Television

Sex, drama and 5 more reasons you need to watch Normal People

While the show title says otherwise, Normal People is anything but your regular coming-of-age story of love and heartbreak.

While the show title says otherwise, it's anything but your regular coming-of-age story of love and heartbreak

(Daisy Edgar-Jones, right, plays Marianne Sheridan in Normal People.)

The 12-part series, Normal People, starring Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds, Cold Feet) and newcomer Paul Mescal, launches today on CBC Gem, with two new episodes premiering each Wednesday.

The series tracks the tender but complicated relationship of two teens — Connell Waldron, a popular football star from a poor family, and Marianne Sheridan, an outcast from a wealthy background — from the end of their school days together in a small town in the west of Ireland, to their undergraduate years at Trinity College. 

"The driving theme behind the show is probably how profound of an effect people can have on each other's lives. These two characters meet in school and there's a kind of intense connection between them which eventually blossoms into love and a romantic relationship," says Lenny Abrahamson, co-director of the series.

Here are five more reasons you should watch Normal People.

Based on a widely acclaimed book by a novelist hailed as 'the voice of the generation'

Normal People is an adaptation of Irish writer Sally Rooney's New York Times best-selling novel of the same name, which won the 2018 Costa Novel Award and was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. 

Rooney was described as the "literary phenomenon of the decade" by The Guardian, who also ranked her book number 25 on its 100 best books of the 21st century. And The New York Times called her "the first great millennial author."

"The depth of emotion and the joy and the pain of love, is something that's normal and universal. People connected with the book who were 16 and who were 86 for that very reason: they recognise that the complex emotions in it are things that people experience in their lives. It's normal to feel all of those things that our characters feel," says Catherine Magee, producer of the series.

They're extraordinary. They both have to go on huge emotional journeys and work so hard to express so much of that complex relationship.- Alice Birch, screenwriter of Normal People

The process of turning those characters into a screen version of themselves had an interesting effect on Rooney. 

"While I was writing the novel, I was completely alone with Marianne and Connell, and they really felt at times like projections of myself. Writing the show was a different experience, and it allowed me to see the characters in a new way, as if from the outside. I found myself feeling sorry for them — which I don't think I ever did when I was writing the book."

The series is a faithful transposition of the novel onto screen as adapted by the author herself — alongside writers Alice Birch (a British playwright-turned-screenwriter, best known for her work on HBO's Succession), Mark O'Rowe (an Irish playwright-turned-screenwriter), and directors Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald (Howard's End).

A compulsive, modern love story rooted in sex

The quality of Normal People's "will they, won't they," love story is profound in its exploration of what true love is, viscerally depicting young complicated love with all its beauty, intensity, awkwardness and uncertainty.

Marianne and Connell are drawn to and at times intoxicated by each other, despite being opposites in many ways. The connection that they have is incredibly intense, especially so, when they secretly start sleeping together. They seem to turn lovemaking into a unique way of communication where sex almost becomes a character of its own. 

The raw, impassioned intimate scenes are very real and delicately portrayed — often without the musical embellishments or other tricks of the production trade which are normally used to emotionally enhance them.

Politically inflected, exploring class and self imposed boundaries

Belonging to two different socio-economic backgrounds, Marianne and Connell's relationship is continually tested, beyond love and sex, as they deal with the subtleties of class.

"I'm trying to show the reality of a social condition as it is connected to broader systems," said Rooney to The New Yorker.

Their story begins at the opposite ends of the social hierarchy in high school where Connell is well-liked and popular — despite being from a working class family and raised by a single mother, who works as a cleaner for Marianne's wealthier middle-class family — while Marianne is lonely, proud and intimidating.

They are unwittingly concerned about the social gulf that separates them and even initially keep their relationship a secret. But things take a different turn, a year later, as the class disparity between them becomes more prominent after they enroll in university. 

"Being pulled out of their original social context and placed into a new one, where things like class and cultural capital take on a new significance, they are forced to rethink and re-evaluate the extent to which their relationship has been shaped by those sort of class differences," said Rooney.

Suddenly, Marianne seems to be the popular one and thrives in her new social world while Connell is on the sidelines, shy and uncertain.

Delves into topics of abuse, personal loss and gender norms from a millennial perspective

As the title suggests, Marianne and Connell are portrayed as "normal people" who try to relieve the air of existential anxiety that suffocates their lives, through very aware and intelligent prolonged conversations about everything from politics and open relationships to privilege. 

They are symbols for most people that I know.- Paul Mescal (plays Connell Waldron in Normal People)

But the series also deals with very serious topics throughout its multifaceted storylines, such as Connell dealing with depression after a childhood friend takes his own life or Marianne having low self-esteem which makes her an easy target for the wrong people — an aggressive brother, a physically abusive boyfriend (not Connell) or men she meets on the internet.

And then we see the power dynamics switch, depending on which perception glasses one wears.

In a 2019 interview with CBC's host Eleanor Wachtel of Writers & Company, Sally Rooney explains that if you break things down through a gender-based framework, it would seem that Connell is the one holding gender power in their relationship.

Rooney says: "It's easy to read her feelings for him and her submission to him as happening within a gendered framework — and thereby to say he's the power player in the relationship and she's the one perhaps at times even being manipulated."

Rooney also points out that if you look at things from a Marxist class analysis perspective, the perception may change.

"Marianne is from a middle class background and when they both arrive at university, she finds it very easy to navigate the social world they live in and Connell feels lost in that world. Not because he's in any sense Marianne's intellectual inferior — or, as we know from school, her social inferior in any sort of objective way — but simply because he cannot draw on the same store of cultural capital that she can as his opportunities are more limited." 

"Through that framework, we could say, 'It's Marianne who is really the one with the power, and Connell is being made to feel inferior to her for reasons beyond his control.'"

Critics are raving, and so is social media

(Paul Mescal plays Connell Waldron in Normal People.)

Touted as epic and one of the best book-to-series adaptations, this remarkably honest, smart and relatable drama has the critics under its spell.

"It's a triumph in every way, from acting and direction to script, and if we see a better drama — certainly about adolescence, one which takes it seriously without treating it indulgently — this year, I'd be very surprised. It's a beautiful, hugely beautiful thing." — The Guardian 

"Rooney's ability to dive deep into the minute details of her characters' emotional lives while maintaining the cool detached exterior of the Instagram age reflects our current preoccupation with appearance over vulnerability." — The Washington Post

"Moving and emotionally wrecking in the best way." — New York Times

"Uncannily smart, sophisticated and seductively melancholy." — Wall Street Journal

People are buzzing on social media.

 
  

But also celebs. 

What's even more intriguing is that Connell's necklace has its own Instagram account @connellschain with almost 150K followers.

Start watching Normal People on CBC Gem now and check back every Wednesday for two new episodes!

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