Derry Girls is such a beloved series Channel 4 has given it not one finale but two. Technically, Lisa McGee’s Northern Ireland comedy took its bows on Tuesday night – and on a bleak note with the sudden death of the father of Nicola Coughlan’s Clare.
But scarcely have audiences had a chance to dab away tears than it’s back for an even grander grand farewell in the form of a one-off, feature-length special (Channel 4, 9pm).
The idea is to apply a big shiny, full stop to a show that has become an unlikely juggernaut – who’d have imagined international viewers would go gaga for an ensemble chortlefest set in the final years of the Troubles?
But while Derry Girls makes an appropriate fuss of its leave-taking this is accompanied by bucketfuls of saccharine – plus a truly bizarre cameo (see below). And so, when people fondly reminisce about Derry Girls years from now, it is probable they won’t be thinking back to tonight’s sappy sign-off.
It’s 1998 and Ireland is about to vote on the Good Friday Agreement (yes, the one Brexit is doing its best to unravel). Yet for Erin (Saoirse Monica-Jackson) and friends the big occasion on the horizon is an upcoming birthday party.
Two parties in fact: to save money, Erin and cousin Orla (Louisa Harland) are throwing a joint 18th-birthday shindig. Sadly, they have clashing ideas as to what makes a killer bash. Erin wants to celebrate great female authors. Orla is keen on a monkey-themed soiree.
Uncertainty likewise stretches ahead of Sister Michael (Siobhán McSweeney), who is informed she is to be moved on from Our Lady Immaculate College. Her work is done, new challenges await, she is told.
Closer to home, chaos engulfs Erin’s parents (Tara Lynne-O’Neill and Tommy Tiernan) with the return of Cousin Eamon (Ardal O’Hanlon), a Father Dougal type whose speciality is spreading good-natured havoc.
Derry Girls is a delight in half-hour nuggets. However, 50 minutes feels like a stretch: a mid-episode sequence in which Erin and Orla’s party goes awry, for instance, trundles on forever.
This is juxtaposed with an entirely serious falling-out between Erin and Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) over Michelle’s brother, in prison for what sounds like an IRA murder. And there is a much reduced role for Clare, who, following the death of her father (we’ve time-jumped a year), has moved to a strange, faraway place with her mother (Strabane).
Coughlan’s absence was as a result of a scheduling clash with Bridgerton on Netflix. A bright future no doubt awaits her and the rest of the cast. And McGee, who has already penned the Channel 4 thriller The Deceived.
That mini-series was perfectly-weighted hokum. Alas, the very last Derry Girls overdoes things slightly. In particular, a scene in which our favourite characters shuffle to a polling booth to vote for the Good Friday Agreement, to the inevitable strains of The Cranberries, is essentially sentimental.
McGee brings back Liam Neeson, once again playing a rumpled RUC detective. Yet the true shock cameo is in an epilogue as we travel to present day New York, where a postman calls on … Chelsea Clinton? She is taking belated delivery of a missive Erin and friends had written to her in the 1990s when she was coming to Ireland with her father, Bill.
Chelsea seems delighted to be involved. And the letter is straight from McGee’s own life: in 2019 she told the New York Times that, as a teenager in Derry, she had once written to the President’s daughter. “She never replied,” said McGee. “The innocence of that. Living in this place that’s violent and scary, but we were these eejits running about writing letters to Chelsea Clinton.”
But if Clinton’s involvement makes sense to McGee, some viewers will shrug And they may wonder which 1990s icons might potentially appear next? Roy Keane? 2 Unlimited? The Teletubbies? Each felt equally plausible.
Not every great series receives the finale it deserves. And with Derry Girls having already entered the Irish comedy hall of fame (alongside Father Ted and the new Prime Time set) it probably doesn’t matter that its grand farewell didn’t entirely work.
In hindsight, perhaps it was a mistake to stretch it out to nearly an hour. No matter. Derry Girls’ reputation is already secure and fans will be delighted to discover what McGee, Monica-Jackson and the rest get up to next.