Sexy stares and subtle sighs: 7 reasons Normal People isn't your normal TV romance
From authentic sex scenes to honest portrayals of mental health, the Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney's novel has it all.
Normal People is so much more than a normal TV show.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald (Howards End) and adapted from Sally Rooney's best-selling novel of the same name, all 12 episodes of Normal People are now available to watch on Hulu. The series stars Paul Mescal (in his first on-screen role) as Connell and Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds) as Marianne, a couple whose on-and-off relationship spans the course of the series, from their insecure high school days to their time as students as Dublin's Trinity College.
It's an epic romance told quietly. There's as much pain and passion as any great love story, but there's also a very apparent sense of realism to it that's often lost on television or film. In short: it's great and you should definitely go and watch it right now. It'll make you hurt in the best possible ways. Need more convincing? Read on for seven reasons this has to be your next binge or slow burn — who are we to dictate the speed at which your heartache is delivered? (Warning: Some minor spoilers from this point forward.)
1. There aren't a million grand declarations of love
There is one very moving moment, in the close confines of a car, where Connell definitively tells Marianne that he loves her, but most of the young couple's sentiments are communicated through what they aren't saying — whether unable or unnecessary. Connell, though deeply intelligent, is terrible when it comes to communicating his emotions (and sometimes his thoughts in class), but both he and Marianne are guilty of never fully disclosing their feelings at crucial moments, a characteristic that is as painful to witness as it is refreshing to see on screen. Instead, a lot of how they're feeling is communicated through touches or glances. Even the slightest side-eye can say so much. "Lenny [Abrahamson, director] trusted us to communicate [their emotions] with a degree of subtlety that's maybe slightly higher than in the book because Sally has the luxury of explaining to us what they're feeling," Mescal told EW. "There was a responsibility to communicate all of that with looks, glances, breaths, or half-finished sentences."
2. Connell and Marianne's dynamic adapts as they get older
Often on TV we see the "hot guy in high school falls for nerdy, shy girl" trope played out, resulting in the couple meeting up years later and the girl, having found her crowd and confidence, asserting herself in a position of control, perhaps disregarding the boy when they bump into each other years later. (She's probably discovered contacts and grown out her bangs by this point too.) Normal People doesn't go that route. Both characters grow and change over the course of the story, trying to work out their own emotional kinks and dating other people along the way. Through it all, their feelings for one another remain consistent. Although their paths don't always run parallel, their feelings and presence in one another's lives never fades. This isn't a story of unrequited love or of one person coming to the realization they've always loved the other all along. This is a story of two people who are in love, but aren't impervious to external or internal factors. Maybe love can't conquer all after all?
3. Sex is used to drive the story forward and is authentically depicted
Like we noted above, these two aren't the best at using their words. Luckily for them (and us), they're pretty good at using their bodies to express themselves — and use them, they do. Normal People has its fair share of intimate moments and nudity, but those scenes are framed (often in close-ups) and acted in such a way that they never feel gratuitous. Often, those moments came at a time where the characters need to feel that level of closeness to one another; they aren't just thrown in because it's evening and they're gorgeous — which they are. Also, we get to see it all and we're not talking about full frontal (though that is included). Television is very good at erasing those awkward moments of getting into bed with someone, but Normal People keeps them in there and adds in fumbling, ragged breathing, mumbled conversation, and the in-between moments of changing position that we normally don't see on TV. Also, mood lighting and music? Forget it. To be fair, that would be completely superfluous in these scenes anyway. The authenticity in these moments make it that much sexier, which in turn makes it even, um, harder to watch, especially when many of us are social distancing and deprived of physical contact. But, yeah, watch it anyway?
4. It provides an honest look at anxiety and depression
Around the midway point of the series, Connell — who's dealt with some social anxiety throughout — is crippled by severe depression. Tasks which would normally be easy become impossible. Relationships dissolve around him and he spends a lot of time lying around languidly. There's no glamorous spin on Connell's mental health, no huge saving grace that snaps him out of it, nor is there an exhaustive explanation for why he feels this way. Yes, he's dealing with some trauma, but we understand that this has been brewing under the surface for some time. "I was really excited by how Sally wrote it," Mescal told EW. "She shows the effects of his depression and anxiety, rather than over explain it. I think that's really refreshing because often in TV dramas and films you see depressed characters, but there's a really incredibly dramatic reason as to why that's the case. I put a lot of work and effort into trying to imagine what he was going through and trying to portray it as honestly as possible."
5. There's no happily ever after...
We don't want to spoil the ending for those of you who are yet to watch, but let's just say not everything is neatly resolved by the end of last episode. Indeed, part of you might find it maddening to not have all the answers, but the open ending is just one more thing that makes you love this show, even as it hurts you.
6. ...or real resolution for Marianne and her family
Marianne's family pretty much sucks. Her older brother is abusive, her mother distant and cold, and her father deceased. Unlike in some traditional TV storytelling, there's no big emotional reunion for Marianne and her family by series end. (Honestly, there could be an entire second season full of flashbacks just focusing on her mother and brother's issues and how much they've impacted Marianne's mental and emotional wellbeing.) Once again, Normal People subverts expectations and leaves us without knowing if Marianne ever receives any comfort (or even an apology) on that front.
7. Have we mentioned the sex scenes?
Need we explain this one? They're there. They're good. Go watch.