New episode an hilarious journey back in time for hit TV comedy
If you ever wondered where Michelle Mallon got her pithy putdowns from, or Erin Quinn her good-girl-with-slightly-rebellious streak, episode five of Derry Girls provides a few answers.
In a special instalment dedicated to “All the Mammies”, creator Lisa McGee transports us back to 1977 and a time of barricades and bullets as Ma Mary (Tara Lynne O’Neill) and Aunt Sarah (Kathy Kiera Clarke) prepare for their 20th anniversary school reunion.
The flashback episode sees the mammies of Erin, Clare, Michelle and Orla as they were — wide-eyed teenagers in big-collared frocks and Paisley print flares preparing for the school leavers’ party.
Each is a clone of their respective daughters, none more so than Janette Joyce formerly O’Shea, whose smug daughter Jenny is the Derry Girls’ nemesis.
The apples didn’t fall far from the trees. And speaking of trees, one holds a dark, long-hidden secret from that fateful night that threatens to disrupt the reunion and paint the mammies in a not-so-innocent light.
Ma Mary harbours a bitter resentment of Janette Joyce formerly O’Shea, who lost the run of herself when she married a surgeon.
The aptly named Richard doesn’t speak. Even when provoked by Gerry (Tommy Tiernan) and Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney), he remains mute. Look closely at the credits and you’ll see Richard is played by McGee’s own actor/writer husband Tobias Beer. I wondered if he’d pop up.
Ma Mary’s feelings towards Janette are weirdly ambivalent. She hates her, yet seems to hero worship her at the same time.
When they meet at the reunion Mary is angered at being snubbed by the glamourpuss and is determined to bring her back down to earth by revealing the secrets of that night many moons ago.
Aunt Sarah, who’s been brushing up on the Russian Revolution to prove to her old school pals that she’s not a “bimbo”, reintroduces herself to Jenny’s parents with an out-of-context commentary on the reasons for the rise of the Bolsheviks and Vladimir Lenin. Clarke’s delivery of this impromptu history lesson is hilarious. She just gets better every week.
Back in 1977 the audience is reminded of the war zone that Northern Ireland was at the time through old news footage.
There’s a nod to John Hume, Derry’s most famous son and McGee’s hero. This is where the writer excels, adding poignancy to the humour.
The soundtrack is as integral a part of the show as the fashion and fads and this episode’s tunes are superb. It’s a well-known fact we have two unofficial anthems — Teenage Kicks by The Undertones and Stiff Little Fingers’ Alternative Ulster. Both get a whirl, alongside Johnny Cash and Chic.
And what a joy to see Foy Vance in long hair and shades as the lead singer of the band performing at the school reunion. I had to do a treble take.
Last night’s penultimate episode had so many points to unpack that it’s hard to do it justice in one review. We have history repeating itself as Michelle’s mum Deirdre introduces her Canadian cousin Rob to the gang, a discussion on sexuality and life being “that bit harder when you’re different”, the men in their matching blue suits from Dunnes, and the terrifying head nun who makes Sister Michael look like Maria from The Sound Of Music.
When the big denouement is finally revealed, it turns out the mums staged their own revolt, going punk for one night — “the only religion worth fighting for”.
After an IRA bomb scare forces the school disco to end prematurely, the gang makes a pact, and using a compass and black ink, tattoo each other’s skin with dodgy looking skull and crossbones. We’ve all been there.
“It’s all curfews and barricades and roadblocks and rosaries,” declares an exasperated young Mary.
It’s time to break out. The young Rob takes a photograph, and they bury it in a box under a tree in the school grounds. Their dark secret remains locked away until Janette laughs at modern day Mary’s plan to go to university and provokes her wrath.
The box is dug up and the incriminating snap produced for all to see. As the mammies embark on a trip down memory lane, Mary’s anger subsides and she remarks how well they all did to get through their tough teens, not knowing how bad things were going to get.
But then Aunt Sarah realises it’s a different group of girls, the wrong box and wrong tree and the gravity is sliced with humour again.
Laughter amid tragedy is a coping mechanism well deployed in this place, and now McGee’s trademark Derry Girls style.