In Conversations with Friends, the Topics Always Revolve Around Sex

Friendship Conversations. Hulu. Available Sunday, May 15, on Hulu.

The first thing is the most important: Friendship Conversations is not a collection of Ross and Rachel’s greatest hits. The book doesn’t really revolve around conversations. This is more about a generational clash over what sex means and how relationships are understood. It can be disconcerting and discouraging, regardless of where you come from. But it’s surprisingly fascinating.

Based on the 2017 book of the same name by Irish novelist Salley Rooney, Friends are friends. stars Sasha Lane (UtopiaBritish stage actress Alison Oliver portrays Frances Oliver and Bobbi (21-year-old college students from Dublin) who are best friends and former lovers. They also perform poetry-slam. (Their poems, all written by Frances, are egregiously—almost criminally—awful, though it’s not at all apparent that this is supposed to be understood by any of the characters or audiences in the show.)

Melissa, a thirty-something writer, meets them at one of the slams. Melissa likes both their literary and non-literary style. Melissa soon invites her husband Nick, a handsome British actor and songwriter Joe Alwyn, to weekend stay and dinners. Sex has already begun from the moment Melissa and Nick first met. Bobbi confessed to Melissa that Frances was once a close friend of hers, saying, “We stopped the fucking. But we did keep the poetry.”

Melissa proverbially responds, “That seems like the wrong direction.”

Melissa and Bobbi crush hard, but—at least in the seven (of 12) episodes of Conversations that I watched—get no further than a deep kiss. Frances and Joe on the other side, however, are secretive and deeply in love. They launch a sexual affair, perhaps because of their mutual incoherence. It seems that they have finally had sex after exhausting all other attempts to communicate. Is Joe attracted to me? Joe asks. Frances responds, “Do you have one?” It’s meant to be funny but is dangerously true.

The messy ramifications of sex with friends—especially Get married friends—have been standard show-biz fodder since the invention of movies, if not the invention of sex. Intergenerational sex is a topic that has been discussed a lot, thanks to lampoons such as Harold and Maude The 1960s generation gap war of The Graduate. Even so, Conversations has a compelling perspective on what happens when different generations encounter one another on the sexual frontier. Bobbi’s astonished comment to Melissa and Nick when they visited their house is the best exchange of all. grown-ups!” Melissa’s bitterly regretful reply: “I know!”

Frances, callow in more ways than one (she’s turned down offers to publish her poetry because she’s a self-proclaimed communist—an easy ideology for a kid living on a generous allowance from her parents—who says of her doggerel that “I don’t want to package it for people to own”), insists, for the sake of form, that she knows their affair is fleeting. At night, she cuddles his text-laden cell phone like a lovesick teenager.

Nick on the other hand is baffled that Nick has no plans to divorcing his wife. However, they share one fatal commonality: They are both not smart enough about extramarital affairs to use contraception or lock the doors to trysting rooms.

Only a stellar cast can make a show with so many strained silences, meaningful eyes and meaningless gazes work. Conversations is equipped with one. Kirke portrays Melissa trying to fight off boredom that is consuming her exhausted marriage. She projects an emotional vampiric menace. Lane’s deceptively glib Sasha plays more like an anarchist. She rolls conversational bombs in every tent. Alwyn and Oliver succeed spectacularly in making blockheads out of inarticulate blocksheads. Frances is told by Bobbi that their silence makes it seem like you’re mysterious and fascinating. That’s not all.