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Friends From College

Featuring Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Savage, this Netflix series takes¬† a comedic look at the intertwined lives of friends from Harvard as they reunite in their 40’s. Backed by a nostalgic 90’s soundtrack, the series explores the complications of (among other things) marrying your past with your present.

Recap

Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key), Sam (Annie Parisse), Nick (Nat Faxon), Max (Fred Savage), Marianne (Jae Suh Park), and Lisa (Cobie Smulders) became friends at Harvard. There lives have been intertwined over the last 20 years even though they don’t all live near each other. Ethan and Sam started hooking up during college, and just never stopped. Despite that, Ethan got married to Lisa and Sam got married to some guy named Jon (Greg Germann). After years of moving around, Ethan and Lisa decide to move to NYC, which puts them back in the vicinity of their college friends. This makes things awkward for Ethan and Sam who want to stop their 20 year hookup turned affair, but can’t seem to stop themselves despite the dangers of getting caught.

Despite their emotional bond, the friends are all at different places in their lives. Ethan became an award winning, but underselling, writer and Max is his agent. Max also has a boyfriend/husband/partner named Felix (Billy Eichner).¬† Lisa has gone to work as a corporate lawyer for a bunch of obnoxious dude-bros. Nick is a trust-fund party boy who spends his time dating girls 20 years younger than him. Marianne is a struggling actress doing a gender-swapped version of Streetcar. Ethan and Lisa are also trying to have a child with the help of Felix, who’s a doctor. As the gang’s old lives meet their new ones, most of their spouses and peers agree that these relationships aren’t exactly healthy.

As the series continues, things get a little bit heavier. Ethan and Lisa’s plans to have a child hit a snag. Sam and Ethan are both torn between wanting to move on from each other and a sense of jealousy as they see each other’s different relationships. Max’s childish antics with his friends start to strain his relationship with Felix, eventually leaving him to break up with Max after some day drinking goes horribly wrong. Ethan’s book plans go off the rails. Lisa’s problems at home and work ultimately drive her into an affair with Nick, who has been in love with her since they were together in college.

Eventually, all of these problems collide and implode on top of each other. The friends are forced, in one way or another, to deal with the baggage that’s been following the group around. The situation doesn’t really end well for anyone as relationships are left in taters and careers are lost or affected poorly. As bad as it sounds, it’s when things fall apart that the movie hits it’s comedic climax. This is a group of toxic people who do seem to care about each other despite making some pretty bad life choices. This show takes us along for the ride as we see some of those choices get made and hopes that we laugh along as we see the inevitable train wreck.

Notable/Fun/Other moments

  • Episode 3: Max and Ethan make ridiculous sounds on the tennis court
  • Episode 1: We see Ethan and Sam are shown as a romantic couple only to reveal that they are cheating on their spouses
  • Episode 2: Ethan and Sam have a self aware argument where they rationally evaluate each other’s flaws while exhibiting them and yelling.
  • Episode 3: Max, Ethan and Nick get high and try to write a YA novel.
  • Episode 3: For some reason, the girls go out to an old man bar
  • Episode 3: Ethan deconstructs the metaphor of the werewolf in YA novels.
  • Episode 4: Ethan throws a chair through a window in order to get fertilization drugs.
  • Episode 3: Kate McKinnon makes an appearance as the outlandish author Shawna.
  • Episode 6: Seth Rogen makes appearance as Paul “Party Dog” Dobkin
  • Episode 8: Sam’s birthday goes completely off the rails.

Commentary

Most of the comedy in this series is smart and subtle but a bit sporadic. A lot of the jokes come from individual set pieces, awkward scenarios, or the cast basically acting crazy in certain situations; like weddings or rushing to try to hit a deadline finish a hormone treatment. In those later situations, the humor goes from subtle to full blown physical slapstick with people farting, getting slapped in the face, falling into vats of wine, and running amuck through the city.

Unfortunately, the show adds up to be less than the sum of its parts. The idea of the show is interesting. The premises are compelling. The cast is full of proven comedic commodities. Despite all of that, it never comes off as being more than moderately funny at moments and that’s only if you’re a fan of awkward comedy. I think the problem with the show is that it’s too good at stating it’s premise. The premise that hanging on to your past relationships can be toxic. The problem is that, in the case of the characters of this show, this toxicity makes them bad people.

While it could be easy to just buy in to the rambunctiousness of the “friend group” as they seem to be called, I often found myself in the shoes of one of their significant others. While the friends are running around having fun or trying to enjoy each other’s company like they used to, the people around them are looking at them like, “You are an adult, why are you acting this way?” Because the show is so grounded in reality outside of the friend group’s behavior, it’s hard to not feel that way. If this was something more like a sit-com or a sketch show, where the world was a little more animated, it might play a little differently. As it is, it makes the main characters come off as unlikable.

As unfortunate as their unlikability is, I do think it’s what adds to the intellectual appeal of the show. As someone who does still hang out with some of their friends of college, I loved the idea of the show asking questions about those kinds of relationships. Granted, I’m not sleeping around with my college friends, but the other issues of reverting to a younger version of yourself or balancing the memory of what your life used to be versus the value of what it is now are very poignant and are fun to delve in to.

It’s the exploration of these ideas, that gives me some hope for the second season of this series. Yes, that’s right, Netflix has already ordered a second season of this series, despite the fact that it hasn’t been very well received. Here’s hoping they learn from their mistakes during the first season.

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