From time to time, there are TV shows that capture the joys and challenges of adolescence, though they are few and far between. “Derry Girls” and “Sex Education” are two shows that offer unique perspectives on what it’s like to be a teen. While they are set in different time periods and locations, both shows use humor and authenticity to explore the essence of growing up.
“Derry Girls” is a coming-of-age comedy set in 1990s Northern Ireland during the Troubles. It follows a group of teenage friends – Erin, Clare, Orla, Michelle, and James – as they navigate the tumultuous backdrop of political conflict all while dealing with the usual teenage problems of school, friendships, and family. The witty humor comes through in the fast-paced dialogue between the teens, their parents, and Sister Michael, the nun and headmistress of Our Lady Immaculate College where the teens go to school. Each of the teens is struggling in their own way to grow up; together, they form a group of friends that survive some harrowing adventures (the episode where they go to Belfast for the Take That concert is just one example) and support one another through some poignant moments (the episode where they all join Orla on stage as she step dances to Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” is one of this reviewer’s favorite TV moments of all time). “Derry Girls” offers a window into the challenges of growing up in a conflict-ridden environment but balances those challenges with the sweetness and humor of what it’s like to be a teen.
Set in a contemporary British high school, “Sex Education” delves deep into the complexities of teenage sexuality and relationships. The show revolves around Otis, a somewhat socially awkward teen, and his sex therapist mother. Otis, along with his friends, sets up a secret sex therapy clinic in his school, offering advice to fellow students. “Sex Education” is known for its honest exploration of LGBTQ+ relationships, mental health, and consent. And while Otis is ostensibly the main character, one could argue that the character arcs of his classmates Adam, Maeve, and Eric all serve to deepen the poignancy of this series. These teens communicate so well and certainly outperform the adults in their lives in this domain. “Sex Education” is a refreshing take on the sexuality of adolescents as it breaks down taboos and fosters a healthy approach to discussing how to educate teens about sex.
Both of these shows seek to explore the importance of friendship, identity, and self-discovery for adolescents. In their own way, each captures the essence of growing up, offering moments of absolute joy, complete confusion, and utter despair. These are must-watch shows for anyone interested in what it means to be human.