Normal People depicts an Irish generation to appreciative millions that is at last growing up normally

Irish pornhub or a touching rite of passage? Critics are divided and that may be an age thing. But there’s no doubt that the TV series based on Sally Rooney’s rather minimal novel about the relationship between Sligo teenagers is a smash hit. This boomer old enough to be their grandparent is still getting over the fact that a drama about relationships set in a C21 Irish high school and small town has not a hint of Girl With Green Eyes tortured background nor anything of John McGahern’s sadistic Christian Brothers in the classroom and a savage, bitterly disappointed father at home. Indeed Normal People has no fathers at all and not a sign of a Hail Mary that I noticed.

Holy Ireland may be dead and gone but Connell and Marianne still have other mountains to climb. So what’s the problem? Class, and the tug of the mundane normal it seems. Although they both love to read, their mutual attraction is carnal.  Apparently free to develop their autonomy, they are both oddballs forced to hide their full sensitivity, even from each other. Each can talk a storm of lit crit but are just articulate enough with each other to let us know what’s going on between them and inside their own heads. Connell suffers agonies of peer pressure from his mates (whom he really likes by the way) joshing him in the usual way of “ what was she like?”  Marianne, resigned to being thought arrogant as well as clever  is hated for holding herself aloof  from girlie smut and is  further isolated as the daughter of  the nearest thing the Sligo town has to a Big House where Connell’s Mum does the cleaning.  Connell starts off more socially adept but the tables are turned later.

The sex is revealing in more ways than the obvious; Marianne quietly but insistently leading for her first time, Connell, shy but practiced, reaching into a drawer for a condom, a historic act for my generation.  Can the relationship survive translation to the big city and the grandeur of Trinity?

The normally staid Times went orgasmic on the front page.

Episodes of Normal People were streamed more than 16 million times on iPlayer in its first week of release, smashing online viewing records set by Killing Eve.

The BBC adaptation of Sally Rooney’s novel attracted 16.2 million programme requests in just seven days, after the entire series was made available to binge on April 26.

This includes nearly five million requests from viewers aged 16 to 34, the crucial youth demographic that the BBC is desperate to lure back from rival services such as Netflix and YouTube.

BBC Three, the corporation’s online-only youth strand, to rack up 21.8 million requests last week. This is more than double the 10.8 million total requests BBC Three received in the seven days after the release of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Killing Eve in 2018.

 Critics have praised Normal People for its tender depiction of young love and realistic sex.

The 12-part series, based on the Irish author’s 2018 novel, tracks the relationship between Connell, a popular working-class teenager, played by Paul Mescal, and his middle-class girlfriend Marianne, played by Daisy Edgar-Jones.The BBC has already commissioned a follow-up adaptation of Conversations With Friends, Rooney’s 2017 debut novel.

From the Times’ twenty something James Marriot

None of us will be young again. But we should take the experience of being young as seriously as the moody teenagers in Normal People do. We were all forged in that frightening, thrilling and unrepeatable time of life.

From witty but jaded Giles Coren, 50,

We had cheeseburgers from Five Guys with the children at 5pm then shared a glass of cheap champagne in front of four mournful episodes of that show about miserable Irish kids shagging in single beds, and were asleep by nine.

A sour note from the Guardian’s Jess Crispin

The series adapted from the Sally Rooney novel is a tedious reworking of a romance plot as old as time. I’d rather read an honest bodice-ripper.

More from the rare Times puff for the BBC

BBC executives will be relieved by the drama’s popularity on iPlayer as its early ratings on traditional scheduled television have been modest. The first two episodes broadcast on BBC One on Monday last week were seen by 2.2 million and 2 million people respectively, significantly below the 3.2 million slot average for 9pm. The national broadcaster is planning to plough tens of millions of pounds into youth programming to stem the loss of millennial and Generation Z viewers.

Lord Hall of Birkenhead, the director-general, has hinted that BBC Three could be given a more visible presence on the corporation’s broadcast channels, with an announcement expected shortly. Shutting BBC Three as a broadcast channel in 2016 is widely seen to have been a mistake. Fiona Campbell, (from Belfast incidentally) the controller of BBC Three, said: “We’re delighted that Normal People has been such a success and so many people have come to iPlayer to watch it.

“From the initial read-through, the phenomenal thought and preparation the directors put into everything from the aesthetics and locations through to the costumes, we felt this piece would always be incredibly unique and it’s clear the audience thinks so too.

Mary Hannigan in the Irish Times

In the opening two episodes alone, there are bountiful reminders of how that stage of life is filled with as much pain as it is joy, both Marianne and Connell fragile and filled with self-doubt as they try to figure out who they are and how to take their next steps together. And you can’t but root for them.

 Normal People is, in a word, gorgeous.