‘Friends From College’ Is About Terrible People, But They Are So Fun To Watch
Netflix recently announced it's been cancelled after two seasons -- but it's still worth watching.
Welcome to ‘Should You Bother Watching’, Junkee’s column which helps to answer the streaming-age’s biggest question: is this show for me? In this one, we tackle Netflix’s Friends From College.
My relationship with Netflix’s Friends From College was complicated from the get-go. I’d heard for over a year that the show was a disappointment, but the clips looked funny and the cast, killer so I was unsure what to expect.
I eventually decided I should probably form an opinion of my own on the series and so, gave it a shot.
Friends From College is centred around six college friends — Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key), Lisa (Cobie Smulders), Nick (Nat Faxon), Max (Fred Savage), Samantha (Annie Parisse), and Marianne (Jae W. Suh) — who are reunited twenty years after graduation, when married couple Ethan and Lisa move back to New York after some time away.
HOW DARE NETFLIX CANCEL 'FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE'
— SLP_19 (@19_slp) March 23, 2019
What we discover fairly early on is that despite being in a seemingly happy marriage with Lisa, old mate Ethan has been knocking boots with Sam since their college days. The on-and-off affair has been going on for longer than both of their respective marriages.
Drama ~obviously~ ensues as the pair of sadists can’t seem to stay away from one another, even though they’re completely aware that what they’re doing is appalling.
Their betrayal is painful to watch. Yet, just like Ethan and Sam, I could not tear myself away from the train-wreck that was unfolding.
The depressingly relatable series looks into the complexities of decades-long relationships, the realisation that destructive habits do not become easier to break with age, and the baffling tendency people have to set fire to their lives.
Early on in the series, Sam tells her therapist:
“I love my life. I just wonder what would happen if it was blown to smithereens.”
In some way or another, almost every key character in this show does just that. And it made me want to rip my hair out.
The most difficult part of it all, though, is how likeable all of these people are. They’re the most frustrating characters I’ve ever encountered — and I watched all of Girls — but they’re also hilarious, endearing and lots of fun.
#friendsfromcollege Is one of the very best comedies I've watched in a very long time. However, it apparently suffers from the same issue as #arresteddevelopment did in its first seasons . . . a lot of people just don't get it. Don't listen to critics. Watch it.
— Dana Schindler (@DanaSchindler) March 17, 2019
The result of this was a series that I loved and hated in equal parts throughout its entirety.
So, Should You Watch It?
Turns out, 40-year-olds are just teenagers with money.
Part of the charm of this series is that it pokes fun at how bad these people are at ‘adulting’.
They’re Harvard graduates with (mostly) impressive careers, nice cars and great clothes, and yet they haven’t progressed emotionally at all.
While this means they can be infuriating to watch, it’s also refreshing and damn funny to see a group of middle-aged friends who haven’t quite figured it out. They’re doing their best to get there, even if their ‘best’ is kind of abysmal.
Probably the best example of this is when Ethan (a novelist) attempts to conjure up YA book ideas with Max, his agent. The pair invite Nick and his much younger girlfriend to Max’s home for a brainstorm session, and the group ends up getting high on Adderall and cocaine.
They spend all night screaming out ideas like “super horny robots”, tap-dancing and throwing pizza against the walls. This is on a Tuesday.
Max’s partner Felix (Billy Eichner), who is a doctor, has to get up more than once to remind the 40-year-old men that he has surgery at 7:00am.
why didn’t anyone tell me how good friends from college is?
— Akshara Dafre (@DafreAkshara) March 20, 2019
It will hit you in the feels more than once:
For a show about a bunch of people dealing with a severe case of Peter Pan syndrome, Friends From College does a great job at approaching some pretty heavy life stuff.
From the process of IVF and the toll it takes on couples emotionally and physically, to the pain of unrequited love, this little series manages to cover a fair amount of grown-up content in a particularly touching way.
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching theme of them all, however, is the exploration of the idea that the life you choose may not be the right one.
Everyone. Watch Friends From College. You’re welcome.
— Amanda Wiese (@ajdoyles) March 17, 2019
The characters are truly terrible people:
Co-creator Francesca Delbanco once told Indiewire:
“People were saying, ‘these characters are just so horrible, hanging out with them is like crawling over broken glass.’”
They’re not wrong.
Anyone willing to engage in a twenty-year affair — let alone one with the husband of one of your oldest friends, in Sam’s case — clearly doesn’t have a moral compass pointing due north.
There’s something deeply personal about it — even as an audience member. Seeing these two characters (who you can’t help but love) deceive the people closest to them for so long made me want to give up on the human race entirely.
And honestly, the fact that Keegan-Michael Key, who is perhaps the most likeable person on the planet, is one of the offenders, makes it inconceivably worse.
But it’s not just the cheaters who are messes.
Max is my favourite character in the series, and he often shows little consideration for his partner Felix. As soon as his college mates turn up, Ethan in particular, Max reverts to a careless teen and forgets his boyfriend exists.
No, literally. A blind-drunk Max forgets Felix at a vineyard for 90 whole minutes in one episode.
My dad recommended I watch Friends From College. I couldn’t get through the first ep. These characters don’t act like people who have known each other for 20 years. They’re all very annoying, this show is annoying and I’m annoyed at my dad for recommending it. pic.twitter.com/MuUYnrL6AI
— Sertan Saral (@sertan_saral) March 26, 2019
It sort of feels like the writers want you to root for Sam and Ethan:
There are moments in the series where the affair is framed almost like a romance between star-crossed lovers. Not, you know, a couple of people who had every chance to be together but then married other partners and chose to pursue an extramarital affair, instead.
Every time Ethan and Sam exploded onto the screen, and some romantic pop song began playing in the background, I wanted to punch the TV. It felt like the creators were trying to elicit some kind of empathy for the pair, which was maddening.
Part of the show’s failing is that its attempt to show flawed characters “warts and all” just becomes a disappointing display of fully-grown adults indulging in damaging behaviour, repeatedly. This didn’t go down particularly well for the first season.
Delbanco told Indiewire: “It was very clear from the critical response that people were really unhappy and uncomfortable about the affair between Sam and Ethan. And the fact that the show didn’t take them to task or punish them for it.”
I mean, Jordyn Woods was met with more vitriol…
Friends From College being renewed but only centring Marianne's life with the others starring as peripheral characters challenge
— bolu babalola (@BeeBabs) March 20, 2019
So, is Friends From College worth watching?
The thing with friends you’ve known for half your life is that even when you really bloody hate them, you love them.
That’s the feeling Friends From College draws out of me; a real adoration of a group of people I wish would do better.
It’s not perfect.
Some elements didn’t quite add up, and perhaps the morality of the characters is a little too off-kilter for a comfortable viewing experience.nBut it will make you laugh. It will drive you to think. And it will probably make you feel like you’re doing okay at life compared to the questionable people in this squad. Also, it’s been cancelled, so you’re not in for the long run.
So yes, give it a watch. Just be prepared to be pissed off for most of it.
Stephanie Nuzzo is a New York-based writer who is mildly obsessed with Beyoncé and coffee. You can follow her on Twitter at @StephNuzzo.