Usually, when I find a new series that I adore, I will binge it quicker than my nuggets order at McDonald's reopening next week. "Are you still watching?", the laptop screen judgmentally queries. Why even ask me that Netflix; we both know what's happening here. Normal People was different, though. I didn't want to watch it all in one go. I wanted to savour it as slowly as I could. Plus, it was so raw, and so affecting, that I knew my big 'ol emotions couldn't handle one episode after the other.
The book by Irish author Sally Rooney - though not to everyone's taste - was one of my favourites in recent years. Again, I purposefully read it as slowly as I could, as I didn't want it to end. I loved it so much, that when I heard about the tv adaptation I was hesitant to get excited about it, because often these things are a whole pile of disappointment. But, somehow, the series is pure magic; a once-in-blue-moon perfect piece of telly. Here's why it's so memorable:
The sex scenes, and handling of consent & 'lad' culture
We have a bishop blaming the show's sex scenes for coronavirus, and Joe Duffy inundated with appalled listeners that young people are shown doing the deed on d'telly. They'd be better off focusing on how Connell dealt with Marianne losing her virginity to him; by him asking for her full consent and telling her they could stop at anytime. Or focus on the calling out of toxic "lad" culture, when Rob shows Connell a naked photo of his girlfriend, and instead of laughing along like the others, he shows his disgust for his betrayal and lack of respect. These are the takeaways that should be discussed. The olden days of Catholic guilt are over, so Bishop Cox (that's actually his name) and his sex shaming cronies can feck off back to the '50s.
It was just so... authentic. The accents (Daisy Edgar Jones is perfect), the mannerisms, the social cues, the awkwardness, the breakdown in communication; it felt real and in no way cringe-worthy, like other diddly-aye Irish shows can be. They nailed it.
Showing the damage caused by casual cruelness
Watching Marianne fall into toxic, damaging relationships serves as a reminder: be relentlessly cruel to someone and their self worth will crumble. They will think they deserve bad treatment. Marianne's awful sociopathic brother and cold, cowardly mother - and early-on hurtful rejection from Connell - made her feel undeserving of love. Kindness to others goes a long way in mapping out someone's future.
Its depiction of male depression
Paul Mescal absolutely shattered my heart in that counselling scene. His pain jumped through the screen; you felt it. For anyone that has ever felt lost in their life - I for one definitely have - it will punch you square in the feelings gland, hard. Watching a guy break down, totally vulnerable, was refreshing to see. With men accounting for 80 per cent of suicides, it was powerful tv to show so viscerally that it's ok not to be ok, and that if you open up, go to counseling, get on medication - whatever it takes - things will get better.
Lorraine, the ultimate ma
At first when I saw that Sarah Greene had been cast as Connell's mam, I wasn't sure. Then she started to speak, and I was instantly sold. When she goes IN on him for hurting Marianne re Debs scandal, and the way she talks openly to her son as an equal, no matter how awkward the topic...an icon.
Niall, the ultimate pal
I genuinely want to be friends with Niall. He just seems so sound. The kind of guy you'd meet at Body and Soul and end up wanting to hang out of all weekend 'cos he's just such good vibes, man.
Jamie, the ultimate villain
It took restraint to not punch the screen during the dinner table scene in Italy. What a little shit. A sneering, stuck up little shit. I'd like to think that during lockdown he'd have time to reflect on his behavior and emerge from his cocoon as a salt of the earth Niall type, but some people are just born to be arseholes. Lukas from Sweden absolute fits this category, too. And Marianne's brother. OK, the three of them can share this title.
Everyone's talking about Connell's chain, and I get it. His neck is a work of art. But so too is Marianne's majestic fringe. It has transfixed me. It has almost erased my memory of the time I attempted one in 2014 and it has made me want to try again...because this time would be different, right?! Note to self: lock away all scissors in the house.
You know I love you. And I’m never going to feel the same way for anyone else.
And I’ll stay. And we’ll be okay.
I almost choked on my tears at the final scene, but found it very befitting of the love and respect that came to be between Connell and Marianne. However, I don't buy it. They will not be able to stay apart, like they've never been able to. Connell will go to New York and spend his time in Irish bars, but one day will meet a cool writer who will introduce him to jazz clubs and speakeasy bars. He'll gradually grow in confidence and learn how to properly communicate his feelings. Meanwhile, Marianne will go on her own personal growth/ self love journey, learn her worth and will never accept shitty treatment again. Whether she goes to him, or he comes back to her, their bond is too strong to move on from. In every scenario, they end up together.