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The Captivating Story of 'Normal People' Weaving Through Each Other's Lives
April 29, 2020  | By David Hinckley
 


Normal People
 might be the most revolutionary series on television this spring. Violating every rule of what viewers are said to crave these days, it’s a story about, get this, normal people.

Based on the Sally Rooney novel of the same name, Normal People launches Wednesday on Hulu.

It’s the story of two teenagers who meet in an Irish high school, Marianne Sheridan (Daisy Edgar-Jones, top) and Connell Waldron (Paul Mescal, top). We follow them into a relationship and then into college, as they weave in and out of each other’s lives.

That doesn’t mean nothing happens. It does mean that we don’t learn in episode three that Connell’s Da was a psycho killer who slaughtered Marianne’s twin sisters and that she had been plotting since she was 8 to get close enough to take revenge on the killer’s family.

No, Rooney and her television cowriters Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe have taken the bold and risky move of betting we will care about Marianne and Connell not because of some huge, shocking secret, but because of the hundreds of small things that make them precisely human.

This puts some pressure on the actors. How, in this television day and age, do you make normal interesting?

Edgar-Jones responds from the opening bell. Mescal takes a little time to wiggle into Connell’s skin, which fits the character.

Marianne at first seems like one of the outcasts who populate all teen dramas. She styles herself in a way that downplays her appearance. She’s smart and funny but doesn’t have friends. She seems more inclined to push people away than embrace them.

We know her. We know the girl who sits by herself in the lunchroom, reading, while bored classmates try to taunt and bully her.

She seems unbothered, knowing she’s smart enough that someday she’ll have a life from which these trolls will have disappeared.

She has a marginally more social life at home with her successful, wealthy, but fragile and often distracted mother, Denise (Aislín McGuckin). Her brother, Alan (Frank Blake), is a self-centered bully who takes after their father.

Connell comes from the working class. In fact, his mother, Lorraine (Sarah Greene), works for Denise, cleaning her house. That, you may surmise, is how things start for Connell and Marianne.

In an interesting twist, Connell’s and Marianne’s disparate social standing is reversed at school. Everybody likes Connell, including all the girls, and he’s also the school’s star athlete.

Through 12 half-hour episodes, Normal People explores the tentative beginnings of Marianne’s and Connell’s relationship, focusing on their vulnerability and the charming hesitancy in their willingness to commit.

As time goes by, the vulnerabilities shift, mirroring changes in their lives.

At no point does either become a superhero. At no point does either become a zombie. What we first saw is what we keep getting: two smart, likeable kids with all the insecurities and charms of people trying to figure life out, sometimes together and sometimes by themselves.  

Shocking, huh? Equally shocking, it’s first-rate television.

 
 
 
 
 
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