Review : Friends From College

Friends from College is the new Netflix comedy from the Keegan Michael-Key half of Key and Peele. Reception has been mixed, promotion has been quiet, and the series hasn’t made as much of a splash as one might expect from the above average cast.

Because you either get it or you don’t. The type of characters and relationships on the show are not commonplace archetypes. They’re not even the dour HBO type. It’s a really grimy, struggling kind of people that find themselves in these situations by way of lots of little steps. It’s very genuine and certainly informed from real experiences.

A married couple – Key and Cobie Smulders, who returns from the blockbusters for the first time since How I Met Your Mother concluded – return to New York City and fill in the missing pieces of their six person friend group. The third point of their love triangle is Annie Parisse (Person of Interest, The Following, Vinyl). Key and Parisse have been sleeping together for over twenty years, and his return to town complicates the affair significantly.

The casting is so on point. Fred Savage is the underrated MVP and given the most plot to chew on. The breakdown of his relationship is so well executed. It’s telegraphed without overpowering any of the bigger plot points and then it drops so unexpectedly. Kudos for that. Nat Faxon and Jae Suh Park round out the six, adding crucial levity to some pretty serious subjects.

Because Friends from College takes the affair very seriously from all angles, but it never becomes morose. Netflix shows have leaned into the darker aspects of life and sometimes produced shows that are outright depressing (Orange is the New Black Season 5, in contrast to the beautiful Orange is the New Black Season 4).

The trauma of IVF is shown in great detail. The emotional and the physical toll of trying and then the soul-destroying realisation that the couple is not pregnant are never undercut with jokes. However it doesn’t leave the audience sick to the stomach. It leaves them with a complicated emotion, but not necessarily a bad one.

Guest spots from Kate McKinnon and Seth Rogen are scenery-chewing laugh-fests. More from both please. Ike Barinholtz recurs as Smulder’s asshole boss. Why do people keep hiring him? Sorry, Ike.
There’s a lot of great things to find in Friends with College, but here’s the absolute best: there are only eight episodes. The final credits ran rather than skipping after ten seconds and I found myself quietly pleased. How they left the characters was perfect. The build up to that moment was so well constructed. Where it takes us into a second season is intriguing.

If the season ran for another five episodes it would have discounted that moment. Five episodes is more than half of another season. Right now there’s no more fuel in the tank. Take time, regroup, plan carefully and proceed. Maintain the quality benchmark that Friends with College has established.

Maybe it’s that it captures a very specific kind of nostalgia that I have for my friends from high school. And maybe the writing is excellent and the cast deliver it with feeling. There’s a twinkle in the eye of every actor on screen. They want this to work and I want this to work for them.
Netflix has been copping criticism for greenlighting more and more magnum opuses in the vein of Master of None, but I think Friends from College deserves a spot on its network and a touch more advertising. This is the start of something that could be quite special.

Review by Mark Halyday

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