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'Derry Girls' Is A Hit In Northern Ireland

Aug 24, 2019
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(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

SAOIRSE-MONICA JACKSON: (As Erin) It's about The Troubles in a political sense but also about my own troubles in a personal sense.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

That's Erin, character from the critically acclaimed comedy "Derry Girls" now streaming on Netflix. The show follows five Catholic teenagers in the Northern Irish city of Londonderry during the violence of the early 1990s. "Derry Girls" is a huge hit in Northern Ireland because it is more personal than political, as NPR's Joanna Kakissis found out.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: The day I visit Derry, there's a parade by Protestants waving British flags. There's not much trouble today and nothing violent. Community worker Donna McCluskey jokes that maybe it's because everyone's watching reruns of "Derry Girls."

DONNA MCCLUSKEY: In our house, I think we watched every episode three times. You know what I mean? It's just absolutely fantastic.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DREAMS")

THE CRANBERRIES: (Singing) Oh, my life...

KAKISSIS: The show is set at an all-girls Catholic school. The character Erin wants to become a famous writer. Michelle always swears. Orla's into step aerobics. Clare loves studying. And James - he's the English boy. Tina Burke and Rachel Mullan, two moms in their early 30s, know them all.

RACHEL MULLAN: Who would you be, Tina?

TINA BURKE: I don't know. I can't think. But she's definitely Michelle.

(LAUGHTER)

KAKISSIS: Are you naughty like Michelle?

(LAUGHTER)

MULLAN: They say I go on like Michelle.

KAKISSIS: Ah yes, Michelle. Mouthy and fearless. Dropping flaming shots of Sambuca and setting a house on fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

JACKSON: (As Erin) Are you actually throwing alcohol on it?

KAKISSIS: Michelle even thinks a British soldier searching her school bus is hot.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

DYLAN LLEWELLYN: (As James) What's going on?

JAMIE-LEE O'DONNELL: (As Michelle) I don't know. Do you think if I told him I had an incendiary device down my knickers, he'd have a look?

KAKISSIS: I talked with some real-life Derry Girls.

ENYA: Enya.

ABBIE: Abbie.

CHLOE: Chloe.

(LAUGHTER)

KAKISSIS: They're 14 and super embarrassed that I'm interviewing them in front of some boys they like. Then Chloe get serious. She says "Derry Girls" taught her about The Troubles. The past is present here.

CHLOE: It happened again. It was more or less the Troubles had happened where a girl got shot in the head. It was at the end of my street.

KAKISSIS: Lyra McKee was a young journalist shot during rioting in Derry last April. The girls walk away. I face an enormous mural of a nationalist in a gas mask. Up the hill there's another huge mural. It's the Derry Girls painted on the side of a bar. Twenty-year-old Emma Doutreligne from France poses in front of it.

EMMA DOUTRELIGNE: I checked on Google Maps, and there was the place. So I wanted to go there. And I led my family to this point.

KAKISSIS: You led your family to this point?

Doutreligne's on vacation with her parents and brother. She binge watches "Derry Girls" back home.

DOUTRELIGNE: It's very funny. I laugh at every episode. But I like the fact that it is on a war background, and they don't even care about this war background. They just live their life as teenager. They care about boys and girls and about money and schools and stuff like that.

KAKISSIS: Inside the bar - it's called Badgers - manager John Cully tells me about the mural.

JOHN CULLY: That mural out there, to me, I'm glad to say, is the new murals of Northern Ireland. Things like the "Derry Girls" - that's just, you know, that just helps things change.

KAKISSIS: Gilly Campbell is sipping soda with her young daughter.

GILLY CAMPBELL: I think it shows Derry in all its best lights. The people here are funny, kind, loving.

KAKISSIS: And they always have been, she says, despite The Troubles. The "Derry Girls" is proof of that.

Joanna Kakissis, NPR News in Derry, Northern Ireland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.