Adaptation of Hulu’s Sally Rooney book Normal people it was my absolute favorite tv show of 2020: a superbly moving and beautifully rendered portrait of young love, with all its dizzying ups and downs. So I was excited when I heard that Hulu was adapting another Rooney novel, conversations with friendsand bringing back Normal people director Lenny Abrahamson and writer Alice Birch to work on it as well. It premieres on Hulu this Sunday, I’ve seen all 12 episodes, but unfortunately, it doesn’t reach the lofty heights that its predecessor did. Like the novel it’s based on, Hulu’s conversations it is initially intriguing but ultimately frustrating.
The story centers on Frances (Alison Oliver) and Bobbi (Sasha Lane), a pair of Dublin college students and ex-lovers who are complete opposites: Bobbi is the bohemian, talkative life of the party, while Frances is the pensive and reserved. . At a poetry reading, Bobbi catches the eye of married author Melissa (Jemima Kirke), and as they pair up, Frances forms a kinship with Melissa’s actor husband, Nick (Joe Alwyn). Their two parallel crushes turn into something more, of course, and threaten the foundations of a marriage and a friendship.
Rooney specializes in creating relatable characters and natural dialogue in his books, and conversations has the same grounded feeling Normal people It had, albeit a bit taller and juicier this time. The conversations are full of subtext, punctuated by many longing glances and meaningful glances. Also, the sex scenes have a genuine heat to them, like Normal peopledid; they feel real and intimate in a way we rarely see, leaving participants sweaty and flushed and not entirely photogenic.
However, the story unfolds along fairly predictable lines: the dizzying rush of infidelity, followed by lingering guilt and jealousy. A picturesque vacation by the sea acts like an emotional pressure cooker, and the first few episodes tackle some complicated and messy truths about love and relationships. But the series meanders a bit after that initial rush and ends up getting stuck in pauses and narrative loops. It has a leisurely pace, to the point of being sleepy. (All those meaningful looks don’t really add up to much meaning.) It’s true to life, you might say… but that doesn’t mean it’s dramatically satisfying.
It is also a difficult task for the actors to match the impressive work done by Normal people starring Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones. Oliver has a heavy load to carry here in his first major role (the camera spends a lot of time on his face) and he carries it well, giving Frances an endearing vulnerability. However, Frances can be difficult to read, making it hard for us to connect with her, and with the show’s limited focus on her, it all starts to feel a bit claustrophobic. (Frances’s home life is dull, with an unreliable alcoholic father and a mysterious health problem.)
Alwyn, who will likely draw fans to this project simply because he’s Taylor Swift’s boyfriend, does a romantic and dashing role as Nick, but his scenes with Oliver’s Frances fall into a repetitive rut after a while. The story could use more of Bobbi and Melissa to spice things up, but Kirke barely makes more than a cameo appearance as Melissa, and Lane’s Bobbi is seriously backed up, more of a symbol than a fully realized character. conversations is obediently faithful to Rooney’s prose, as Normal people it was, but that means it also suffers from the same flaws. It’s still a notch or two above your average romantic drama and offers clever emotional insight along the way, but in the end, it’s a fleeting flirtation that fades too quickly.
TVLINE’S BACKLINE: Hulu’s Intriguing But Frustrating Book Adaptation conversations with friends can’t match the heights of Normal people.