Derry Girls, obviously, made the top ten list in 2018. I didn’t make a list of best individual episodes of television last go around, but Derry Girls surely would’ve found a spot on that list too – in fact, actually, Derry Girls probably had one of the best individual scenes of television in 2018 as well.
(Incidentally, I’ve just noticed the Netflix version of that scene doesn’t use the Madonna track, but a different piece of altogether more generic pop music. Totally flattens the scene, puncturing any impact it might’ve had. I do hope it’s not like this on the international version – like, there’s no way that would stand as a highlight of 2018 on television, it’s not even a tenth as good as the original as broadcast version.)
It’s brilliant, of course, and surely the best argument that British TV comedy is having a moment – it’s vivid and vibrant, witty and sincere, and so compulsively specific in its concerns and its charms. I think Derry Girls is likely to be remembered at the forefront of that comedy revolution – moreso, perhaps, than its contemporaries like Fleabag or This Way Up – because of quite how distinct it is. Not the most original programme, no – what is? – but the one with the most distinct voice (both in a comedic and a literal sense). At some point around the first series, I’d meant to write a piece about how authentic it felt. That’s true, of course, but it’s less about how authentic it is, and more about how compulsively specific it is – everything so acutely tied to one place, so entirely filtered through one lens.
I had a rule, in compiling this episodic list, that no show could be represented twice. There were a couple of moments where I wasn’t entirely sure exactly which episode I wanted to highlight from a given show – but for Derry Girls, it was always very obvious. In fact, actually, The Prom was one of the first selections I made for this list. A lot of that is quite idiosyncratic. I’m always talking about how comedy is something I find difficult to write about – so instead I just lampshade it and write about writing about comedy – because humour is often so subjective and so personal. That’s true, obviously, and across this list it’s never more true than here: The Prom is a collection of all my favourite teen comedy tropes, from Michelle bringing two dates to the dance to James taking Erin after she was stood up. Plus, it also had some Doctor Who references, which is obviously always a plus. Really, it’s just a huge amount of fun: the cast is brilliant, and they always are, but I think for my money they’re never better than they are here. In a way this is almost peak Derry Girls, and absolutely my favourite episode of either series.
Somewhere, vaguely, at the back of my head, I’ve often thought that I’d like to write television: that this criticism and commentary is a sideline, a stopgap, a precursor to an actual career. It’s a lofty goal – a dream – and something I am probably more inclined to be realistic about now than I used to be. Still, though, it persists. (The Oscar is now planned for 2030 rather than 2025.) When I think about what I’d like to write, though, it’s not a million miles away from Derry Girls – and, specifically, not a million miles away from The Prom. If I end up having written something even half as good as this, I’d be pretty pleased.
It’ll be interesting to see where Derry Girls goes from here, and for how much longer. This sort of sitcom always has something of a shelf life imposed on it, by both the age of its characters and the age of its cast – The Inbetweeners and Some Girls only managed three series each, while Drifters managed four. More likely than not, we’re closer to the end of Derry Girls at this point than we are at the beginning. That said, creator Lisa McGee has said she’d like to end the series with the Good Friday Agreement – which took place in 1998, three years after Bill Clinton’s 1995 visit to Derry at the end of series 2. Maybe there’s scope for five series of Derry Girls after all? Four series and a movie? A movie feels plausible – The Inbetweeners got two, Bad Education got one, People Just Do Nothing is going to get one – so perhaps that’s where Derry Girls is heading.
Either way, hopefully there’s much more to come – it’ll be nice for Derry Girls to hang around as a staple of these lists, the best of 2020, 2021 and 2022 as well.