WORTH A LOOK?: *****
AIRS: 9pm Mondays BBC1 until 1/6/20. All episodes available now on BBC iPlayer
‘What’s that shagging and crying thing you keep watching?’ I’m sharing a lockdown living room with my husband who is listening to podcasts on his headphones while I’m monopolising the TV.
- Read on for reasons including how this is the must-see TV series of 2020 so far
Normal People is a 12-episode adaptation of Sally Rooney’s 2018 novel which was a best-seller in the US, Waterstones’ Book Of The Year and long-listed for the Man Booker prize.
It tells the story of classmates Connell and Marianne in Sligo who strike up a secret relationship that he refuses to acknowledge publicly. They’re odd bedfellows because he is popular and sporty while she is fiercely intelligent yet cold and apparently friendless.
These are not the only complications that bedevil the pair and Connell’s mother (an extremely moving Sarah Greene in a minor role who deserves a spin-off of her own) cleans Marianne’s mansion home which she shares with a brother who is abusive to her and a mother who turns a blind eye.
Hollywood films about debutants’ dances or proms are well-worn but by the time we get there we’ve invested so much in our main characters that the heartbreak inflicted on one of them cuts all the deeper. Similarly, teenage life – where a bullying remark at school can seem to send the victim’s entire world crashing down – is well drawn.
Stories about first love and its all-consuming physical expression are all too familiar but what marks Normal People out is how well fleshed out its protagonists are and how believable their on-and-off-again relationship is as they both move to study at Trinity College, Dublin.
Things change at university as Marianne finds her feet and Connell struggles to articulate his enthusiasm and understanding for the books he is studying. While one only reluctantly returns home, the other struggles to feel a sense of belonging in either location as a sense of bridges burnt dawns.
Normal People is set during the post-2008 Irish economic downturn and the concerns of our central couple feel very now: mental health, panic attacks, separation, communication via Skype.
Connell and Marianne are often apart and find themselves in both Italy and Sweden in pursuit of unsuitable partners as we realise during this BBC/Hulu co-production that although they might have an intense, often unspoken bond it is their inability to articulate their feelings for each other which can sometimes infuriate.
The writing is so believable and rich and the world so engrossing that we would find it hard to imagine that we would see something so good in the rest of 2020.
We’ve now seen all 12 episodes and, no spoilers, it doesn’t disappoint. We may even read the book on the strength of it.
We give a monsta each year to the best TV show of the previous 12 months and if you liked former winners The Bridge, Stranger Things, Queers, Killing Eve and Fleabag, you could do far worse than investing six hours of your lockdown life in this. Utterly enthralling and set to make stars of its lead couple.