This Netflix original series features Keegan Michael Key and Cobie Smulders as married couple Ethan and Lisa who move to New York and are quickly reunited with their friends from Harvard University: Max (Fred Savage), Marianne (Jae Suh Park), Nick (Nat Faxon) and Sam (Annie Parisse). A published author, Ethan works with Max on a new Young Adult book while at the same time, working to start a family with Lisa, despite also carrying on an affair with Sam.
Getting right down to it, in Netflix’s back catalogue of hits and misses, Friends From College (a lazy title, by the way – by the end of episode two, I still struggled to remember just what it was called!) is a bona fide miss.
One of the many reasons that it doesn’t work is the central group of characters themselves; despite promising the prospect of a tight-knit group of affable characters, the series never truly gets us to believe that they’ve spent any considerable amount of time together as their introduction into the series is rushed, never once leading us to credibly believe that they’re old friends or taking the proper time to flesh out their individual personalities. Overall, the characters of Friends From College are bland, not that likeable and the central grouping of actors don’t share any real chemistry.
Worst of all though is that it’s nigh on impossible to care about these characters because most of them wind up cheating on each other, especially by the penultimate episode where the cheating just keeps on coming and it seems as though EVERYBODY in this series is an unfaithful cheat! Straight off the bat, we learn that married Ethan is having an affair with Sam, despite wanting to also start a family with his wife; this would possibly work were it a high stakes drama like The Affair (I’m guessing. Never saw it.) or if it were played purely for laughs or if the characters were likeable enough that you’d support them anyway but the show is asking us to be okay with the main character cheating on his wife for no reason, wanting to both carry on his affair and to start a family with his wife (WTF?), and to feel sympathy when things inevitably go wrong and they all start going through their own personal crises, lamenting on how life is so unfair, how they have it so tough, how they can’t be with each other and then going into the eye-roll inducing “I can’t do this any more” shtick. The series screams out for us to shed a tear for these people, since obviously they’re the victims and are in denial about how bad they are (one character even has the audacity to say “I’m not a cheat”!) but in the end, these are unsympathetic, privileged people who cheat on their partners for no reason.
Regarding the cast, Keegan Michael Key, who I’d heard of previously due to some neat appearances in Parks and Recreation, Angie Tribeca and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, does his best I guess, but it’s ultimately too much of a challenge to make Ethan at all likeable and all of his over-the-top accents and funny faces just make his character embarrassing and awkward. Similarly, Cobie Smulders is a good enough sport but again, the script doesn’t do her any favours as, although perhaps being one of the more relatable characters, she winds up just being as bad and unfaithful as the rest of them. Annie Parisse fares the worst as Sam because her main function is to be the one who Ethan has an affair with and then to lament on how bad she has it and even though she gets a little bit more bearable towards the end, Parisse allows us no sympathy for the character at all as she is just a bit too unpleasant and has no chemistry with the rest of the group.
There’s also Fred Savage who you just can’t help but like just a little bit due to his sweet face but in the end, he makes a selfish mistake that brings him down to the others’ level and elsewhere, Nat Faxon and Jae Suh Park have little to do as they are the forgettable members of the group and are even more thinly written than the others. The series also has some guest appearances from the likes of Kate McKinnon, Seth Rogen and Chris Elliott but even they aren’t enough to save this show.
Friends From College is notoriously unfunny and I didn’t even smile once; a lot of the time, the cast wastes an inordinate amount of energy on fundamentally unfunny, boring, predictable material and it comes across as awkward, misjudged and just a little bit desperate. Also later on, we get some crass, offensive comedy, which takes place at Lisa’s workplace, involving Ike Berinholtz, a barrage of C and F-bombs and certain body parts being put on telephones and the like; these scenes are just tiring, embarrassing and totally out of place. And despite some attempts to shake things up during the later episodes, with a wine tasting road trip and a wedding, there is remarkably little going on in the way of story – it primarily just revolves around tried and tested storylines about numerous infidelities, Ethan and Lisa’s IVF procedure and Ethan’s YA novel.
All that being said, the first episode does admittedly bring up some interesting points about Young Adult fiction replacing the Great American Novel and the subsequent discussion raises some interesting ideas, if just for that one episode. Also, the series is a rather merciful eight episodes and it gets an extra point for a Black Mirror reference.
The series ends on a fitting note as fireworks go off during a birthday party but they ultimately underwhelm since all the secrets have come out, the night has been an unmitigated disaster and nobody cares about them at all. Sums up the series perfectly – attempted pizzazz for a disappointing event.
A notoriously unfunny, awkward and boring series with an uneven tone and central group of unsympathetic characters who just seem to cheat on each other all the time.