October 28th, 2021
The irresistible romantics of normal people
When we turn on our televisions at the end of the day looking for something new to watch, the last thing we want to see is reality. Sure, there’s youtube vlogs and reality tv and documentaries, but they aren’t real, not really. Their highly stylistic dialogue and characters are not reality reflecting back to us, just truth told slant. This is exactly what makes them so entertaining, as with any scripted media. So what makes Normal People, a show that depicts the most mundane aspects of life, so incredibly compelling?
Normal People is a 2020 Hulu series that follows Marianne and Connell and their romance as they grow up. There’s no distinct show spanning plot or even subplots of note. It is just life the way two likeable characters experience it, and it’s brilliant. A good how-to guide on writing will tell you not to make your characters and their dialogue too unrealistic-even the most fantastical stories need to be grounded in some reality-but the simple fact of it is that writing realistic yet entertaining dialogue is difficult. Nobody wants to hear simple dialogue about absolutely nothing, right? But that’s not quite true. Audiences do not want to be bored, and Normal People is not boring. Its brilliance is in its simplicity, portraying the trivialities, the small victories, every little thing under a romantic lens. It wouldn’t work any other way.
Since the dawn of time, we, the human race, have been trying desperately to take a peek into each other’s lives. Language evolved from gossiping, and we really haven’t stopped gossiping since. With the combination of curiosity and something like nosy aspiration, boring can become fascinating, when we are not the ones living through it. This is why vlogs on youtube are so successful. They’re a peek into the life of another, made for our entertainment, and the beauty of Normal People is that it's letting us into the world of characters who don’t know they’re being watched. Marianne and Connell are two of the most realistic characters on tv, while still retaining likeability and with a great romance, and suddenly, their school reports become something to cheer on.
One watches Normal People getting the sense that the protagonists are people that could exist in our world, people that any of us could be friends with, or people that we see ourselves and those we know in. But unlike a fantasy film that allows the audience to put themselves in the shoes of the characters, this show simply allows people to see a life play out, not one that they can dream of living in but one that they watch from afar similar to that of the romanticism of an intriguing classmate or an instagram profile: lives we do not know but are allowed glimpses into. That is not to say that the story isn’t pure escapism because it is. Normal People portrays a world that is safe from true danger. The consequences of the characters’ actions are not death and destruction. Just heartbreak and heartache. Love and the lack of it. Within the safety of the atmosphere the show creates, we, as an audience, are able to feel emotions maybe we’re too afraid to express in our own lives.
In a show, the consequence of heartbreak is mundane, but in reality, that is the true terror to avoid at all costs. It is something that is often suppressed, and don’t worry, there’s plenty of suppressing of emotions in the characters of the show, but as with reality, there is a breaking point, and that moment of release of anger or love or whatever, is catharsis for the people who resonate with the reality of what they are seeing. The show doesn’t need a plot or fantasy world to escape to but simply aims to convey the subtle emotions and complexities of young love.
I have a great, unending hatred for the show’s trailer. To make it more palatable to a general audience, the show’s storylines many years apart are meshed together to push the idea of a forbidden romance, Irish Romeo and Juliet, lots of sex, etc., and well, you’ve got one of the three down at least. It’s a good trailer, compelling, but silly. It’s not a trailer for the show it’s trying to promote. Normal People is not an easy piece to condense and market, I’ll give the trailer some slack there, in the same way that perfume commercials are notoriously difficult. How do you convey the way a perfume smells on a flat screen? How do you market a feeling? Simply enough, you don’t. You put out whatever your shitty marketing team can muster up and hope people are actually willing to watch 12 episodes of pure emotion and life, romance at its simplest and resonate with reality looking right back at them. And thankfully, people are. It’s in our nature.