‘Normal People’ has been the talk of Trinity for a while. Written by a Trinity graduate Sally Rooney and part of it taking place in Trinity, it was the talk of campus. When I heard it was coming to our screens I wanted to see how Rooney’s writing which perfectly captures the awkwardness of first romance would translate to TV.
I’m being a bit of a dinosaur and watching it two episodes on Tuesday nights on RTE as opposed to streaming on Hulu. It gives my quarantine a little bit of structure- Thanks Covid. I’ve watched the first four episodes so far. For this post I will be sharing my thoughts generally and won’t be trawling through each episode. If you want to join me in living my college life vicariously through Marianne and Connell follow me on Twitter @explorestudent for 10:15 PM Tuesday nights.
Marianne and Connell
I always find it weird watching something showing Irish life on TV. Maybe I’ve been conditioned by Hollywood to think it’s only acceptable to have US accents on shows. I think with shows based in Ireland I have the cultural scope to nit-pick every single detail. With ‘Normal People’ starting in a Sligo secondary school I was ready for the cringe-factor. But it never came. In fact I was so impressed with its portrayal of teenage life in Ireland. Immediately I recognised Connell as being one of ‘the lads’ straight away. We all know the lads- GAA, big bag of cans and slagging. When we saw them all together for lunch in school and bullying Marianne, Connell doesn’t join in. This is our first hint that Connell isn’t like the rest of them. But come on man! Stand up for her!
Marianne is a bit more of an enigma, she’s clearly smart but she’s not your stereotypical goody two-shoes. When we first meet her she absolutely slates the teacher, before deciding she’s too good for class and walking out. Like Connell we get a hint that there is more to her than meets the eye. As we see her classmates are not sound, they tease and bully here. She is strong though and doesn’t take it.
The secret relationship that develops between them made me feel super uncomfortable. My Mam and brother were shouting at Connell to bring Marianne to the debs. Connell’s Mam is a legend how she stands up to his treatment of Marianne. We cheered when she got out of the car and walked. Is the relationship initially unhealthy? Yes. Is it compelling to watch? Most definitely.
It is clear that ‘Normal People’ is not Riverdale or Glee. Yes, the characters are teenagers but they are complex and have backstory. It’s not often we see teenage characters so developed in television. It was refreshing to see some serious teenage characters with backstory and development.
To sum up: Marianne isn’t like other girls, she reads books. Connell is a normal lad and popular in school- but wait- he reads books too. We see how the roles reverse when the two go to college.
Sex? In my Catholic Ireland?
Ok- this is probably why you’re reading this article. This is probably why you tuned in to watching ‘Normal People’ in the first place. Poor little old Mary could not handle the idea that two teenagers would want to have sex.
RTE, Ireland’s national broadcaster received 37 complaints for the first sex scene in the series. Mary rang into Joe Duffy’s Liveline to say it was “something you would expect to see in a porno movie.” Although something gives me the impression that Mary has not seen much porn. Archbishop Michael Cox is calling for the show to be cancelled on RTE. “Morally, it is wrong” he told The Irish Sun.
I thought the sex scene was great. Never have I ever seen consent happen so explicitly in film or television. Sure- I was watching with my Mam and it seemed to lass twenty minutes which was a teeny bit awkward. I was shocked to see such a backlash to such a healthy example of sex in the media- which is so rare! Teenagers are having sex, they should know about safe sex and consent and I think this scene could be a teaching moment. Explicit consent is something I’ve never seen on television before and I just thought it was great.
Sex Education in Ireland
When I was in primary school we had a Relationships and Sex Education class where you had to have parents permission to attend that basically explained what sex was. That is the limit of my sex education in Ireland. Sex Education was skipped over during my S.P.H.E (Social, Personal, Health Education) classes and received the slightest amount of attention in sixth year (age 17/18). Consent or contraception were never explained to me in school. I only hope this scene could encourage parents to talk to their children about healthy relationships, consent and contraception. I have read ‘Normal People’ and I want to tell Mary and Bishop Cox, if you’re reading this, you might want to tune out of the next few episodes.
So far only one episode has featured Trinity- and boy did it get put in its worst light. Connell goes to study English on the advice on Marianne, only to find himself lost. I found this really sad. There are so many people who found themselves top of the food chain in secondary school only to find themselves struggling when they arrive to college. I thought Connell’s experience of loneliness sad, but true. The reality is people have huge expectations of college- partying, new experiences, new life. But not everyone wants a new life and that can be hard to adjust to. Maybe if Connell read my article 5 Top Tips for Trinity Freshers Week he would have had a better time 😉
Trinity’s campus was exactly as it is shown in the episode, a really beautiful campus in contrast to the concrete block that is the Arts Block. It featured the Berkeley and Usher libraries. You can tell Connell works hard because he was on 2nd floor Berkeley where all the law books are. I’m more into the Usher basement myself with the comfy couches and computers- it’s a bit more relaxed.
Connell seems to get wrapped up with some people who are a bit edgy, inviting a contentious person to the debating society. Occasionally the debating societies do stir up controversy on campus like when The Phil decided to debate the motion “This House Believes that Middle Eastern Women Need Western Feminism”. The characters Connell meet are only some of the people you would meet in Trinity- Prazski at the Pav is more common than a full on dinner party. The lads he met have pure notions, he is better having cans with his housemates. Poor Connell just needs to find his crowd and he will land back on his feet.
The adaption of ‘Normal People’ to the small screen has been seamless. Rooney’s portrayal the awkwardness and passion in first romance has been perfectly brought to live by Lenny Abrahamson. It is about the only thing my family could agree to watch together since quarantine began. I am throughly enjoying it, even more than the book. For a series that impeccably captures the awkward tension in a blossoming relationship it is surprisingly gripping.
I was astonished at the reaction to the first sex scene and delighted at how is demonstrated consent on national TV. I read the book and know there are more to come, along with darker subjects and I wonder how Mary and Bishop Cox will ever cope. As said above if you want to follow along as I watch Normal People, Tuesdays at 10:15 PM you can find me on Twitter @explorestudent
Until next time-
The Student Explorer