and family that seems familiar. Minus The Troubles, and not living in Ireland, Derry Girls mimics many of our own dysfunctional teen years: slamming doors and complaining about not being able to wear foundation or getting your belly button pierced. It transports us back to the sheer agony of sharing a bathroom with your two sisters and juxtaposes our peaceful, protected childhoods with children the world over who live through civil and political unrest.

So treat yourself. Derry Girls is the show you need to hibernate this winter.

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