On April 29, Hulu dropped the new drama series “Normal People.” A co-production with BBC, “Normal People” is an adaptation of the best-selling 2018 novel by Sally Rooney. Both the book and the TV series are an emotional look at the relationship between two young adults as they grow up.
The series largely takes place in Ireland. Marianne (Daisy-Edgar Jones) is the black sheep of a well-off family in Sligo. Her brother expresses deep rage at her mere existence, and the kids at school aren’t fans of her either. Connell (Paul Mescal) is the son of her mother’s cleaner. He attends the same school but is a popular jock type. Both are at the top of their class and find kinship in each other.
Connell comes to Marianne’s house to pick up his mother one day, and ends up talking to Marianne. The two have an instant connection and begin kissing. This is the start of a relationship that will carry them through high school and into university — where the tables of popularity turn as Connell struggles to find his place in Dublin.
The series is a beautiful and faithful adaptation of the novel. This is likely because Rooney had a large hand in the creation of the show. She and British playwright Alice Birch (“Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again.,” “Anatomy of a Suicide”) co-wrote the first six episodes of 12, and Birch wrote all but one of the remaining. Much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the pages of the book. The author’s involvement helped to translate these complicated and heart-aching characters onto the screen.
The show is captured in 12 half-hour episodes, a perfect non-traditional format for dramas that has been growing in popularity. The bite-sized runtime, usually reserved for sitcoms, helps to keep the plot moving and doesn’t allow for wasted moments.
The direction of the series is split between Lenny Abrahamson (“Room”) and Hettie Macdonald (“Doctor Who”). Both directors do a wonderful job of coaxing the subtleties out of the scripts and creating distinctions in the years and locations of the stories.
The lead actors also shine in the series. Jones and Mescal are both relatively green actors, but they give award-worthy performances in this show. Their characters have very emotional moments, and they have a deep intimacy that the two actors portray effortlessly.
The show is also full of sex. Based on the sheer amount of nudity and sex scenes, this is likely to be one of the steamiest shows of 2020. But none of it is overly gratuitous or exploitative. It is quiet and vulnerable.
“Normal People” is a moving piece of art that translates wonderfully from page to screen. It is an exploration of intimacy and insecurities as the characters work to become adults.