Derry Girls Tuesday and Wednesday, Channel 4
There’s nothing worse than a show that drags on past its sell-by date. No chance of that for writer Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls, which went out not so much with a bang as a rollercoaster ride of highs and lows – and a roster of celebrity cameos including, of all people, Chelsea Clinton. Fans in high places, eh?
The show is supposedly Channel 4’s most successful comedy since Father Ted – and in many ways it’s very similar. Not just because of the presence of Ardal O’Hanlon (he joined in series two), but also because it has that wonderful combination of honest and dark humour that means it doesn’t really matter how bonkers or implausible the plotlines, it’s impossible not to find yourself smiling.
Sarah Vine says that Derry Girls went out with a rollercoaster of highs and lows. L-R: Orla (Louise Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), James (Dylan Llewellyn) and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell)
It just has – had – bags of charm, despite the often distinctly un-charming behaviour – and language – of its characters.
We could watch Grand Designs and guess how much money they’ve lost
Tess to Marcus in The Other One, Friday, BBC1
And you end up feeling so much affection for those characters, even the most annoying ones, such as Colm, who could bore the pants off a nun, or the least appealing, Sister Michael (now revealed to be Sister George Michael), thunderous head of Our Lady Immaculate College.
In case you haven’t seen it, a quick re-cap: Erin, Orla, Clare, Michelle and honorary girl James are five teenagers growing up in mid-90s Derry. They’re melodramatic and wild and very stupid (as all teenagers are).
And they have quite a few challenges to overcome, hamstrung by a cast of more-or-less flawed adults and, of course, the volatile political situation. It’s essentially a coming-of-age comedy, only set against the distinctly unfunny backdrop of the Troubles.
A tricky one on paper, perhaps, but in the hands of the cast, comedy gold. And it’s partly that tension that gives the show its edge, that sense that surrounded by so much death the only thing to do is live life to the full.
It’s an ‘if-you-don’t-laugh-you’ll-justend-up-crying’ situation. Hair disasters, make-up, pop concerts – all these things matter no less, despite the constant threat of violence. In fact, if anything, they matter more.
Sarah (pictured) describes Derry Girls as a coming-of-age comedy, only set against the distinctly unfunny backdrop of the Troubles
The final episodes cleverly brought all these strands together in a sweet, sentimental farewell to everyone. Following the death of her father (a classic mix of the tragic and the absurd, as the girls find themselves dressed as angels at a Fatboy Slim concert when they hear the news), Clare (Nicola Coughlan) has moved away.
The group is disorientated, not least by turning 18 and being given – for the first time – the chance to vote, and not just any vote: the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement. There are tantrums, fallings-out, strong words. Many certainties are questioned, from friendships to faith.
Amid it all, though, some real laughs, and that trademark Derry Girls subversion, such as the atrocious dramatic interpretation of the choices facing the nation by some of the children at Lady Immaculate. ‘The Troubles have caused so many atrocities,’ quips Sister George Michael after the performance, ‘to which we must now add that awful play.’
All good things must come to an end, and Derry Girls was damn good. It’s been a blast!
COULD MR DARCY REALLY BE A MONSTER?
The Staircase, Sky Atlantic
Colin Firth and Toni Collette in a scene from The Staircase. Sarah Vine says that she was hooked from the first scene as Firth interprets the complex and ambiguous character
Colin Firth has spent much of his career trying to escape the role of Mr Darcy, first in Pride And Prejudice, then in Bridget Jones’s Diary. So imagining him in the role of Michael Peterson, the writer and aspiring politician convicted of killing his wife in 2003, was – for me at any rate – a bit of a stretch.
But from the very first scene of The Staircase, co-starring Toni Collette as his victim (or is she?), I was hooked. He interprets this complex and ambiguous character with, well, such complexity and ambiguity it’s hard to tear your eyes away from the screen.
And for all the slick, stylish production values, it’s Firth who makes this so compelling. The way he unravels his character while somehow maintaining an element of restraint leaves the viewer never quite knowing whether this is a victim or a monster, and sometimes wondering whether he might just be both.
One of those shows that will have your brain whirring.
- Talking of shows that go on past their sell-by date, it’s hard to believe that Location, Location, Location (Wednesday, Channel 4) has been on air for over 20 years (since May 2000). Indeed, as Kirstie (Allsopp) might say to Phil (Spencer), some people get less for murder. But although it’s now in its three millionth series (or thereabouts), there is something about this eternal quest for that dream home that still resonates, perhaps even more so at a time of housing crisis. In this first episode, Phil and Kirstie were tasked with finding two bedrooms and some decent entertaining space for £165,000. Next they’ll be feeding the 5,000.
FANCY A LOST WEEKEND?
Natasha Lyonne (pictured) in Netflix’s Russian Doll. Sarah says that it’s strangely compelling and says it’s great if you enjoy dark, twisted comedy
It’s been a bit of a fallow week TV-wise, so I asked my daughter, who’s 19, for a recommendation. She chose Russian Doll (Netflix), starring Natasha Lyonne and Chloë Sevigny.
The first series came out in 2019; the second premiered this April. It’s one of the strangest concepts: Lyonne plays a time-travelling, chain-smoking party girl of Jewish extraction.
But it’s also strangely compelling, or at least I found it so. If you enjoy dark, twisted comedy and love a good soundtrack, then this could be your lost weekend.