Only eight episodes and the first season of Friends From College has come to an end. Created by Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) this Netflix-original series follows the story of six Harvard alumni who reconnect twenty years after college as their interwoven and complicated relationships with one another cause problems with their now separate adult lives.
The main story of season one is the long-standing affair between Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and Sam (Annie Parisse) who have been having a secret relationship since before either of their marriages. Ethan and his wife Lisa (Cobie Smulders) move back to New York City where they reconnect with their old college group, including Ethan’s literary agent Max (Fred Savage), Marianne and Nick, and that’s where everything starts to crumble.
Ethan and Sam continue their affair knowing it’s wrong, but can’t help themselves. Meanwhile Lisa starts a job she hates while Ethan tries to write the next big Young Adult flagship series with his agent Max. Max’s boyfriend Felix is a fertility doctor trying to help Ethan and Lisa conceive, but it just causes more strain between them.
Nick, after a long-string of meaningless relationships proposes to his girlfriend Dustry. Felix sees the group as toxic to Max and decides to take a break from their relationship. Ethan and Sam continue their affair, but after almost getting caught she ends it. Lisa, upset with Ethan, goes on a work trip to the Cayman Island with Nick, who is revealed as her ex, and sleeps with him.
Max learns that the YA novel they have been working on is already written by his company. The finale ends with Nick and Lisa’s affair being exposed with his fiancé leaving and Lisa suggesting that she and Ethan take a break.
Oh and Marianne is there, doing stuff and things.
This show has a typical premise that shows the potential to be a great long-standing sitcom, but it never gets its feet off the ground. Friends and relationships are typically an easy sell for audiences, so it’s really about creating likeable characters thrown into funny and interesting situations, yet somehow these characters are anything but likable. None of the main six characters, aside from Marianne, give us many redeemable qualities. All of them are self-deluded, unpleasant and outlandishly stupid (especially for people who went to Harvard). In fact, the best character is Billy Eichner’s Felix who is the boyfriend of one of the group members. However, the character issues are the least of this show’s concerns.
The overall setup and story is another huge issue as the plot is focused entirely on acts of infidelity and these characters reminiscing about their times in college together. It’s honestly like someone reliving high school as “The Best Years of Their Life.” The problem is that, despite all of the nostalgia, there is really no substance there. There is little development on the characters’ relationships with each other except for one common factor: that most of them have either previously dated or had a crush on another member of their group and now that they’ve reconnected those lustful feelings have resurfaced. It’s no wonder that the significant others of this group constantly comment on the ridiculousness of their antics. It’s because they see it for what it really is, a bunch of college crushes taking a second chance at their unanswered “What If?” questions from so long ago. And yet this still isn’t the biggest issue this show has.
The more deep-rooted problem is its total identity crisis, unsure of which genre it wants to focus on. In one scene it is a very dramatic relationship story and the next it’s Keegan-Michael Key doing a voice or some random comedic bit. The tone of this entire series is confusing between its run-time of the typical sitcom length to its casting of comedic actors for more dramatic roles. It gave me a very This is Where I Leave You vibe where it wanted to focus on dramatic themes while sprinkling comedic undertones, only it never succeeds.
Now don’t get me wrong these actors are great, they just did not fit the characters written for this show. I found them out of place and awkward at times, attempting to force laughs more than anything. However, the best part of the first season is the friendship between Key’s Ethan and Savage’s Max. They do really feel like college friends that continued to grow as friends as they got older. It’s one of the few reasons the show is bearable because their on-screen chemistry is enjoyable to watch.
But, to be quite frank the show is simply not funny, at least on a sitcom level. There are maybe a handful of passable jokes, but nothing literally laugh out loud. By episode three the narrative succumbs to predictable clichés, unfunny dialogue, and dull characters. Even cameos by Kate McKinnon and Seth Rogen couldn’t amp up the comedy. Perhaps the creators were looking at making a show that depicted the real world rather than a sitcom world, but who really wants to watch that?
It isn’t a show to drop everything and watch, but it’s only four hours long so it makes for some decent background noise during someone’s free time. Trust me, if you miss a few minutes doing something else you won’t be missing much.
Friends From College is mediocre at best, wasting a talented cast on a bland story so I’m going to say it’s not worth the watch.
Here’s our video review:
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