*Spoilers for Derry Girls series two episodes five and six follow*
The series two finale of Derry Girls – which centred around the 1995 visit of US President Bill Clinton to the Northern Irish city – ended on a surprisingly hopeful note, with wee English fella James (Dylan Llewellyn) reunited with his pals after u-turning on his decision to leave Derry for good.
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As the gang walked away from the crush of the crowd gathered for the former US president, a clip from his real-life speech played on the TV sets in a shop window.
“Standing here in front of The Guildhall, looking out over these historic walls, I see a peaceful city, a safe city, a hopeful city full of young people that should have a peaceful and prosperous future here where their roots and families are,” said Clinton. “And so I ask you to build on the opportunity that you have before you. To work together, because you have so much more to gain by working together than by drifting apart.”
It’s an optimistic note to leave us on, with the prospect of the Good Friday Agreement – the landmark peace deal struck in 1998 between British and Irish governments and Northern Irish political parties – on the horizon.
And Derry Girls creator Lisa McGee – a Derry native, who attended the speech herself – says it’s likely to herald a brighter time for the Girls in the Channel 4 comedy’s newly announced third series.
We had a post-finale chinwag with her to discuss all of the major talking points from the final few episodes, what could lie in store for Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), Orla (Louisa Harland) and James (Llewellyn) – and, yes, whether there’s romance on the cards for Erin and James after he gallantly swooped in to save her at the school prom…
I’ve watched the finale and I found it quite emotional! Why did you choose to end the season on Bill Clinton’s visit?
I suppose I wanted to follow it on from how we ended last year [series one concluded with the Quinn family watching a TV report of a fatal bombing] and do something a bit more hopeful, and I remember that time as really feeling like things could change for the first time.
[Clinton] coming was such a big deal for us. I wanted to end the series this year on a more upbeat note. And also because I suppose him coming was the next step towards peace, which is where we were heading, so it was always the idea for series two that it would just be a bit more hopeful.
There’s a really sweet moment in the finale when James decides to stay in Derry – is that something that you had planned early on?
Yeah, when I started thinking about series two, as was the case with series one as well, I started things from the ending and worked from there. So, I wanted him to finally realise that he belongs here, and that all this sort of treatment [from the Girls] was tough love, that these people care about him, that’s he’s one of them. And I wanted that to be a real realisation for James, that this is where he belongs.
I also wanted James and Michelle to have a moment that felt maybe a bit more emotional and a bit more truthful. I wanted [his cousin] Michelle to have to ask him to stay, and it took a long time – I felt like we had to earn that, you know? I felt like I couldn’t do that in series one, because you have to really push James to the point of leaving, I suppose, for her to be vulnerable and ask him to stay.
It was really nice, because it was her being affectionate in her own abrasive way. I really liked the line “being a Derry girl is a f***ing state of mind”. Is that kind of the ethos behind the series – it’s a bit about inclusivity?
Yeah, it is in a way. Because I suppose, everything about being from where I’m from is designed to divide us, so even saying ‘I’m from Derry’, people will tell you ‘that’s not what it’s called – it’s called Londonderry”. And calling it Northern Ireland or the north of Ireland, there are political connotations, and I just think, the things we have in common [outweigh the differences].
I feel like spiritually James is a Derry girl, he’s one of them. And that idea, that even though he’s English and even though he’s a boy he can belong there, I suppose that was always something that I thought would be nice to show.
Going back to episode five, there was a moment where James showed up last minute to take Erin to the prom, and it reminded a lot of people them of a moment in Friends, with Ross and Rachel. Were you thinking about that when you were writing it?
I hadn’t thought of it, but I’m a massive Friends fan. And because the show is set in the ‘90s, I try to write it like a ‘90s show. For example, there’s not really a serial arc, every episode could stand on its own, the way ‘90s sitcoms do. I Love American sitcoms – those are big influences on me. Definitely, it must have influenced that idea but it was only when people said it on Twitter, I had completely forgotten. But in Friends it’s sadder, isn’t it?
Yes, because she goes to the prom with someone else.
Yeah, it’s really, really sad. Yeah, so definitely that must have been one of the influences – it’s so weird these things that are obviously in your brain when you’re writing.
There were a lot of people after that moment – I guess the word is ‘shipping’ – Erin and James, willing them to get together. Is there a future for them romantically?
I think there might be. I’ve always thought James likes her, but I think he maybe doesn’t even understand that yet, and I don’t know when that’ll, it might happen when they’re much older, so it might not actually happen in our show. But I think the potential is there, it’s something I’m interested in seeing – I might toy with it if we do another season, I’m not sure.
There was definitely a moment in series one where it looked like James was going to go off with the Eastern European exchange student, and it seemed like Erin was a bit jealous.
Yeah, I think Erin doesn’t realise that she might like him until someone else wants him, that sort of thing. So, yeah, it might be interesting to explore that a bit more, because they’re great together, I liked seeing them doing that scene [at the prom].
I’ve read in the past that you had been writing the series with the idea of potentially finishing when the Good Friday Agreement happens – but there’s obviously a bit of a gap to bridge now between 1995 (where series two ends) and 1998 (the year of the GFA) – have you thought about how you could work your way towards that? Would it mean doing another two or three series?
Do you know what – I sort of have no idea, that’s something I’ll just need to work out, and it’s very tricky. But I’m hoping there’s a way to do it, because it’s definitely a story I want to tell, and I just need to figure it out, because the timeline is the tricky thing – it took a bit longer than the timeframe in the show… I think it’ll just take some sitting down and working out. But I haven’t a clue how to do it yet…
Are there any particular stories you’d like to tell in series three?
I suppose we’d be in the peace time then, and that was interesting for all sorts of reasons, because it was so different, and then there was real fear I think, because we started to realise what there was to lose. So all that is hugely interesting.
Often I’m asked about the humour in Derry Girls and how you can make jokes about The Troubles. I say, ‘well that’s what we did, that’s what we had to do, it was a survival mechanism’, and now when I go back home, lots of people want to talk to me about The Troubles and their experiences, and it’s really only just hit me how much pain people are still carrying around, and how much trauma has been covered up, and how much people have had to deal with. And so – not that this is all particularly funny – but I think it’s all interesting territory.
There was quite a strong emotional reaction to the ceasefire celebration scenes at the end of episode five, because it emphasised the importance of peace. Were you surprised at all by that reaction?
I was. Obviously I felt that. It’s always interesting, it was like the thing with the bomb in series one. That’s how I felt, and when you see it’s how everyone else feels as well, it’s really moving. Also I don’t think there’s been many depictions of that on TV, how we reacted to the ceasefire, and how much it meant to us, so I think people were just like ‘I remember when that announcement was made’, and recalling where they were, and all that, so it was just really nice.
In episode four you had Kevin McAleer (uncle Colm), Ardal O’Hanlon (Eamonn) and Tommy Tiernan (Gerry) all in the same episode, which is such an amazing line-up of Irish comedy stars – is there anyone else that you’d like to get for series three?
Oh god, it’s always comedians with me. Dara O Briain I love. I don’t know if he does any acting…
Just binged on Derry Girls. It’s all glorious, but @SaoirseJackson edges it for for just going for it, in each moment, so completely and majestically. Comedy gold. P.s new series soon! https://t.co/CRT5R6qvHG— Dara Ó Briain (@daraobriain) February 20, 2019
Channel 4 has confirmed that Derry Girls WILL return for series three – story here
Derry Girls series one and two are available to stream on All4 now