I was ready to not enjoy Normal People. I don’t mean not like it or not think it was good. Just not enjoy it. In the same way I find it hard to enjoy most things made in Ireland. It’s partly jealousy.
How come they didn’t ask me to make The Thing? I would have written a completely believable, relatable show about coming of age in Ireland.
(But then it would turn out it was actually all about me and most people wouldn’t get it at all because no one else’s father brought the telly down from the kitchen to the sitting-room so the whole family could watch Dallas.)
But the main tension is that I’m afraid Ireland won’t be authentic. That there’ll be a dodgy accent or something will jar and it’ll ruin it. I’m not alone. Writers such as Declan Lynch have written about Irish-set dramatic tension before.
I have double standards.
I’ll rant and rave that there’s no WAY the actor would have got parking on the South Mall in Cork at that time of day. Yet I’ll happily praise something set in Ulaan Baatar for its authentic portrayal of the realities of modern Mongolian life even though I’ve no idea what those realities are.
Some Mongolian is probably screaming “CMON!!! you can’t turn right at the Genghis Khan statue in Sukhbaatar Square.”
But while watching Normal People, that tension went away. Not all of it was recognisable for my version of Ireland. But so what?
I trusted it was accurate and that’s all that matters. Early in the show, it was Connell’s perfectly executed gaelic football block (a fictional first on TV) that reassured me. The keeper was suspect for the goal. But it emerged afterwards the director Lenny Abrahamson told the goalie to let it in because he’d saved all the previous attempts. Trinity College didn’t always make sense to me. I never met anyone that rich or annoying in UCC. Maybe I was insulated from it in Civil Engineering.
There are no debates in tutorials that are about beam loading. And nearly everyone was from the country so you’d hardly get away with brown sliced pan in that milieu, let alone an argument on which champagne glass was appropriate.
But that’s fine. Different people have different normal people experiences.
And anyway it doesn’t matter.
The whole thing was worthwhile for just one scene in Episode 10. The therapy scene. I think it is the most perfect portrayal of an Irish man finally crying that I’ve ever seen on screen.
Most of us cry at some small triggers. I get emotional about sport, watching people queue up to vote, reading the last chapter of Winnie the Pooh (spoiler alert) when Christopher Robin is gently trying to tell Pooh about the end of childhood.
But the crying you do when you find out what’s really wrong with you is like no other cry. The defences fall one by one. You think you’ve got a handle on it.
Whoever you’re with — if they’re good — has teased the thing out and then when they know it’s going to blow they have to step back like someone lighting the fuse for dynamite.
You’re fighting battles against yourself to cop on. You apologise for getting emotional and say you’re grand. But it’s too much. It all comes out in mesh of words and ideas.
Sentences stumble out. Two at a time. There is no distraction of punctuation. It flobbers out of you. And at the end you’re standing there in a pile of debris.
That’s the most Normal thing in the world. Or it should be.