Ewan Gleadow

TV Review: Normal People

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Copyright: BBC

Naming your show Normal People proposes the idea that these people will, invariably, be normal. For the whole running time. They will clean pots and pans, have miserable experiences with other people, and, in general, have a thoroughly glum time. “Love sparks in the most mundane of places” seems to be the message of Sally Rooney’s novel adaptation. Stories in that similar vein to Normal Stories have the usual arc, it is what you do with such an arc that is of the most importance. When characters can come through as likeable then, regardless of cliché or generalisation, the project can work and flow with ease. That seems to be the aim of directing pair Hettie Macdonald and Lenny Abrahamson, who wastes no time in showing two characters with struggle and strife in their life. 

The tension between mother and daughter is presented early, and the parallels between one character and another are direct and simple. Levi Strauss would be proud of such binary opposites, but he wouldn’t be all that interested. Uncomfortably commentating on the class divide between its two characters, there is never a notion that Normal People is going to handle its themes with care. They are tertiary problems to be overlooked, we must simply be aware of their presence. Why that is is still beyond me, as it is the divide between these characters that makes their on-again-off-again relationship so enthralling at times. They come from different backgrounds but are more or less the same people, and that is never brought up more than a handful of times. Why play up the commentary on one mother working for the other when both leading characters find themselves in the same financial and social standing six episodes in? The divide is blurred and there is no point of return.  

Instead, Normal People relies on the tangents of will-they won’t-they all too often. It is the circus that has only one act. Although there is a sense that Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal) and Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones) lead a normal life apart, there is anything but normalcy for their relationship together. There is a slight disconnect from episode to episode, most of which makes for brief vignettes about whatever problems they seem to be having with one another at any given time. They are interlinked, though, and the passage of time feels natural and rather well-placed. These moments undercut many of the tropes that come through the usual romantic drama, but in its place is a sense of rushed objectives, caricatures and reliance on consistent misunderstandings.   

There are times where Normal People have these beautifully touching moments that spark realism and love, but they are weighed down by characters and scenes that feel textbook and similar. Credit to the leading pair, for their anxiousness and roles are a fascinating display at times, but Normal People does not have the strength to last for twelve episodes. It struggles to wind itself down and comes full circle. Those final two episodes are strong, and Normal People is short enough to warrant this circle of life routine. Bad people do bad things for no good reason, and it happens more often than Normal People can muster the energy for. Being in a constant limbo of will-they won’t-they only works for so long, and there are times where these normal people are both running on fumes.