Hulu Delivers More Sally Rooney with a Solid ‘Conversations With Friends’ (TV Review)

Hulu’s twelve-part original series, Conversations with Friends, is based on millennial author Sally Rooney’s debut novel. The story centers around two aimless Dublin college students who begin an unconventional relationship with an older married couple. Although leading cast member Alison Oliver is relatively unknown, Sasha Lane, Jemima Kirke, and Joe Alwyn have been in several high-profile indie films in the past decade. Kirke is probably the best known of the bunch playing Jessa on HBO’s Girls. However, stars aren’t the big draw of Hulu’s latest limited series. Viewers interested in a more grounded take on the ups and downs of Irish twenty-somethings will find much to discuss. With that in mind, speaking of Lena Dunham’s seminal show, Conversations with Friends is a kind of generational shift compared to that New York-centric series. This isn’t Euphoria, but the keyword for Gen Z’s as “aimless” certainly applies.

A few years back, a dear friend loaned me one of her favorite books ever, Conversations with Friends. Although author Sally Rooney’s Normal People was getting all the buzz (and has since been adapted into a previous Hulu series), she felt I would gravitate more toward’s Conversations tone. Dog-eared with tons of tiny colored post-its within, there was no mistaking my friend’s affections for the 2017 novel.

Sadly, I never finished it, although that was the result of two reasons. 1) I’m a terrible reader. So far in 2022, I’ve only finished one book, Emily St. John Mandel’s The Sea of Tranquilly, which is fantastic. 2) There was something overly familiar about Rooney’s tale of two young women whose lifelong friendship might be coming to an end. It wasn’t bad, but I felt like I knew where this story was going.

From the first chapter, Frances (Alison Oliver) and her ex-girlfriend turned bestie, Bobbi (Sasha Lane), are not career-driven university students. They drink a lot, let the days bleed into each other, and generally seem unfocused. Frances has settled into a state of ennui, trying her best to seal away personal issues like her father’s alcoholism. Bobbi uses her overconfidence in being right about everything to hide her own fragile ego. But then they meet a sophisticated thirty-something married couple. Melissa (Kirke) is a celebrated author, while her husband Nick is a semi-famous actor. They’re the kind of people that seem to have life figured out.

The strongest aspect of the book and now series is how effortlessly the characters capture the feeling of being young and having tiny existential crises every five minutes. A cold bottle of beer on a warm cheek can send Frances spiraling.

This was exactly how I felt in my twenties, and I had numerous films and books of my era, the 90s, about my own generation. Filmmaker Richard Linklater rose to prominence as a leading voice of Gen X with his debut film, Slacker. His stories were (and still are) filled with characters that are perhaps over-educated and can’t stop pontificating about life even though they rarely actually live much of their own.

Rooney’s characters don’t overly ramble like Linklater’s, but the unfocused, “whatever happens happens” vibe is front and center. Although, as the title implies, “conversations” are in ample supply too. I do wish Frances and Bobbi were less cold. No one is an outright villain, but Bobbi can go from passive-aggressive to outright aggressive in record time.

To be clear: the cast is solid regardless of who one is rooting for. I always thought Kirke’s Jessa was the weak link on Girls, but as Melissa, she maintains that character’s pretentiousness with a much-needed dose of genuine longing. Taylor Swift’s long-term real-life boyfriend, Joe Alwyn (The Favourite), infuses Nick with likability – even when the character’s actions as an older man flirting with younger, naive Frances can be questionable. As Frances, Oliver is a real find. She often plays scenes as if protected by an impenetrable wall that at any moment is about to fall. Seeing her light up after receiving a flirty text from Nick feels spontaneous and real.

Plotwise there’s predictably not a lot of it. A pair of 20 somethings and a couple of 30 somethings get involved with each other. That’s it. Yet that’s perfectly okay as Conversations with Friends is a well-executed twelve-episode limited series based on a novel I never finished yet is so watchable as a TV show that I will now*. Thus proving once and for all: television is superior to literature…or so I think. I’m sure read that somewhere.

*Note: Hulu provided the first 10 of 12 episodes for review.

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