Reunited and it Feels so…Good? (Series Review: “Friends from College”)

A once close-knit group of Harvard pals rekindles 20 years later in the Big Apple, teenage baggage and secrets in tow, in a hilarious glimpse of the approach-avoidance dance we all do with Adulthood.

SnapShot Plot

The sexy and slapstick series, Friends from College will hit a nerve with anyone whose memories of those days invoke a group of people with whom you shared pranks, inappropriate hook-ups, un-controlled substances, binge eating, classroom pressures, broken hearts and more.

This excellent ensemble cast is headed by the comedically fearless Keegan-Michael Key as Ethan, a brilliant and physically kinetic writer of the kind of literary novels that garner critical praise but not much more in the way of sales. He’s married to the beautiful Lisa (played by the smart comic talent Cobie Smulders of How I Met Your Mother fame), now a successful attorney who he’s known since their days at Harvard. Ethan’s literary agent – in a winningly impish performance by Fred Savage – is Max, also a Harvard pal who is in a committed relationship with Felix, a fertility specialist. Felix, well played against type by Billy Eichner, is a very adult neatnik who just doesn’t ‘get’ the loud, juvenile antics of the group, to the point that he barely recognizes Max when he’s in their company. To Felix – as well as any newcomer to this gang – it’s just a bunch of noise and ‘inside the beltway’ jokes, the punchlines of which he’ll never get, nor does he want to.

The core, inappropriate relationship at the center of the action is the 20-year, long distance affair Ethan’s been carrying on with Samantha, aka Sam, played with a revealingly tough/tender pathos by Annie Parisse. Among all the friends, Sam is the most outwardly successful, the owner of an international interior design firm and mother of two adorable children, married to Jon, a Finance guy played to insipid and mumbly perfection by Greg Germann (of Ally McBeal and Grey’s Anatomy fame). Rounding out the gang is quirky rabbit-lover and counter-gender-casting actor, Marianne (you’ll get it, no worries), and finally the perennial booty-hunter and trust fund baby Nick (in a sardonic turn by veteran comedic actor Nat Faxon).

When Lisa accepts a new job in NYC, it’s a catalyst for the friends to reunite, purportedly having been distanced by jobs and life’s distractions over the years. Picking up right where they left off as recent college graduates – to the utter bewilderment of their present partners – it’s a raucous but refreshingly affectionate series of confrontations, reminding each of them of their dreams and ambitions when they were fresh-faced adult beginners. The question nagging at the story, though, is how much longer Ethan and Sam can maintain the lie which threatens to not only blow up their own marriages, but the group itself. How much longer will it be before (as Yeats put it) the ‘center cannot hold’?

Parting Shot

Even though it sounds admittedly counter-intuitive to emphasize a show’s cancellation after its 2nd season, in another way it can be seen as a selling point. Friends from College is a show I’d wholeheartedly recommend just on its own merits: a cool, briskly funny script with winning ensemble performances, the right blend of heart and humor, and despite an exaggeration of sex scenes (aren’t they at all tired??), the kind of feelgood stuff that tickles the funnybone while triggering a wistful nostalgia for the days of youth. The fact that each season is comprised of only eight, 30-minute episodes makes this the kind of confection one can easily devour – like a box of Entenmann’s chocolate chip cookies after a night of cramming or partying – in a snap.

It’s also the kind of show that beautifully illustrates the truth behind those close friendships we form during our college years, especially for those of us lucky enough to live on campus. When you look back on all the laughter and the tears, you realize that in that one shining moment of your penultimate season, between youth and adulthood, these Friends become the Family you choose. The trick – and the blessing – is when those friendships continue to thrive into fortysomething and beyond.

Friends from College is presently streaming on Netflix.

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YouTube Trailer:

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