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Why everyone is talking about 'Normal People'

The show based on Sally Rooney's novel tells a troubled love story

Why everyone is talking about 'Normal People' The show based on Sally Rooney's novel tells a troubled love story

For a few weeks now, on social media, there has been one trend topic: Normal People, the event-series on Hulu (in collaboration with BBC Three) from the homonymous novel by Sally Rooney. Released on the platform on April 26, 2020, in the United Kingdom, then on April 29, 2020, in the United States, the series immediately became a must-watch: everybody loves it and all the critics are describing it as simply "perfect". With 12 stirring half-hour episodes, Normal People is the epic journey of tormented love, one of those loves that makes you cry in the middle of the street and scream out loud the name of the special person you lost (or, in Pheobe's words from Friends, your "lobster"). 

Normal People is a love story. One of those dramatics, in which the protagonists say things like "I will never hurt you" and "You were always pretty, now you're beautiful". The format is the oldest in the world: she is rich, unpopular and has a conflictual relationship with her mother; he is poor but plays rugby in the school's team (we're in Ireland, so he is like the quarterback). His mother works as the cleaning lady of her mother, and that is how they suddenly fall in love. But love is not easy: so they get together, have sex (a lot of sex), then break up, go to university, but the love they share is too strong to be forgotten (or worst, replaced). 

Nothing that we haven't seen before. The first episodes are set in the typical high school atmosphere, between detention, uniforms, lockers, bus trips and school matches, but since it set in Ireland there are no cheerleaders. The style reminds a little of Élite and Gossip Girl, though the tones are more dramatic: in Normal People, there are is not funny and there are not homicides, but school proms that are way more shabby than the ones you got to usually see on television and simple New Year's Eve parties in local pubs. 

From the fourth episode on, the story follows the two lovers to Trinity College in Dublin, where they start studying “humanities”, careless of the fact that with this graduation they will never find work in the real-life (yet she is rich and does not need money, while nobody points that out to him because he's already blessed to be able to go to university). Here, the tones change for good: reminiscent of some Dead Poets Society vibes, through a trip to the Italian countryside and Erasmus in Sweden, following the overdose of provincial jerks of the first episodes here they come, rich photographers, irritant preppies wearing linen shirts (among them there's also Sebastian De Souza, one of the guys from the third generation of Skins), tweed blazers and horrific headbands, wine glasses and cocaine. They are outpost students: sometimes they're unbearable, but they are very real.  

The background is mostly Ireland, a world where the sun never shines, perfect for all the "never a joy" memes. Maybe that is the reason why everybody in Normal People cries, they cry all the time. Music leads their tears with some surprising Frank Ocean (Nikes) and RY X (Berlin), but the soundtrack seems to be taken from all the famous drama series that have come before: as with Hide and Seek by Imogen Heap (it should be illegal to use it for any other series that is not the second season of The O.C.), or Only You by Yazoo, already spotted in Looking by Andrew Haigh.

Sally Rooney, born in 1991, has been defined "the author of Millennials" (and she was defined by her editor as “the Salinger of the Snapchat generation”). Normal People (2018) is her second novel and it was published in Italy by Einaudi in 2019, with the title of Persone normali. For this transposition, BBC has gone for it: it called back Rooney herself to work at the script while opting for the direction of Lenny Abrahamson (Academy Award® nominated in 2015 for Room) and Hettie Macdonald, who has already been a director for many tv series as Doctor Who.

The biggest applause, though, goes to the two main actors: Daisy Edgar-Jones (a constrained version of Dakota Johnson) and Paul Mescal, both relatively at their debut. They are really good and the public immediately noticed it: only after a few weeks, they already have more dedicated accounts than Italy's Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, starting from the Instagram page about Connell's (Paul Mescal) silver chain. 

It is hard to say if Normal People deserves all the attention that it's getting. There is to admit, though, that is really able to touch the right chords to move every Millennial. And maybe that is what it really makes Sally Rooney one of the best novelists of her generation: she knows how to play with the feelings of her public, and she also knows how to live them wanting more. Like it or not, Normal People makes you want to watch a second season. After all, this is already a great point in its favour.