It’s short, it’s sweet, it’s hilarious, and it’s Irish.
Erin Quinn (Saoirse-Monica Jackson) is a 16 year old girl living in Derry, Ireland in 1994. She lives with her mother and father, Mary and Gerry (Tara Lynne O’Neill and Tommy Tiernan) and her Granda Joe (Ian McElhinney). Her friends include her odd cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare, the voice of reason (Nicola Coughlan), Michelle, the wild one (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn). They all attend an all-girls school (yes, even James) which is ruled over by the bitter and sarcastic Sister Michael (Siobhan McSweeney). The group constantly gets caught up in hijinks, usually due to their own youthful ignorance and lack of impulse control. They regularly are opposed by the wealthy stickler Jenny Joyce (Leah O’Rourke).
This show is the funniest thing to come out of Ireland since Father Ted, but without having to deal with all of Father Ted creator Graham Linehan’s personal issues (like that part where he spends an insane amount of time and money hating trans people). One of the keys to the show is that it portrays being a teen during one of the most uncertain periods in Irish history, in the mid-1990s when the Troubles were finally coming to what is now considered their end. Derry, Ireland was an area that was particularly affected by the fighting for roughly three generations, and the show kind of reflects the dark humor and odd traits that the people have adopted from living with that stress. Despite the constant threat of bombings and death, the main characters are still teenagers, meaning they’re more focused on things like popularity and trends than on the political upheaval. It creates a setting that allows for the characters to gloss over all of the heavier elements of the time period and instead address life in such a place in a lighthearted way.
The writing in the show is top-tier, even by the high standard set by other shows coming out of the UK. The characters all have distinct voices and their interplay is a wonderful blend of clever banter and genuine teenage stupidity. The show takes the typical sitcom personalities (the flighty one, the slutty one, the good girl, etc.) and tweaks them just enough that they all feel like real people. The premises of the episodes are usually described as “girls want to do something they aren’t allowed to, hijinks ensue,” but it works because we are watching it for the characters, not the plot. In short, it’s the peak of a sitcom done right.
The acting stands out right alongside the writing, with great performances from all the leads. Really, the casting is just amazing in this show. As demonstrated by their performance on Great British Bake Off, these are just naturally funny and charming people, particularly Siobhan McSweeney. Sister Michael’s deadpan snarking is one of the highlights of the show. All of the girls, including James, manage to believably react to all of the insane circumstances they encounter. The supporting characters are often just as believable, including Erin’s long-suffering father Gerry and the abuse he absorbs from his father-in-law Joe.
Overall, just a great series and I can’t wait for the third season.
If you want to check out some more by the Joker on the Sofa, check out the 100 Greatest TV Episodes of All Time, Collection of TV Episodes, Collection of Movie Reviews, or the Joker on the Sofa Reviews.
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