Friends From College Review: Very Funny, But Infidelity Is A Drag

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Reuniting with old friends from college can be a lot of fun.

You relive some of the defining moments of your youth, put a little spring in your step and sometimes even reconnect with the one that got away.

The upcoming Netflix series, Friends From College, reunites six friends from Harvard who are heading into their 40s when two who married join the rest in the big city.

Cheers to Friends!

There is a catch. Husband Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) has been having an affair for the past 20 or so years on his wife Lisa (Cobie Smulders) with his college sweetheart, Sam (Annie Parisse).

Then again, I may be wrong about that, as I don't believe the relationship between Ethan and Sam was fully explained beyond their affair and its continuation since college. 

There's only one time Lisa mentions the possibility Ethan might be stepping out with Sam, and given the history between the six friends, you'd think a college relationship between Ethan and Sam would be talked about merely because they're together so often.

It wouldn't be a big deal if the relationship itself wasn't at the crux of the series or if it wasn't so difficult to understand why it was continuing. But I'll touch on that again briefly at the end of the review because there is a lot to love about Friends From College and no need to pick that nit just yet.

The Challenged Couple

Nat Faxon, Fred Savage, and Jae Suh Park also star in Friends From College and the six together make a brilliantly funny ensemble.

Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is an executive producer who also directed all eight episodes. Francesca Delbanco serves as an EP and writer. This is Delbanco's only credit as such, but she has three non-named acting credits in Stoller movies. Interesting.

However this project came about, together, Stoller and Delbanco managed to nail some of life's more mundane scenes and infuse them with hilarity. 

The series opens with a very simple scene. Ethan and Lisa are moving into the city where they'll be staying with their friend, Marianne (Park). Driving in the city is difficult under any circumstances, but in a moving truck, even more, and the laughs start straight away.

We never learn why the couple made such a big move without securing a place to live before doing it, and that's just one example of details that are missing in the series. Then again, who in life talks about that stuff anyway? Life isn't full of exposition; we just carry on without explanation.

When budding playwright Marianne puts on a production and her group of friends arrives three sheets to the wind, their commentary during the performance is another bright spot. In fact, I had to rewind and watch again because I was laughing so hard I missed half of what they were saying.

Friends From College focuses on a lot of life's challenges from middle age.

Ethan and Lisa haven't conceived despite not using condoms for years, so they go the infertility treatment route. Even though knowing Ethan is stepping out on Lisa makes the topic somewhat unconvincing, the way it's delivered is highly entertaining.

Yes, I laughed at Lisa's pain. I'm not proud. But when I watch it again, I'll laugh then, too.

The Writing Process

Fred Savage is fantastic as Max, a homosexual publishing agent struggling with his personal life. His boyfriend doesn't get the desire to hang out with college friends so often and all of the inside jokes and reminders of things he wasn't a part of are difficult to watch.

They're also very, very funny. 

Don't do drugs, you guys, but if you do, please film the results. One of the best episodes features a night at Max's house when he's trying to help Ethan work out a story idea and Nick (Faxon) brings a young date for inspiration – and drugs.

Sam's on the verge of turning 40 and feels like she's stuck with the life she has. She's having a mid-life crisis, I suppose, and one related to Ethan. She has a husband who adores her (Greg Germann), two kids and an amazing house, dresses ridiculously stylishly; she seems to have it all.

But she wants to one thing she doesn't have – the boy from college. I guess Ethan is the one that got away. Unfortunately, it makes Parisse's character very unlikable.

Stylish Ladies

The relationship Ethan and Lisa have is lovely and there isn't any indication given why he's still carrying on with Sam. As a viewer, there isn't a contest, unless it's Sam's haute couture. 

That's the fly in the ointment of Friends From College. Everything else clicks. The friends from college click. Every character is otherwise well cast and perfectly rounded. Ethan, when he's not thinking about Sam, is adorable.

Who doesn't like Keegan-Michael Key? Ethan has a nervous tick that is not only oddly amusing but makes you cringe with embarrassment every time he does it. It's one of those things he can't stop, but everyone around him does eye rolls. Good stuff.

Friends From College Season 1 ends in such a way that Season 2 would be a worthy exploration of the next steps to this group friendship. Every character has so much to offer, I'd like to see less affair and more friendship. 

Friends From College drops on Netflix Friday, July 14, 2017. If you're looking for a good laugh, visit some new friends. Just put the blinders on for the infidelity. It wasn't worth the time lost for other, more engaging storylines.


Editor Rating: 3.75 / 5.0
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Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.

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