Derry Girls, series 3 episode 1 review: sweetly nostalgic Nineties sitcom is Channel 4’s pride and joy

This review contains spoilers

Listen to the current outpouring of grief over the privatisation of Channel 4 and you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a broadcaster of wall-to-wall quality, rather than the one responsible for Naked Attraction and Katie Price’s Mucky Mansion. It is an awkward fact that many of the shows being cited as evidence of the channel’s greatness originated in its first 20 years, rather than its last. Yet it still regularly delivers some gems, and here is one of them: Derry Girls, back for a third and final series.

As a television comedy, it is pretty much perfect. Writer Lisa McGee brilliantly captures a time – the Nineties, which now seem an absurdly innocent era for teenagers, before social media and all its horrors – and a place, with McGee presenting an alternative to the bleak picture of Northern Ireland offered up elsewhere.

One of the last times we saw veteran actor Ian McElhinney, he was being shot dead in the BBC’s grim Northern Irish drama Bloodlands. Here, McGee sends up that sort of thing by having McElhinney’s character, Joe, embark on a sinister trip to bury a body under cover of darkness: that’ll be Fluffy, a neighbour’s rabbit.

This episode began with our heroines – and their hapless male friend, James – trying to make a short film about growing up amid the Troubles: “Kids from Germany made a short film about the Berlin Wall and it won an Oscar!” Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) rolls her eyes; she suggests they’d be better off manufacturing fake videos for You’ve Been Framed.

It is sweetly nostalgic – the Spice Girls’ Wannabe on the soundtrack, a video shop in one of the scenes – without being remotely sentimental. Most importantly, it’s hilarious. This is partly down to the actors, because someone turning up with an injury and saying: “This is nothing. You should see the other guy,” is a very old joke, but when delivered by the deadpan Siobhán McSweeney as Sister Michael, it’s extremely funny.

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