A lot is being said about the BBC Three and Hulu series Normal People. It first aired on BBC Three on April 26. It was then released on Hulu on April 29 to wide acclaim. Based on the book by Sally Rooney, the TV show has been written by Rooney, along with co-writers Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe.
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald, Normal People deals with the characters of Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal). The narrative follows them through their years in school to the kind of people they eventually become as they graduate from Trinity College, Dublin. Set in Ireland’s Dublin and County Sligo, the storyline focuses on how places and people of those places affect an individual’s response to himself and those around him. How it can make you feel isolated, alone and cold, and how difficult it can be to absorb change.
Normal People also discusses mental health in some detail. For instance, Connell has panic attacks and is prone to anxiety. His condition aggravates when he learns that someone he once considered close to him has passed away. Marianne, on the other hand, has issues of self-esteem. She believes that she is unworthy of love, and in one particularly disturbing sequence asks one of her lovers to explicitly tell her the same. She suffers from abandonment issues and is continuously harassed by her older brother Alan (Frank Blake).
The beautiful part of the show is how it handles mental health. Nothing is on the nose. It is not preachy. It doesn’t say, ‘Okay, get up. Your time is done now. Don’t be sad anymore.’ What the writers understand is that there is no time to grieve and that people deal with their issues on their own time. You cannot dictate the terms here because there are none. You have to let them be, trust them and offer them support when they need it, and believe that things will change because that is how life is. Of course, this doesn’t mean when things get out of hand, you sit on those worries. You seek help. You visit a shrink and sometimes, you are even medicated.
It is hard to describe the romantic element of Normal People in a couple of lines. It is typical in the way you feel attraction for someone and you dream of being with them and talking to them often. But it is atypical in terms of how the lead characters respond to these primal urges. Sometimes, they resist and let the tension churn in the air until it is too hard to ignore it, and at other times, they do not seem to care at all about who stands in their way. This constant pulling and pushing is not new, but the way it is depicted on screen certainly is. Many viewers who have liked the show loved the leads’ chemistry. However, a few feel that the intimate scenes are a bit too long drawn out and can be categorised as soft porn.
Emotional and engrossing
But even the naysayers will have you know that Normal People does enough to draw you into its world of class, conflict and mental illness with a generous dose of an on-and-off steamy affair. The series consists of 12 episodes, each spanning about thirty minutes or so. And to top it all, it ends with a cliffhanger for the ages.
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