I don’t think I’ve ever felt compelled to write about a tv series before. But then again, I’ve never seen a tv series like Normal People before.
From the moment Marianne and Connell shared a scene together, I was invested in the cosmic dynamic between them. He seemed to fit perfectly inside of her, just as Sally Rooney had intended.
Their connection was intoxicating to watch, radical even.
I’d read Sally Rooney’s book a while ago but watching it play out on screen like this was like discovering it for the first time, a rarity I wasn’t prepared for. I never knew a sex scene could be so, well, full of emotional intrigue and sparkling with ordinariness.
There’s a lot of firsts unfurling before us. You find yourself thinking I can’t believe he’s actually stopping to put a condom on. I can’t believe he’s asking her if she’s ok.
Not since Rose’s sweaty palms smeared across the window in the back of that car in Titanic have we been treated to such an honest depiction of sex.
The fumbling fingers on bra straps and navigating legs in a cramped bedroom; the lost art of intimacy.
Usually, what we’re served is a watered-down, strategically positioned romp; a quick pelvic pump and it’s all over. He’s satisfied. She faked it. End of scene. The crew break to snack on crudités and we’re told this is love making? It’s that stale, it’s hard to swallow.
Strange really, that it – the ‘it’ being entertainment – can be so prudish when it comes to the handling of tender real-life sex but careless shagging, void of emotional connection, it can do without blushing.
Normal People, together with the iconic duo that is Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal and Rooney’s magnetic writing, has transformed the sex scene as we know it and in the wake of the #MeToo era, when many directors and producers would sooner cut a sex scene entirely than lean into its rawness, as Normal People does so beautifully.
If Normal People’s intimacy is at all uncomfortable to watch, it’s simply because we’re not getting enough of this good thing elsewhere.
True, we see a lot of Marianne’s perfectly poised nipples throughout, and I had a bad bout of nipple comparison for at least the first 2 episodes to show for it, but the nudity is always balanced and not at all skewed for the male gaze – quite the revolution, even in 2020.
I can’t remember the last time I saw the vignette of a post-action penis on my tv screen, blissfully bobbing around the groin, living its best limp life and allowed to just catch its breath in a debrief for a second. Can you?
It’s always hurried dressing and foreskins caught in zippers – a quickie stuffed with gags and euphemisms where the intimacy and the silence should be allowed to bloom.
The silver necklace swinging with each thrust, the teenage sweat, the awkward pauses to roll on the condom – that intense realism is seldom felt nor celebrated on television, so it’s no surprise Normal People has resonated with so many.
This is the aftershave-on-a-patch-of-duvet-after-they’ve-gone-home kinda love. And we needed to see it to remember it existed.
Tender and dignified, this is as much about the intellectual chemistry between Connell and Marianne as it is the physical draw. It’s a sensitive portrayal of the complexities of growing up and one that doesn’t underestimate or patronise youthful love, rather it respects it wholeheartedly.
Here we have a truthful and accurate picture of intimacy; its dark ugliness and brutality included. It’s not transactional and clinical, it’s confident in its handling of adolescent awkwardness.
It explores the possibility that love between two young people can be soulful and wild, messy, tender and devastating all at once.
A heartache so visceral, it feels as though it might belong to us.
Normal People has no problem with eye contact. We see orgasms, we see pale naked bodies entwined together after sex and surely that’s what it means to truly lay yourself bare in front of another.
In conversations between 6ft gaps in shop queues, I overheard a woman in her 50s describe it as, ‘a series about beautiful young people’ and I thought yeah, that’s exactly what it is.
And we carried on talking about it. Shouting about it. Two strangers waiting for their roast dinner on-the-go, bonding over beautiful BBC s-e-x.
I think Normal People just normalised sex.
And the cinematic orgasm isn’t short lived.
Between the neighbouring walls of our home, I hear Dogwood Blossom and Love Will Tear Us Apart and Warped Window.
It seems the whole world is captivated by Normal People and I’m not in the least bit surprised.
What a fucking lovely bit of tv.