Netflix’s Friends From College: Growing Up and Growing Apart
Have you watched Friends From College on Netflix yet? It's not exactly all fun and games, much to its credit.
Netflix’s new show Friends From College follows the comic yet tragic misadventures of six friends from, you guessed it, college, as they navigate their adult lives and relationships, and come to terms with the realities of growing older. Married couple Ethan (Keegan Michael Key) and Lisa (Cobie Smulders) move back to New York City, where they reconnect with their formerly tight-knit group of friends from their days at Harvard. As long-hidden cracks in these relationships soon come to light, the show paints a funny and honest, yet sometimes bleak picture of adult relationships.
If you’re looking for a light-hearted comedic romp, Friends From College is not for you. Likewise, if you’re looking for highbrow humor, you should look elsewhere. The show is undoubtedly funny, but doesn’t reinvent the wheel comedically, and doesn’t always use the talents of its stars to fullest. Where it does succeed, however, is in using comedy to contrast a surprisingly dark narrative with characters that are likeable, yet deeply flawed.
With the word “Friends” right in the title, one could be forgiven for mistaking Friends From College as just another formulaic sitcom looking to recapture the charm of that beloved mainstay. In fact, Friends from College was marketed much like Friends – the goofy and heartwarming adventures of a group of old pals. Goofy, yes. Heartwarming? Not so much.
The show’s creators build off those expectations, taking elements of classic sitcom structure and adding a surprising level of depth. Friends From College juxtaposes the juvenile cliches and comic misunderstandings we’ve come to expect from sitcoms with more mature emotional themes.
The best example of this dual structure is a scene in which Ethan is donating sperm for Lisa’s IVF. Ethan has trouble getting things going – standard sitcom fare. But when Sam (Annie Parisse), with whom Ethan has had a decades-long affair, pops into his head at the moment he finishes, the cliched comedic moment turns depressingly poignant.
Funny yet tragic moments like these define a show that is ultimately about a group of people entering middle age, desperately trying to hold onto their youth. In arguably the season’s best episode, the group rents a party bus for a wine tour. They proceed to get spectacularly drunk, as if they were still in college, and leave Max’s (Fred Savage) partner Felix (Billy Eichner) behind. Felix puts words to the show’s central conflict: “You guys are stuck in some 20-year time warp.”
The group clings tightly to dysfunctional relationships they’ve long-since outgrown in an effort to stay connected to who they used to be. The sitcom-style antics are the remnants of who they were, while the darker themes address who they are now, or who they should be. Straddling the line between past and present leads a group of supposed best friends to lie to and hurt one another, perhaps irreparably.
Much like us, Friends From College’s characters are imperfect, and their struggles may be uncomfortable reminders of our own. The characters elicit both laughs and tears as they fail to do the right thing, despite genuinely caring about one another. The show questions whether friendship and love are forever, to darkly comedic effect. If that line of inquiry is one you’re comfortable with, and you’re the type that prefers to laugh through the pain, Friends From College is definitely worth a watch.