FRIENDS FROM COLLEGE proves that not all reunions live up to the hype
What could possibly go wrong when friends reunite from college after 20 years? Beyond competition and immaturity, we find out in Nicholas Stoller’s Friends From College. Best known for directing Forgetting Sarah Marshall and Neighbors, Stoller succeeds in casting a talented ensemble and support cast and then attempts to balance the rare behind-the-scenes quadruple threat as writer, creator, producer, and director. Alas, this feat backfires on Stoller with an uneven series that promotes itself as a comedy, but trends closer to a dramadey through its portrayal of growing up and in tackling tough subjects such as infidelity and infertility. In many ways, the series is reminiscent of Judd Apatow’s This is 40 which too billed itself as a comedy, but whose highlighting of the struggles and challenges of a man turning 40 caused more cringing than laughing.
In this new eight-episode “comedic series” set to premiere on July 14th, Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele) and Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) star as Ethan and Lisa, a married couple who move from Michigan to New York, reuniting them with their four college friends from Harvard. A struggling writer, Ethan’s 20-year long distance affair with fellow college friend, Sam (Annie Parisse), finds him now living in the same city, and attempting to navigate all of the messiness that comes along with it. Alternating between a nervous and neurotic Ethan and an increasingly annoying Sam who go from “two young kids hooking up” in college to adults now engaging in an adulterous affair and Ethan and Lisa’s unsuccessful attempts to start a family through vitro, one can see how this series strays from the comedy tag that Netflix has placed on it.
The reunited Harvard classmates also include Fred Savage as the group’s gay friend (and Ethan’s literary agent), Max, Jae Suh Park as the group’s Asian and odd friend, Marianne, and the underused Nat Faxon as the unemployed, trust fund friend, Nick. It almost feels that Stoller and fellow writer, Francesca Delbanco, had a checklist of TV stereotypes and included one of each in the cast. Credit Savage for carrying off a number of hilarious scenes, continuing his ability to gain laughs as he did as the straight man in Fox’s The Grinder.
Most episodes start out strong, but as the plot is fleshed out, they get more absurd and unrealistic and this departure from reality is what prevents Friends From College from living up to its potential and strong pre-release hype. Whether it being Lisa’s job as a lawyer at an investment firm where the employees find it normal to stick their male anatomy on the speaker phone when speaking with the SEC, Sam’s husband believing that a bear broke out of their house, or Suh Park’s Marianne owning a large apartment in New York City despite never having a real job, Stoller misses an opportunity to provide a true portrait of life at 40.
Friends From College includes it fair share of laughs, but may be best suited for those in their late 30’s and early 40’s who often find themselves reverting to the silly antics from the good ole days when hanging out with college friends, who can relate to the feeling that they’re not where they hoped to be or where people expected them to be at 40, and those who recognize that life is messy no matter what your age.
Keegan-Michael Key borders on irritating at times
The series as a whole tends to trend toward the absurd a few too many times