Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (Room) and Hettie Macdonald (Howards End) and adapted from Sally Rooney’s best-selling novel of the same name, all 12 episodes of Normal People are now available to watch on Hulu.
The series stars Paul Mescal (in his first on-screen role) as Connell and Daisy Edgar-Jones (War of the Worlds) as Marianne, a couple whose on-and-off relationship spans the course of the series, from their insecure high school days to their time as students as Dublin’s Trinity College.
The pair’s bond remains the sole concern, but various factors – some deliberate, some inherent to the medium – mitigate any possible tedium.
Of the deliberate decisions, the greatest may be the one to divide the series into 12 half-hour episodes rather than the traditional six.
It leaves you either wanting more or relieved that you are not being asked to relive the exquisite agony of first love for any longer. Of the inherent differences, it is the breaking of the endless parsing of every action that dominates the book.
But Rooney and Birch have resisted the temptation to recreate it. To have it shown instead of told refreshes the story for those who already know it, and will surely help engage those who are alienated by such interior detailing.
It’s an epic romance told quietly. In short: it’s great and you should definitely go and watch it right now. It’ll make you hurt in the best possible ways.
With some clever hair and fashion changes, Edgar-Jones and Mescal make the transition from teenagers to adults completely believable.
There’s palpable chemistry between the two actors that never wanes, and makes you root for them to wind up together even though Normal People is too clever to clarify that outcome would be what’s best for either of them.
As the limited series progresses, it reveals more serious psychological issues that afflict Marianne and Connell, causing major snags in their relationships and lives going forward.
Within that trajectory, Edgar-Jones and Mescal are called upon to delve into deeper wellsprings of trauma and both do so credibly, without succumbing to the temptation to oversell the drama.
Like its source material, Hulu’s Normal People deals with the romantic tribulations of two Irish teenagers, Marianne and Connell, as they get together and break up repeatedly over their last year of high school and through four years of college.
Marianne and Connell sincerely care for each other; they also hurt each other immensely. Both show and book are primarily concerned with how the power dynamic between them shifts and evolves with their relationship.
What’s miraculous about Rooney’s novel, though, is that it balances a clear-eyed analysis of power in Marianne and Connell’s love story with a genuine romantic tenderness that’s almost old-fashioned in its sincerity.
Rooney is the credited writer on all 12 episodes of the show (sharing a co-writing credit with Alice Birch on 10 of them, with Lenny Abrahamson directing the first six and Hettie Macdonald directing the back half).
But somehow, when the TV show attempts the same balancing act, it stumbles ever so slightly.