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Earlier this summer, Hulu released a stunning 12-part adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel “Normal People,” which follows the lives of two Irish teenagers who keep coming back to each other despite shifting and often difficult circumstances. The show is a riveting, intimate portrait of first love, and it feels nearly impossible not to become totally invested in the relationship between Connell (Paul Mescal) and Marianne (Daisy Edgar-Jones) by the time the final credits roll. Much of the series also takes place in social spaces — birthday parties, college societies, bustling city streets — that, in today’s climate of isolation, add a layer of melancholy even beyond the emotional tumult of the main romance. If you finished “Normal People” and were not fine, here are some shows that can help take your mind off of that uncertain ending, Connell’s chain, or the dreamy Italian sequences — minus the awful boyfriend, of course. If you haven’t watched “Normal People” yet, why are you still reading this? Go watch it.
If you want a great love story check out...
“Fleabag” Season 2 (Amazon Prime)
Okay, this one is obvious. If you haven’t watched “Fleabag, ” both seasons are poignant, brilliant, and hilarious — but the romance between Fleabag (the ever-charming goddess of all things, Phoebe Waller-Bridge) and the Hot Priest (Andrew Scott) in season two is one for the ages. This show also shares the BBC-style realism and color palette of "Normal People," features a great ensemble cast, and manages to be groundbreaking while still taking place in a messy, relatable world. The second season is perfect TV — don’t miss it.
“Outer Banks” (Netflix)
This sun-drenched adventure show is a fitting antidote to the epic emotional highs and lows of “Normal People.” The melodramatic trailer that auto-plays when you pull up Netflix sells “OBX” short — it’s a gorgeously shot, addictively fun grown-up version of “The Goonies.” Following a group of teenagers in North Carolina who go looking for a 17th century shipwreck filled with gold, the show is a love letter to the Outer Banks (where its creators grew up). It is also a moving portrait of adolescent friendship and romance that’s slightly more optimistic than “Normal People.” Animated by stunning scenery and fast action sequences, the show will cure your "Normal People" blues while stirring up warm memories of a time when you weren’t stuck inside.
“Friday Night Lights” (Amazon Prime)
On a surface level, “Friday Night Lights” is the opposite of “Normal People.” Five glorious, complicated seasons about a top-ranked high school football team in rural Texas don’t have much in common with 12 pared-down episodes about Irish teenagers going to college. But wait. “Friday Night Lights” shares “Normal People”’s engrossing, nuanced portrayal of relationships — platonic, romantic, familial — and pulls viewers in with multidimensional characters viewers can’t help but root for. While “Friday Night Lights” has plenty of cute romantic subplots, it ultimately revolves around the relationship between Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) and Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), whose charisma make the show a cult favorite. Plus, Taylor Kitsch’s Tim Riggins will fill the Connell-shaped void in your heart.
Bear with me on this one. While it may be the “Riverdale” of historical dramas, “Outlander” is an absorbing distraction from the crushing realism of "Normal People." “Outlander” depicts the very steamy romance between Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a woman living in 1940s England who accidentally time travels back to the 18th century (yep), and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a sexy Scottish warrior she meets there. The show shares with "Normal People" an absolutely scorching love story, made better by Balfe and Heughan’s electric chemistry.
If you want a school/college nostalgia tour, then check out…
“Sex Education” (Netflix)
This show is a sweet, funny take on the John Hughes high school narrative, recalibrated for today’s world with complex, socially aware characters and great performances all around. “Sex Education” follows the exploits of Otis Milburn (Asa Butterfield), an awkwardly loveable teenager who becomes the go-to source of sex advice at his high school in rural England. It might make you nostalgic for your friends, social events, and getting dressed up to go literally anywhere. It’s worth it.
“Euphoria” is like if high school was one long, ambient, well-directed music video — intensely stylized and full of quick-moving parts. The result is haunting, beautiful, and obsessed with social dynamics: how people act in groups versus alone, how they change to fit in or make a statement, and how they rely on others. If you miss the friends, acquaintances, dining hall crushes, and even section kid enemies you encountered daily at school, “Euphoria” is a perfect distraction.
“Looking for Alaska” (Hulu)
This John Green adaptation is a woefully underrated dark horse on this list. After starting to watch it on a whim last month, I was drawn in by the relaxed, hilarious chemistry between its four leads — Miles (Charlie Plummer), the Colonel (Denny Love), Takumi (Jay Lee), and Alaska (Kristine Froseth) — whose friendships are the star of the show. As serious as it becomes, “Looking For Alaska” is also a funny, poignant, and occasionally magical portrayal of teenagers navigating life at a rural boarding school full of arrogant rich kids. “Looking For Alaska” impressively adapts Green’s YA novel into a more nuanced, mature narrative about real life problems. It’s definitely worth watching.
“The Society” (Netflix)
Yes, this show is insane. It’s more Stephen King than Sally Rooney. But look no further for another totally unique, thought-provoking examination of the transition from adolescence to adulthood. “The Society” centers around members of the graduating class from a small-town high school who return from their senior camping trip to find their town completely empty, all other residents having vanished without a trace. Realizing they’re stuck, they must establish a new society from scratch — which, as expected, poses many challenges. Though the show weaves together interpersonal drama (breakups, hookups, fights) and major philosophical quandaries (How can a group maintain law and order? Do we have a right to private property?), it never feels forced. “The Society” is completely one-of-a-kind and a great binge-watch.
If you want another show set in Ireland, check out…
“Dublin Murders” (Amazon Prime)
Adapted from fellow maverick Irish author Tana French’s captivating mystery novels, “Dublin Murders” portrays two Irish detectives, Cassie Maddox (Sarah Greene, who you’ll recognize as Connell’s very cool mom in “Normal People”) and Rob Reilly (Killian Scott), as they try to solve two severely creepy murders in the Irish countryside. Though the adaptation slashes French’s complex, immersive plotlines in an attempt to fit them into one season, Greene and Scott give magnetic performances, and the show offers a fascinating glimpse into social dynamics in rural Ireland after the country’s economic crisis.
“Derry Girls” (Netflix)
This quirky comedy about four Irish girls (and one’s English cousin) navigating high school in Northern Ireland during the Troubles offers a unique portrayal of teenagers living through a complex historical moment while trying to figure out their own lives. With two seasons of tight, 20 minute episodes on Netflix and a third in the works, it’s perfect for a quarantine binge-watch.
If you want another great BBC drama, check out…
“Killing Eve” (Hulu)
This acclaimed cat-and-mouse drama follows beleaguered MI6 agent Eve Polastri (the always-dynamic Sandra Oh) as she hunts down international assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer.) The two make obsessive, bloodthirsty enemies… or do they? As the show morphs into a bizarre, subversive romance, Eve chases Villanelle deeper and deeper into an international conspiracy. Though the second season loses some of the show’s original sleekness and suspense, “Killing Eve” remains one of the best crime shows on air right now, combining the classically grim, grey aesthetic of BBC dramas with opulent visuals from Villanelle’s international adventures.
“Catastrophe” (Amazon Prime)
This is not actually a BBC show, but it’s set in England and shares the visual palette and dry humor of a top-rate British comedy, so I’m including it here — sue me. “Catastrophe” could’ve just as well gone in the “love story” category, as it’s centered around the romantic relationship between American businessman Rob (Rob Delaney) and British school teacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan), who gets pregnant after the two meet in a bar. “Catastrophe” is hilariously funny, but it’s more than a great sitcom. It tells a moving, sometimes cringe-inducing love story that doesn’t gloss over the mundane, excruciating realities of life.
This show was a huge hit on Netflix when it came out in 2018, and it’s perfect if you want to get lost in a gripping series about politics and class across the pond. Richard Madden is enigmatic and haunted as police sergeant David Budd, an Afghanistan veteran assigned to guard the scheming Home Secretary (Keeley Hawes.) “Bodyguard” has its fair share of secret trysts and interpersonal drama, but it’s fundamentally a razor-sharp, totally addictive crime series. Before you know it, you’ll forget all about Marianne and Connell and instead just be haunted by the way Richard Madden says “ma’am” like “mom.”
Hopefully, with the help of these recommendations, you’ll forget about the torturous question of whether Marianne and Connell end up together in no time. Happy watching!
—Staff writer Harper R. Oreck can be reached at email@example.com.
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