What makes Derry Girls so great? The comedy series, a huge hit on Channel 4 in Britain and streaming on Netflix in the U.S., is set in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. I love it for its sharp-edged view of the Troubles and the way politics inflects the daily life even of high-schoolers. I love it for its snappy writing (by series creator Lisa McGee) and wild, twisty plots. I love it for its irreverence toward the twin pillars, so often lionized in Irish fiction, of the Church and family. But mostly I love it for Erin’s crazy faces.
Erin, played by Saoirse-Monica Jackson, is the 16-year-old heroine of Derry Girls, and what is most heroic about her is the faces she pulls. Erin is not reserved. Erin shows her emotions. Erin gurns. This is Erin expressing rage:
This is Erin expressing scorn:
This is Erin expressing triumph:
Saoirse-Monica Jackson’s performance in the six-episode first season is a master class in the value of making big acting choices. Saoirse-Monica Jackson is not interested in playing it safe or underplaying to the camera. Saoirse-Monica Jackson is going for it.
This is Erin beholding an extremely cute priest:
This is Erin pretending to listen thoughtfully to that cute priest:
This is Erin shame-facedly trying to explain to that cute priest why she’s dug up her dead dog:
Saoirse-Monica Jackson’s face apparently contains muscles that most actors’ do not. She has the countenance of a cartoon character. She is glorious.
This is Erin expressing disgust:
This is Erin expressing indignation:
This, my favorite moment in the entire series, takes place just minutes into the first episode, and it was the moment I completely bought in to Derry Girls. Having just encountered the boy on whom she has a crush, Erin, attempting to flirt, makes this face:
In less than four seconds, Saoirse-Monica Jackson conveys foolishness, boldness, naiveté, determination, desperation, and abject teenage horniness, all in their funniest possible forms. I would not only give this GIF an Emmy, I would endorse it for a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Thank you, Saoirse-Monica Jackson, for giving the most undaunted, game, glorious performance I’ve seen in a long time. Stall the ball and watch Derry Girls immediately.
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