This article was originally published on Reaction.Life.


Normal People – BBC3 & iPlayer

“And now it’s time for BBC3 on BBC1”. Eight words which usually encourage me to change channel more quickly than Boris Johnson can execute a screeching U-Turn. Its programmes are full of hyperactive youths trying in vain to display talents they just don’t possess. OK, it’s not aimed at a white, male, middle class 58 year old. I get that. But who on earth thinks it’s a good idea to put its programmes on BBC1 straight after the ten o’clock news? Do they really think right-on 19 year olds are watching BBC1 at that time? All it does is drive its core audience to go elsewhere. ‘Newsnight’ must be incredibly grateful…

However, there’s always an exception to the rule, and that is the twelve part BBC3 series ‘Normal People’. I’ve been on holiday in Norfolk this week and having watched the first two episodes when it was shown earlier in the year, I watched the rest of them while being battered by Storm Whateverhernamewas.

The storyline is based around two sixth-formers in Sligo in the Republic of Ireland. Connell is a strapping 18 year old, while Marianne is a slightly odd loner, who isn’t bad looking, but would never win a beauty contest. They end up in a sexual relationship, but Connell won’t admit their relationship to his garrulous mates for fear of embarrassment.

The storyline moves on to their university lives, at Trinity College, Dublin, where they meet up again. In some ways, it’s a deeply unoriginal plot, where the viewer is constantly hoping that their will they/won’t they friendship will turn into something more. They both have different partners, yet it’s clear they still hanker after each other. They’re both troubled souls and experience some painful mental health issues along the way. But it’s also the portrayal of student life in Dublin, which is where the series scores heavily. It also shows the struggles teenagers from rural parts of the country go through, where they often see little future for themselves.

‘Normal People’ got a lot of coverage initially because it didn’t just show naked women, but also a totally naked Connell – even showing ‘front bottoms’. For some, this was a mark of progress. There’s certainly a lot of full on sex in each show and it’s not something you’d want to watch with Granny, but it’s all very well shot and totally uncringeworthy. The sense of deep eroticism and the fact that you genuinely come to believe in the two characters and their deep love for each other – even if they find it difficult to admit to themselves until very late in the series – is what makes for a gripping watch.

This is not a fast paced programme, but it does challenge the viewer in the way that ‘Bouquet of Barbed Wire’ did more than 40 years ago. For some teenagers, it will tell them more about sex than any manual ever could. It even covers sado-masochistic sex (she likes it, he doesn’t) in a way I’ve never seen depicted on a mainstream programme before.

‘Normal People’ is a show that I lost patience with once or twice, but it’s worth persevering with. Once you get into the second half of the 12 shows it really does become quite thought provoking, and I didn’t want it to end.

One thing I do know is that it will make major league stars of the two main characters played by Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. And deservedly so.  


Payne’s Politics podcast, Financial Times

Sebastian Payne is a force of nature. One of the few political journalists with a regional accent, he’s also one of the few political journalists who is universally popular and respected by his peers. His weekly podcast is a leisurely look at the world of politics, usually with the help of a couple of his fellow FT journalists and the odd non-FT guest. If it were on Radio 4 – and it easily could be, given the tone and content – it would be called ‘The Week in Westminster’. It’s an easy listen and if you want to catch up in the week in politics there are few better places to do it. However – and isn’t there always a ‘however’ – it’s all a bit comfortable. It’s too structured and too produced, by which I mean it has some very irritating music playing while Seb introduces the topics – music that Bob Harris would like. It’s not necessary in a podcast. A podcast should be different to a radio show. It should be more freewheeling. I want to hear Seb let loose a bit. He’s got a great sense of humour, so let’s hear it. Maybe it’s the FT branding which makes this more difficult.

Make no mistake, this podcast is a good listen. It’s informative. Its contributors know their stuff. But does it have that glue-like stickability factor which makes it a weekly must listen rather than an occasional one? Not yet, but it easily could with a few format tweaks.