The anti-nostalgic power of Derry Girls

The Netflix series is a refreshing counter to coming-of-age clichés

Derry Girls.
(Image credit: Netflix)

Coming-of-age TV shows have a way of retroactively idealizing the past, airbrushing the awkward, difficult years of adolescence under waves of gauzy nostalgia. Take The Wonder Years, set in the late sixties and early seventies: Fred Savage's "wonder years in the suburbs" were, as the voiceover narration famously declared, "a golden age for kids," as everything the country went through between 1968 and 1973 was washed away in innocently clichéd memories of first kisses and baseball games and family BBQs in Anytown, USA.

The first scene of the first episode of Lisa McGee's Derry Girls serves as a dead-on parody of those famous The Wonder Years voice-overs: over sweeping video of green countryside, graffiti, and patrolling British soldiers, we hear the voice of what we take to be the show's protagonist, 16-year old Erin Quinn, grandly narrating "her complicated relationship to her hometown, a troubled little corner in the northwest of Ireland." With the Cranberries "Dreams" in the background — and panning past a bedroom copy of The Catcher in the Rye — her weary, hopeful, yet wise-beyond-her-age words would seem to set the stage for a nostalgic, romanticized immersion into a story about coming of age amongst the bombs and guns … until an instant later, when Erin wakes up, angrily shouting, and we realize that it's been her cousin, Orla, reading her diary out loud to her. The first of the show's many open-throated screaming matches ensues, as what seemed like it was going to be drama devolves into farce.

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Aaron Bady

Aaron Bady is a founding editor at Popula. He was an editor at The New Inquiry and his writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, Pacific Standard, The Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. He lives in Oakland, California.