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'Derry Girls' writer and creator Lisa McGee on the final season of the show

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

There are lots of TV shows and movies about sectarian violence. Set in Iraq, Syria or Rwanda, they're often serious and tragic. Almost none are as ridiculously funny as "Derry Girls." Netflix just dropped the third and final season of the hit comedy about a group of teenage friends in Northern Ireland. This season finds them nearing graduation and having to decide whether to vote for the Good Friday Agreement, which effectively brought an end to the Troubles.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

SIOBHAN MCSWEENEY: (As Sister Michael) As Jenny's awful play just alluded to, a referendum is about to take place, the outcome of which could change the course of history. To those of you who have already turned 18, I strongly urge you to exercise your right to vote. It's your future. Take it seriously. On the other hand, and I cannot stress this enough, I have absolutely no interest whatsoever in any of your other so-called rights.

SHAPIRO: "Derry Girls" is a coming-of-age story loosely based on the childhood of writer and creator Lisa McGee.

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

LISA MCGEE: Hello. How are you?

SHAPIRO: I'm doing well. So excited to talk to you about this show, which I've loved for the last three seasons. In this season, you really explicitly tie the idea of coming of age as a teenager to the experience of Northern Ireland sort of entering its own adulthood in a way. When did you notice that parallel?

MCGEE: I think I always wanted the final scene of the show to be the Good Friday Agreement vote. So I'd always had that in the back of my head just because it was such a significant thing, such a significant moment for me and my peers growing up. But as I was writing the show, I really began to realize that these kids, the five lead characters, were kind of growing up at the same time as Northern Ireland was starting to grow up. So I really leaned onto that as an idea, then - and it kind of all just clicked into place, you know?

SHAPIRO: Was that something that you felt as a teenager in real time, or was it only in hindsight that you saw that parallel?

MCGEE: Definitely in hindsight. I don't think we really understood the enormity of that at the time. We didn't think about much beyond ourselves, really, as most teenagers tend to do, you know? So, yeah, it was definitely after the fact that I realized how momentous it was, and I just wanted to end the show on that beat, really.

SHAPIRO: Was there any voice in the back of your head you had to overcome that said, now, now, mustn't make light of something as serious as the Troubles?

MCGEE: There were certain things I was very careful about because it is a big, serious part of our history that is still kind of everywhere. You know, the ghosts of it are still haunting Northern Ireland, you know? So I was very careful and worried about some things. But mostly, I felt like I could walk that line because I'd lived it, you know?

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

MCGEE: I knew we were going to have to make jokes about it. You know, I just - there was no sort of avoiding that because it's a sitcom.

SHAPIRO: It's now a massive hit, but were you afraid of how it would land in Derry, how your friends and family would receive it?

MCGEE: Terrified. That was - I think that's why I was so careful with some of the jokes because I just knew people in Derry aren't - the saying goes, they're not backwards in coming forwards. You know, they don't - they'll tell you what they think. So I just couldn't have gone home again.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) And now you're a huge celebrity at home. Now there's a 30-foot-tall mural of your characters in Derry.

MCGEE: Yeah, that's insane. It's slap-bang in the center of the town as well. And every time I go back, I completely forget about it until I'm walking through the center of town, and then it's like, oh, there they are. That's right. That happened.

SHAPIRO: Is there one scene that everybody talks to you about? Is there one line that everybody quotes?

MCGEE: A lot of people talk about the boring uncle, Colm.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

KEVIN MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) ...Eight, half eight, for I was halfway through me dinner, and up I got to open it...

MCGEE: A lot of people seem to - a lot of Irish people, I know we seem to have that person in their family, and they want to talk about him, usually.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) I don't mind a bit of a breeze.

SHAPIRO: I was thinking that's a real risk, writing a character who is intentionally boring because the last thing you want to do is bore your audience. And it's great comedy, but there's a fine line you have to walk, right?

MCGEE: Exactly. There's a real sort of rhythm to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) For when the bride arrived, and as I say, by this stage, the wind was fierce.

MCSWEENEY: (As Sister Michael) Am I dead?

MCGEE: It can't really be boring. The story he's telling has to be entertaining.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCSWEENEY: (As Sister Michael) Am I in hell?

MCGEE: What's funny is that it's boring the other characters. But I just think Kevin McAleer, who plays that character, has just got such a gorgeous comedic rhythm to the way he speaks.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) ...She's lifted up in the air like a paper doll and blown into a flower bed.

MCGEE: It's an incredible thing he can do.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCSWEENEY: (As Sister Michael) That's actually quite funny.

MCGEE: So, yeah, we're very lucky with him.

SHAPIRO: He serves an important role in the plot in the first episode of the third season, where the girls get arrested. And they're being interrogated by Liam Neeson, of all people. And they figure out the solution to getting sprung is to call their boring uncle...

MCGEE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Who will bore Liam Neeson to tears.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) So I says to meself, says aye, Colm, who'd be ringing you at this hour?

MCGEE: I always want a Colm to save the day. At some points I really love him as a character, and I just thought, that's his superpower.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

LIAM NEESON: (As Chief Constable Byers) What was it we asked him?

MICHAEL BYERS: (As Officer Lennox) I can't remember, sir.

NEESON: (As Chief Constable Byers) Jesus.

MCALEER: (As Uncle Colm) I'm like a dead one.

NEESON: (As Chief Constable Byers) Mr. McCool, if I could just...

MCGEE: People urge Liam Neeson into submission.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DERRY GIRLS")

SAOIRSE MONICA-JACKSON: (As Erin) We can go?

NEESON: (As Chief Constable Byers) Yes, please. Do. Go, right now. And for the love of suffering Jesus...

SHAPIRO: Why do you think a show that is so specific in its language, its setting, its cultural references has become such an international hit? What's the universal vein that it tapped into?

MCGEE: Yeah. I think people were maybe ready to see a group of young women being ridiculous and being flawed and not being the sidekick, being, you know, the lead in a comedy. I also just think it's very sort of colorful and nostalgic and silly. And people - it's been a stressful few years for everyone, so I think people just like that. You know, they know they're going to have a nice time.

SHAPIRO: Well, it's also something about having a nice time during a stressful period. Like, these are not people who exist in Pleasantville. They exist...

MCGEE: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...In a difficult time and enjoy their lives nonetheless.

MCGEE: I totally agree. And I've had people say that to me, you know, that it's sort of reminded them that things have been tough before, you know, for people. And they still got through it, and they still laughed and fell in love and embarrassed themselves. And, you know, there's something to be said for that, maybe, as well.

SHAPIRO: Is it tough to say goodbye to these characters?

MCGEE: It's really sad. I have a very weird relationship with them. They felt like my friends towards the end.

SHAPIRO: Well, they were. I mean, they were actors playing people based on your friends.

MCGEE: Yeah. So - and even, like, the set was built using photographs of my family home...

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow.

MCGEE: ...As inspiration. So it was a really lovely experience. And I do miss them. I still think of lines for, say, Orla and go to write one down and then think, oh, I don't write for Orla anymore. The show's over. But yeah, I just thought it was the right time, and I'm excited about creating new characters now and a new world, you know?

SHAPIRO: Lisa McGee is the creator, writer and executive producer of "Derry Girls." The third and final season is now on Netflix. Thank you so much.

MCGEE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Ari Shapiro has been one of the hosts of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine, since 2015. During his first two years on the program, listenership to All Things Considered grew at an unprecedented rate, with more people tuning in during a typical quarter-hour than any other program on the radio.