The Good: Some funny lines, A couple of the actors are decent
The Bad: Horrible characters, Bland plotting, Predictable, Dumb drug conceit
The Basics: The first season of Friends From College is an unremarkable comedy filled with utterly unlikable characters, but a couple decent performances and lines.
Netflix has been having a rough couple of months. After the streaming service announced the cancellation of Sense8 after its second season (reviewed here!), Netflix has been trolled by many subscribers trying to extort the production end of Netflix into continuing the fan-favorite series. The longer the first season of Friends From College progressed, the more I found myself thinking, "Why didn't Netflix just take the money they were dumping into this crappy series and add it to the budget for Sense8 so we could get a third season?!" The difference between the trolls and the critics in this regard is a thin one, but the most constructive perspective I can muster is that Netflix seems to be prioritizing quantity over quality by churning out shows like Friends From College. Cobie Smulders, Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Savage can't be cheap and I have to assume that whatever issues are preventing Netflix from producing more seasons of Sense8 some of those issues might be alleviated by throwing more money at the problem. And yet, we get Friends From College Season 1 instead of future Sense8.
Why am I so down on Friends From College Season 1? First and foremost, none of the characters in the first season of Friends From College are particularly likable. Second, outside the first few episodes, the show is not funny and does not actually have funny lines. And finally, the show telegraphs most of its plots and humor.
All that said, Friends From College Season 1 features the first performance by Billy Eichner that I have actually enjoyed. Eichner has a tendency to play loud and annoying characters, but in Friends From College, he plays a subtle character whose needs are constantly being pushed aside. The role allows Eichner to play the part with more nuance and range than most of his other parts. For the first time, I was able to empathize with a character he played and that was a pleasant surprise.
The rest of Friends From College Season 1 was, at its best, a wash.
Samantha and Ethan are having affairs on their respective spouses in Chicago when Ethan informs Sam that Ethan and his wife, Lisa, are moving to New York City. Ethan, Lisa, Sam, and their friends from Harvard twenty years ago - Marianne, Nick and Max - reunite in New York after many years away from one another. In ending their affair, Ethan and Sam find it tough to fit into their friends' lives. Max and his boyfriend, Felix, find it difficult to reconnect or connect with the Harvard Friend Group. But when Ethan's novel does not land at Max's agency and Sam is shocked when Lisa and Ethan begin trying to have a child, Sam goes into therapy to actually end the affair.
The friend group and Felix gets a party bus to escape into Long Island wine country when Lisa's IVF treatment fails. Afterwards, the group goes to a wedding together and the relationships begin to spiral out.
After the second episode, the only real laugh-out-loud moment in the first season of Friends From College comes from Cobie Smulders's Lisa running through a vineyard declaring that she is going to McDonald's. The rest of the season is fairly serious or jokes that fall flat. The awkward moments are not deadpan humor, they are simply unpleasant moments that are not entertaining to watch.
Friends From College Season 1 features annoying characters doing stupid things and the entire season is spent waiting for the built-in shoe to drop. Ethan and Sam's affair is a ticking time bomb and as viewers wait for it to go off, characters like Marianne, Nick and Max are dramatically under-developed. Friends From College definitively lost me when the cocaine came out; the reliance on drug use for cable and streaming networks has become such a lame conceit and is so incongruent with the rest of the show that it is hard to accept that it is part of the same show.
The primary characters in the first season of Friends From College are:
Ethan - A writer who is married to Lisa, he writes serious fiction and is distressed when the only market open to him is young adult fiction. When he gets nervous, he begins speaking in weird accents. He has been having a twenty year affair with Samantha that continues even after he and Lisa move to New York. When he and Lisa lose their fetus, he pressures the group to go on a wine tour and when the group goes to a wedding, he breaks out "fun Ethan," which is an unfortunately manic personality,
Lisa - A lawyer who starts work at a new form that has a lot of lawyers who get fired for sexual harassment. She wants a child with Ethan and undergoes IVF, which fails. She and Nick have a friendship that is different from the rest of their friends. She is despondent after losing her pregnancy,
Samantha - Married with two children, she has been having a long affair with Ethan that she starts to regret when she and Lisa develop a more active friendship after the move. She gets into therapy and has no apparent affection for her husband,
Marianne - A New Yorker from the Harvard Friend Group who allows Ethan and Lisa to crash at her apartment when they move. She is in a play and has a rabbit, which Ethan accidentally kills and replaces. She drives the party bus when the driver gets black-out drunk and she hooks up with a visiting Australian,
Nick - A guy living on a trust fund who acts as a sounding board for Lisa,
Max - An agent for a publishing company, he used to write with Ethan until he broke out. He and Felix are in a passionless relationship. When he forgets Felix while on the wine tour, the two break up and he ends up at a friend's wedding delivering a horrible wedding toast,
and Felix - Max's partner, he is completely turned off by who Max becomes when he is around his friends from college.
None of the characters are particularly likable and the performances - outside Billy Eichner - are particularly audacious. Fred Savage plays Max as entirely unloving, despite the fact that Max and Felix are in a relationship, Cobie Smulders and Keegan-Michael Key show off no other performance skills than we have seen from them before. Key plays yet another manic character and Smulders did exactly this level of serious performance in every love-tormented arc she played on How I Met Your Mother. Sure, it's always wonderful to see Greg Germann in anything, but even he is wasted in his bit role in the first season of Friends From College.
Friends From College tries to wow viewers with the nostalgic 1990s-heavy soundtrack and occasional guest stars familiar to fans of other Netflix shows or other works, but the guest stars pop more than the main cast and the music is not enough to save the dreadfully bad writing and awful characters.
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