“Friends” tries to recapture the glory of “People” but fails.

Sally Rooney

I just binge watched all 12 episodes of Irish wunderkind Sally Rooney’s adaptation (with Alice Birch) of her second novel “Normal People” (published in 2018) which was made into a twelve part miniseries by the BBC and Hulu in 2020. Impressive. A good script, imaginative direction by Lenny Abrahamson and Hettie Macdonald and well-chosen music, both diegetic and underscoring, courtesy of Stephen Rennicks. Then, there are the superlative performances of  Daisy Edgar-Jones and Paul Mescal. They play Marianne and Connell, Rooney’s star-crossed lovers who we follow from their last year of secondary school in Sligo to Trinity College Dublin and beyond.

Normal People

The time flew by and I was so impressed, that I immediately jumped to all 12 episodes of the latest BBC/Hulu/Rooney/Birch (add Meadhbh McHugh and Susan Soon He Stanton to the writers list) adaption of Rooney’s first novel from 2017, “Conversations with Friends”. Lenny Abrahamson is back in the directing chair (this time he shares the directing chores with Leanne Welham) but the old magic is gone. I have to admit that, while I walked step by step with every scene in “People”, I was using the fast-forward button more and more as “Friends” progressed. And I was relieved when Rooney’s heroine Frances (played by Irish actress Alison Oliver making a less than auspicious debut) makes her closing cell phone call to the man who has become her obsession, Nick (British actor Joe Alwyn just as badly miscast here as he was in the Ang Lee disaster “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk”).

Conversations With Friends

Like “People”, “Friends” is set in the Trinity milieu where Alison and her best friend and sometime lover Bobbi (American actress Sasha Lane so good in “American Honey” but, again, miscast and just downright irritating here) are students. But while the pretentious student discussions in “People” managed to stay under the wire thanks to our faith and interest in the two leads – and Sarah Greene’s embodiment of common sense and decency as Connell’s mother – there is nothing to save “Friends” from Rooney’s pretentions when Alison and Bobbi meet author Melissa (Jemima Kirke) and her husband Nick. In fact, I cannot think of a Limited TV series in which the performances of the three leading actors have been so bad. So unconvincing.

This is not just a TV sophomore slump for Rooney. It’s a sophomore catastrophe.

BOTH “NORMAL PEOPLE” AND “CONVERSATIONS WITH FRIENDS” ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE FOR STREAMING ON HULU.

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