Writing comedy is hard. Writing a sitcom? Doubly so. And as if that wasn't enough, pilots are arguably the hardest episodes to write given the need to build a world, introduce new characters, have a full plotline AND be really funny... not to mention it can be the first time you've properly your met characters. And quite frankly you're often still discovering who they are and exactly what the show's about...
But, for my money, Lisa McGee has absolutely nailed it with Derry Girls and, given All 4 have recommissioned it for a second series after just one episode was aired, I rather suspect other people feel the same.
There are SO MANY good things about the show, from the excellent directing and photography, to the spot-on use of music and sound and the, frankly incredible, performances from the cast.
But what I really want to talk about here is the writing. Here's 10 reasons why...
1) The premise (young girls trying to discover themselves in a world of family/school/politics/culture that constrains, confines and tries to define them) and characters are quickly setup and reinforced throughout the episode.
2) EVERY character was sharp and well defined, even those on-screen for only a few seconds e.g. Dennis the shopkeeper and Erin’s grandfather. James, as the boy forced to go to an all-girls school, is such a strong concept he could form the basis for a sitcom in his own right. Yet here he’s just one of 6 main characters…
3) ...the 6th being the setting itself, beautifully shown through visuals and music and with its own plot thread - the closed road.
4) Each character’s thread was used to help the audience better understand them. Erin doing anything to be popular, Clare wanting to help others but mostly helping herself, Michelle wanting to be top dog but actually just being a top gob…
5) ...and each of these threads came together in a beautifully farcical end scene in classic sitcom tradition, brilliantly built and played out.
6) The dialogue and actions were SUPERB. What characters thought of themselves and what others thought of them was both shown in spades and capped off with lovely bits of ‘tell’ to make sure we got it. Michelle: “I’m a beacon of truth” / Erin: “You’re a mouth, that’s what you are”.
7) The bookending of the show using the same device each time was a really nice example of how exposition can be handled with elegance and humour.
8) Actually, since it was a pilot, it naturally had LOADS of exposition BUT it was all dealt with beautifully - Orla: “what’s a pair of knickers between cousins?” Orla was the clown who could safely say tell us things and James was the ‘new kid’ who could safely ask questions.
9) Crucially the humour (and there was bags of it) flowed naturally from the characters, the setting and the conflict. All the gags made sense and felt right for the show (plus there were very funny!)
10) And it was all done in just 23 minutes without feeling rushed. Extraordinary!