Should they do a second series of ‘Normal People’?

Second album syndrome, or the sophomore slump, call it what you want—but can the second season of something so great ever match up to the OG?

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Recently, the internet collectively lost its mind over a selfie. Normal People actress Daisy Edgar-Jones uploaded a photograph alongside her former co-star, Paul Mescal, with the duo both posing with a peace sign. The caption? “We’ve got news to share. Watch this space!” Almost immediately, fans started scrutinising the image for signs that it might be teasing a second series of the hit show, with some positing that the pair are holding up “two” fingers. Add to that the fact that the production company, Element Pictures, reshared it, and for many it was a full-gone conclusion. We’re getting Normal People 2. But if that’s true, should they be doing it at all?

a still from Normal People

Launched at the height of the first lockdown in April 2020, Normal People swiftly became BBC iPlayer’s most-streamed show of the year, racking up 62 million views and catapulting its unknown stars (Mescal’s most high-profile gig prior to landing the role was on a Richmond sausages advert) into the spotlight. An adaptation of Sally Rooney’s bestselling novel of the same name, across a 12-episode run it captivated audiences, who were drawn into the all-too familiar love story of Marianne and Connell. Ostensibly about how social appearances can affect relationships, it begins with Connell as the popular boy at school and Marianne the lonely outcast, with the former begging the latter to keep their trysts a secret. Once they are at university, that power dynamic switches, with Marianne in demand for her intelligence and beauty, and Connell struggling to fit in outside of his small town. Constantly at cross purposes, they are unable to make their relationship work, despite the audience’s feeling that they are soul mates. It ends (spoiler alert) with Connell accepting a scholarship to study in New York, and Marianne urging him to go.

The book and the series cover the exact same subject matter, so any sequel would be breaking new ground. As a fan, I’d hope that any future seasons would have Rooney’s blessing, and ideally, input. But with a fourth novel due out in September (Intermezzo: A Novel) it’s of course highly possible she’s been too busy. “Follow-ups that go beyond the existing material can work, but typically, it works best for mythology or mystery-heavy shows where you can build upon the world. The Leftovers is a shining example of this—it got better the more it moved away from the source material,” shares The Independent’s chief culture reporter, Jacob Stolworthy. “I think if Sally Rooney’s involved—essentially making this an official continuation in TV form—it has every chance of emulating the success of the first in terms of quality.”

Like many fans, I’d love to know how things panned out for Marianne and Connell—and crucially, see them get back together—but I’m cautious of another season of the show being a disappointment—or worse, a betrayal. “I will always want more Connell and Marianne; the first season was so brilliantly adapted, my only nervousness would be whether they can top it,” agrees Billie Bhatia, a freelance journalist and founder of the Connell’s Chain Instagram account. “I loved the way the book ended because you could imagine the life they had together in your own world—if they did do a season two, what if it didn’t match up? Can you tell I’m emotionally invested?”

It is also worth noting that the moment in which Normal People was released in 2020, was particularly instrumental in its phenomenal success. “A lot of the magic of the first season was the timing of it, it was a hopeful moment in lockdown and a hugely entertaining one,” explains Bhatia. “That isn’t to take away from Paul and Daisy’s performances because they were spectacular. They did an incredible job in bringing to life those feelings of first love and the ups and downs of it. Can that magic be matched? I’m not sure.”


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It also seems a little soon for a follow-up: after all, if this great love was destined to be resolved within a matter of months or even years following the end of the first series, was it ever really an epic story at all? Stolworthy agrees: “For me, it feels a bit... premature? Paul and Daisy haven’t really grown up enough for it to feel like a necessary continuation—unless they're going to play older versions of themselves. If that’s the case, maybe it would work as a shorter series of six episodes, rather than the 12 that season one was.”

There’s also the very real possibility that any second season could be... well... naff. After all, televisual comebacks don’t have the best track record. Whether that’s Netflix’s reboots of Arrested Development or That ’90s Show, or Sex and the City’s divisive And Just Like That... “Sequels like this rarely go well,” agrees Petter. “Haven't we learned by now to leave a good thing alone?”

Of course, it’s easy to see where the motivation behind another show might come from, particularly at a difficult moment for TV in general. “Given the enormous success of the show, perhaps it was only a matter of time until execs decided to try and squeeze some more money out of it, particularly given the current state of the TV industry, which is in tatters following the strikes,” says Petter.

“I think the potential Normal People follow-up feels like a risk but, from a business point of view, an absolute coup for the BBC,” says Stolworthy. “It feels like it's been commissioned knowing that social media is going to go utterly wild for it, and it’ll be a surefire ratings success for everyone involved. I’m sure they wouldn’t have done it if they didn’t have faith it would be good, but the cynical part of me knows they have eyes on dollar signs and TikTok posts dedicated to the return of Connell’s chain.”

“The show launched Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal's Hollywood careers and ordinarily, this would mean getting them back for a second season would be nigh on impossible,” posits Stolworthy. “You’d think they’d want to look forward instead of going backwards. But it’s because of this I’m thinking—maybe the ideas and scripts they've pitched are brilliant! Unless they were contractually obliged, of course. It’s a possibility…”

Should they do it? Perhaps not. Will I be watching it? Absolutely. “If they were to do a second season, obviously I would just want to see a lot of chain action,” concludes Bhatia.

Feature Image: Normal People book cover, Goodreads

This article originally appeared on on 30 May 2024.

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