Watch List

The Watch List: 'Normal People', adapted from the book by Sally Rooney

The Watch List: 'Normal People', adapted from the book by Sally Rooney

Erika Lust | March 22, 2021 | 6 min. read

Welcome to The Watch List: a monthly feature where I choose a television series or movie that I’ve been watching and loving recently, and tell you why you should be watching it too. This month, 'Normal People'.

‘Normal People’, a twelve episode Irish drama television series, was adapted from the popular book by author Sally Rooney with the help of Alice Birch and Mark O’Rowe. Set in the early 2010s, ‘Normal People’ follows the lives of Marianne and Connell, classmates from a small town in West Ireland. Marianne, class introvert, is highly intelligent yet comes from a wealthy family and seems to be misunderstood by her fellow schoolmates. Connell on the other hand, is the well-liked athlete, yet remains modest and reserved – far from the stereotypical secondary school jock. He lives with only his mother, who just so happens to be the woman who cleans Marianne’s family home, creating a de facto relationship between the two outside of the murmurs of their classmates.

What I love about this series is that it moves beyond stale secondary school television tropes to emphasise authentic relationship dynamics, the process of becoming who you are, and genuine sexual exploration as a young adult (something important to me as a director of porn for women where I utilise the medium of porn to depict real sexual situations); not to mention the characters have an insane chemistry! I deeply enjoyed watching every single episode and how the ups and downs of early adulthood – sans rose-tinted glasses – are depicted unlike other teen dramas. I think this series can teach a lot of lessons to young adults, so I want to share some of the things I loved most about this show, as well as some of the things I thought could have been done better.

'Normal People'. Photo credit: Hulu

Realistic Portrayal of Sex… Mostly

Overall ‘Normal People’ depicts sexual encounters as they are in real life – awkward, fun, messy, and everything in between. It replaces those over the top sexual encounters that are unduly cinematic to focus on the raw, intimate human connection. Every sex scene throughout this entire series maintains high production value while still being graphic, explicit and believable. From the struggle to get their clothes off to being eighteen-year-olds seeing each other’s naked bodies for the first time to the pains of being a woman having sex for the first time, it maintains its relatability.

Although I will continue to praise ‘Normal People’ for its realistic portrayal of sex, especially considering the ages of its characters, I didn’t always agree with the way in which kink and BDSM were presented within the series. Marianne slowly discovers her enjoyment for pain which is suggested to be a result of the emotional and physical abuse she has endured by members of her family. Throughout the series she then has sexual relationships with men who not only introduce her to the world of kink, but are violent in nature themselves. Some of these situations are questionable when it comes to consent, and boundaries are violated as it seems a safe word is not apparent. The problem with this is that it inaccurately depicts a taste for erotic pain. Not only does it communicate that violence and BDSM go hand-in-hand, but it doesn’t portray the importance of consent & safe words for people who enjoy BDSM. Unfortunately, this casts a negative light on the kink community its members are constantly trying to shed.

Identity Exploration in Emerging Adulthood

Secondary school and shortly after is a time when many young adults find themselves exploring sex, sexuality and who they are for the first time. Many series exist where first time sex is shown but then the exploration that comes after that is missing. In ‘Normal People’, we see Marianne’s sexuality evolve as she discovers her taste for kink, for example. When it comes to sex scenes between Marianne and Connell, we are able to see how the characters develop not only physically after each sexual experience, but emotionally as well. As they touch each other’s bodies in new ways, we see them communicate and ask each other “Is that okay?”.

Likewise, Marianne and Connell grow as individuals. They’re at a time in their lives where they’re adulting for the first time while learning their talents, life goals, and how to navigate life alone. Marianne starts as the girl at school who mostly keeps to herself and then her character grows tremendously after she discovers Connell’s attraction which helps her to see her own beauty. In contrast, Connell goes from being popular and wanted by girls at school to quite the opposite when he arrives at university which allows him to better understand Marianne and what she faced when they were younger.

'Normal People'. Photo credit: Hulu

Portrayal of Power Dynamics

One of the things I liked most about ‘Normal People’ has to be the way in which it shows power and powerlessness in so many facets of life. For example, the status shift between Marianne and Connell as they go from secondary school to university. While in their last year at secondary school, they decide to keep their relationship a secret which Connell is grateful for so he can protect himself from being teased by his friends. His embarrassment of Marianne eventually causes turmoil for them and their reunion in university reveals their power switch. Marianne gains popularity and finds herself embarrassed to be seen with Connell who struggles to make friends and find his way after leaving his small town. It’s this power shift that introduces one of the biggest lessons of the show: life goes on, people grow. Cliques and social hierarchies evolve or diminish completely as people find direction.

Character’s Chemistry

Anyone who has seen ‘Normal People’ is bound to agree with this, I mean, how could you not? Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal have a connection that is apparent from the first minute they share the screen together. The magnetism between them is powerful and palpable and has left fans hoping an intimate relationship exists off-screen. Chemistry between actors in the end is a chemistry between the people themselves and this is something that cannot be rehearsed.

You can watch the entire first season of ‘Normal People’ on Hulu and the BBC now. Meanwhile I’ll be over here waiting on a second season to drop.

Have something you want to recommend for the Watch List? Tell me about it in the comments!

Erika Lust is an award-winning filmmaker, producer, and writer who's focus on female pleasure, cinematic values, and ethics in adult cinema have helped to change how pornography is consumed. Erika Lust Films was born in 2004 and since then Erika has ... Read More
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    • Francis
      Just watch this video with the song and all the magic is back!
      I agree to the terms and conditions and give consent to receive Erika Lust’s newsletter with a free adult movie.
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      • Roland Persson
        Kan meddela att säsong 1 av denna serie finns tillgänglig på SVT Play under namnet "Normala människor", uppdelad på 12 avsnitt. Kan dock endast ses i Sverige.
        I agree to the terms and conditions and give consent to receive Erika Lust’s newsletter with a free adult movie.
      I agree to the terms and conditions and give consent to receive Erika Lust’s newsletter with a free adult movie.



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