The Pitch: In 2020, a Hulu adaptation of Sally Rooney’s sophomore novel took the spring by storm. Beloved by critics and audiences alike, Normal People launched Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones into immediate stardom territory, and with good reason — the limited series was both tender and excruciatingly heavy; romantic and frustrating; hard to watch and impossible to turn off.
It only makes sense that Hulu would want to give it all another go with Rooney’s debut novel, Conversations with Friends. This story follows introverted poet Frances (Alison Oliver) and her ex-girlfriend, best friend, and muse all at once, Bobbi (a luminous Sasha Lane). The two become involved with an older married couple, Melissa (Jemima Kirke) and Nick (Joe Alwyn), and the messy threads that tie them all together tangle and unravel in turns over vignettes of the Dublin literary scene.
Back to the Drawing Board: It doesn’t really feel fair to compare Conversations with Friends to Normal People — however, when so many members of the team who worked on Normal People returned for this outing, it’s hard not to do so. This includes Element Pictures, director Lenny Abrahamson, co-writer Alice Birch, and music supervisor Juliet Martin. Newcomer Alison Oliver was cast out of the same drama school Paul Mescal attended. The font for the title card is even the same as Normal People.
The creative team is a collection of phenomenally talented people — Martin has an otherworldly intuition for placing the sort of needle drops that took moments of Normal People to the next level, and does the same here — but lightning doesn’t necessarily strike twice with the show overall. This has nothing to do with the crew or cast (more on them in a moment), and everything to do with the source material. Rooney’s work tends to be divisive; while her best-selling numbers prove that there’s an audience for the nuanced way in which she explores interpersonal relationships, many tend to find her a bit pretentious, or out of touch.
All that aside, there’s a warmth to the love story at the center of Normal People that’s missing from Conversations with Friends. If you’re the sort of person who is fascinated by the messiness and minutiae of modern love stories, rather than a viewer that needs kind and good characters to root for, there’s a good chance the show is for you.