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Derry Girls is back: here's what we made of the start of the new series

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Anna Fielding
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The second series of the Channel 4 hit family comedy has just started. Here’s a recap from episode 1…

Let’s get this straight before we start: this writer has never kept a toaster in a cupboard. 

But as someone who was raised (nominally) Protestant and who is going out with a (severely lapsed) Catholic, I am familiar with the mix of weird stereotypes these two branches of Christianity can bless one another with. So the first episode of series two of Derry Girls? It speaks to me.

The girls – and James – have more to contend with than bizarro ideas about salt cellars. The 1995 Northern Ireland setting means the Troubles are a constant presence, although for our gang the sectarian violence is too familiar and their teenage self-absorption is too strong for them to be too devastated. And even the adults’ discussions veer off-piste: “Are you saying the British Government dub the voice of Gerry Adams because it’s too sexy?” “It’s like a fine whiskey, and I have that on good authority, boy.”

The girls at Our Lady Immaculate College

We’re reintroduced to our narrator, Erin, as she lies in the bath, pretending to be interviewed by Terry Wogan - just like Jimmy, the main character in 1991’s Dublin-set film The Commitments (which, speculating here, it’s pretty likely Erin has seen). She, her eccentric cousin Orla, goody-two-shoes Claire, rampaging Michelle and token boy James, are off on an outward-bound weekend to “make friends across the barricades” with the Londonderry Boys Academy. 

Erin is brilliantly pompous, telling her family “we’re doing it for peace Mammy!”. As soon as they’re out of the house and down the road, this is amended by Michelle: “doing it for peace alright! A piece of that fine Protestant ass!”. Cooped up in the all-girl (James excepted) environment of Our Lady Immaculate College, Michelle and Erin have decided that the Protestant lads will have less sexual guilt and therefore better “moves”. James just wants some male friends.

The arrival at the outward-bound centre also gives us the first series two appearance of Sister Michael, everybody’s favourite cynical nun. Her first line is “kill me”, her second “give me strength”. Don’t go changing Sister Mike. But the head of Our Lady I has met her match in Protestant teacher Ms Taylor. Their joint eye rolls and withering disdain for the teens in their care mean the two actually stand the best chance of bonding across those barricades.

Everybody’s favourite cynical nun, Sister Michael

And the pupils? It’s not the best start. 

Trendy priest Father Peter (and his good hair) returns to lead a series of workshops. “What do Protestants and Catholics have in common?” he asks. The differences come thick and fast. You may have seen, on social media, a picture of the blackboard that school swot Jenny is writing them up on. It’s a work of genius that blackboard. It’s absurd and hilarious, but there’s a load in there about religion and class and how power works. 

“Protestants love soup.” “All Catholic gravy is Bisto.” “Protestants think Catholics keep coal in the bath.” “Protestants have horses and wear gillets.” And that already-classic line: “Protestants keep toasters in cupboards”. It’s weird, it doesn’t make much sense, but nonetheless, you still know exactly what they mean.

They do try and bond more later on though, as the girls (and James) sneak into the Academy’s dorm to try and start a party. It’s actually the beginning of a lot of misunderstandings, including a mishearing of Catholic/athletes, poor James’ attempts at being a lad, Michelle’s chosen “ride” wearing a purity band and Erin attempting to hit on a boy, but doing it so badly that he thinks she’s having a breakdown. (She also calls him “honeybunny” in an attempt to sound sophisticated, which, speculating again – she perhaps picked up from Pulp Fiction, released the year before.)

The following morning, tensions escalate with Claire dangling from an abseiling rope shrieking that her Protestant task buddy is a murderer who thinks they’re all “Fenian bastards”. A full-on fist-fight ensues. Parents are called. Finally, the group realise what they all have in common: interfering parents determined to cause embarrassment.

And yes, we have said nothing of The Big Bowl in this recap. But I imagine the saga of The Big Bowl will run and run, so let’s save it.  

Derry Girls series two continues next Tuesday at 9.15pm on Channel 4.