Derry Girls: The President

Derry Girls is a charming, hilarious sitcom set in Derry, Northern Ireland, in the '90s. Because it's set during the Troubles, a lot of the unique character of the show comes from how a constant threat of public violence is usually just background noise to the everyday lives of the characters. An example from the first episode: having to take a different route because of a bomb threat is just annoying to them, not anything weird.

The other unique thing about Derry Girls is the characters. It's a show about teenage girls doing teenage girl things - school and friendship and family and mad schemes that escalate in exceedingly dramatic fashion. Erin (my husband, Erin - get ready for some confusion, because that's also the name of this show's main character) said that he appreciates that the main characters aren't "likeable" - that they're allowed to be extreme in a way teen girls on TV usually aren't. On the other hand, I do find them likeable - because they are brash, narcissistic, desperate, foolish, and often overwrought. In short, teenagers.

The show as a whole is hilarious and we recommend it, although if you're not familiar with Irish slang it may take you a bit to catch up with the dialogue. This particular episode is not the funniest one and can be a bit hokey, but it's solidly enjoyable if you've watched the 11 episodes that precede it.

The basics: self-important Erin, her spacey cousin Orla, her timid friend Clare, her wild friend Michelle, and Michelle's nervous English cousin James attend an all-girls Catholic school in Derry. This episode, the sixth in the second season, is the last one to air so far (production of Season 3 is currently on hold due to the pandemic).

At the end of the previous episode, a ceasefire was announced; this episode takes place on and around November 30, 1995, when then-President Bill Clinton visited Derry to acknowledge the peace talks.

The episode opens the day the Clintons arrive in Ireland. Erin's parents and Orla's mom are excited, and their grandfather explains his plan to meet the President by using a friend's hobbyist radios to find out where they're going to be. (Erin's father expresses some concern about this, but is overruled as usual.) Meanwhile, the girls are hoping that Chelsea received a letter from them inviting her to the community pool.

The Christmas season, implied throughout in background decorations, is brought into focus next with a school assembly featuring a terrible seasonal song from Jenny, the resident teacher's pet. Sister Michael then gets up in front of the students to tell them that unlike all the other schools in Derry, they will not be given a day off for the President's visit. (I adore Sister Michael's jaded snark throughout the series.) Of course, the girls (and James) decide they're going to skip anyway.

An important side note here: in the first episode, it's established that James's mother (Michelle's Aunt Cathy) dropped him off with Michelle's family and then went back to England with no explanation. He's enrolled in school with the girls because the adults "feared for his safety" at the boys' school because of his essential... Britishness.

Back in this episode: while the kids are out shopping for American-themed souvenirs after school, a mysterious car pulls up, and it's Aunt Cathy, suddenly back in town.

Later that night, Erin's father Gerry is talked into driving grandfather Joe, his friend Jim, and his endlessly droning brother Colm in search of the presidential hotel, based on something Jim heard on their radio setup. In the morning, they're still driving in circles, far from the city.

Michelle and James come by Erin's house at breakfast time and Cathy tags along to use the phone. She and Erin and Orla's moms chat, subtly sniping at each other for a bit about Cathy's decision to abandon James, although she blithely claims to have been busy with a divorce (not her first) and a new business making "bespoke self-adhesive labels."

The men finally reach the place Jim heard on the radio, only to discover that they've been chasing a message from a local taxi dispatcher that has nothing to do with the presidential visit.

Clare has been saving a space in the front of the crowd assembling for the President's speech, but once the teens are all together, James drops the bombshell that he's leaving for England with his mom, right away. Upset, Michelle chases after him, arguing that Cathy is just looking for free labor, and besides, he's one of them now, a Derry girl. Michelle has playfully tormented James for two seasons, but faced with him leaving, it's clear how much she cares about her cousin.

At school, only Jenny and her friend Ashley have shown up for class, and Ashley heads out to go to the celebrations. Sister Michael finally sends Jenny off as well, telling her that she needs to learn "when to push back" against authority.

While James and Cathy ride out of Derry, the crowd cheers for President Clinton, but the girls aren't enjoying the moment. Suddenly Orla looks around and notices James at the back of the crowd, and the girls all abandon the throng to celebrate that their friend is going to stay and embrace his life as a Derry Girl.

The audio of President Clinton's speech, full of hope for a peaceful future, plays over the end of the episode. The video of the speech is also seen in televisions in a shop window, surrounded by Christmas lights.

Overall, the episode is very sweet and optimistic, perfect for the season. That said, don't skip ahead to get this in before the holidays. The whole series is great, and it deserves to be seen in order.