The BBC/Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney's Normal People debuts tonight on BBC One and tomorrow on RTÉ 2. The novel was widely-admired and the initial signs are that the TV version will not disappoint. Lenny Abrahamson (who directed the Jason McAteer Carlsberg ad as well as movies like Room) has directed the 12-part series, which is currently streaming on Hulu and the BBC iPlayer. The reviews from some of America's most respected TV critics are in and they have been overwhelming in their praise for the show.
Alan Sepinwall, America's TV critic emeritus gave it four and a half stars out of five and wrote on Rollingstone.com the following:
This is delicate, extremely interior material, at times told in leisurely sequences where we simply watch one or both of them lost in thought, at others in quick, impressionistic bursts conveying the rush of feeling brought on by the latest complication between them. Of the show’s two young stars, much is asked, and even more is given. They are spectacular — apart, but especially together — at conveying the vulnerability and longing essential to making a love story like this work
Variety says its a good show that it made its reviewer 'feel like shit'.
With its trifecta of elegant writing, directing, and acting, Hulu’s “Normal People” is just as bleak and uncompromising as Rooney’s novel — a feat, and one that takes several episodes to fully absorb. In fact, it took me until about halfway through to understand just how much it was affecting me; when I finally stepped away, it took a couple hours to blink away the weighty cloud of malaise the show inspired. (When the show does allow some moments of joy, they’re extremely welcome to the point of feeling downright luxurious.) As Marianne and Connell’s relationship grows deeper, “Normal People” becomes as immersive as the book that inspired it, making you both crave and dread knowing — or perhaps more accurately, experiencing — what happens next.
Vanity Fair prefers the novel.
Obviously, the book is better—the book is always better. Beyond illustrating the angst of their mutual attraction with a thousand penetrating angles, Normal People’s TV adaptation fails as both an adaptation and as a standalone show. Without the details of the book, the story is featureless erotica, 12 episodes of two gorgeous people struggling to handle the implications of their ferocious attraction. But having the book in mind might not help either, because the series strips Rooney’s novel of much of the tone and detail that makes Connell and Marianne worth reading about. I read the book after watching the full 12-episode season, and discovered so much more context and texture that I felt cheated.
The Guardian is not an American publication but their TV critic Lucy Mangan gave the programme a five star review Sunday.
The show retains the pared-down approach of the book. The pair’s bond remains the sole concern, but various factors – some deliberate, some inherent to the medium – mitigate any possible tedium. Of the deliberate decisions, the greatest may be the one to divide the series into 12 half-hour episodes rather than the traditional six. It leaves you either wanting more, or relieved that you are not being asked to relive the exquisite agony of first love for any longer. Of the inherent differences, it is the breaking of the endless parsing of every action that dominates the book. But Rooney and Birch have resisted the temptation to recreate it. To have it shown instead of told refreshes the story for those who already know it, and will surely help engage those who are alienated by such interior detailing.
A sampling of Twitter shows people really enjoying the show.
— p (@heresanewuserna) April 27, 2020
One more thing about #NormalPeople. In Ireland we consume so much U.K.and American media,and that’s fine they’re great BUT actually feeling culturally represented by a show, from the small scale of a SuperValu,to the large scale of the actual debs(!)is wild and we need more of it pic.twitter.com/YfDLcXpOio
— Aislinn✨ (@AislinnSaysHi) April 27, 2020