On a basic level, Hulu’s Normal People is simply the story of two high schoolers living in a small town in Ireland, Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) and Connell (Paul Mescal), as they deal with an attraction to each other despite the difference in their status. Marianne is the anti-social, super smart, wealthy girl and Connell is the poor but very popular and super smart boy. This simple premise could have easily fallen into a cliche, but the end result is actually a gorgeous character study that takes us through the passion, heartbreak, and mistakes that are easily recognizable in young love.
Emotion is the word that kept popping into my head watching this miniseries. There were many times I wanted to pause an episode and take a break because the feelings coming across the screen — the pain, the love, the horrible level of confusion — were too much to take. Within seconds of us seeing Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal just looking at each other, it is clear there is not only an attraction but also a deeper connection. Theirs is a connection that may not be easily defined but is there and never leaves, even when they are trying to avoid each other. It isn’t just that these actors are able to translate such emotion just by the looks on their faces, but as we see them together, we see how they have found kindred spirits. Over the years of the show, they discover more and more about what they need from each other.
There is an intimacy to the lovemaking scenes that I haven’t seen in many television shows. It is hot and sexy, but it never feels like it’s there to titillate. The sex is there because these two characters genuinely love each other, and sex is naturally part of those feelings. Plus, we have seen them grow and change over this series from horny teenagers to college students who feel more of the world weighing on them so they seek comfort in each other.
Even in some of the later episodes where the momentum starts to slow down, what these two actors bring to every scene creates layers of emotion swirling around them. I wanted to scream at them to say something when it is obvious that their own egos or feelings of inadequacy were creating problems that were hurting them both. Yet these moments also show how hard love is and that they are young and, while book smart, are naive when it comes to relationships. Nothing is stagnant. Though the issues that hurt what they have when they’re in high school remain, they are not what is keeping them apart as they get older. Some past hurts are still part of who they are.
It is easy to just focus on these two since they are so dominant in everything we see, but we should not forget what directors Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald do in crafting this work. Throughout there is a melancholy air, from the gray Ireland skies and color palate of the shots combined with slow music, even when things are happy. A shot of hands-on a dinner table, frantically moving dishes around to avoid the dark feelings that are building. Or the simple act of shooting Connell getting up and offering to get Marianne an ice cream when she is hot. These normal events take on extra weight because of how these directors have built up to these moments and allow so much to happen in the mundane to mean the whole world in the experience of these characters.
There are so many little details in shots that happen and things about these two that I feel I should be talking about, but really it is experiencing all of these things together over time that gives them and the show the emotional resonance that makes this such a joy to watch.
When we get to the end the journey these two have been on feels complete. There could be more stories about them but where they are emotionally shows the change that has happened to them. It is intense and doesn’t give all the answers as to what will happen. However, we know where they are now from where they have started out, and that is enough in the end.
Normal People is available to stream now on Hulu. Awards Daily also has interviews with Normal People stars Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, director Lenny Abrahamson, producer Ed Guiney, sound designer Steve Fanagan and music supervisor Maggie Phillips.