There’s something to be said for lifelong camaraderie, sure. There’s something else to be said for clinging to toxic friendships you know are only making you a worse version of yourself. Though, naturally, you’ll tell yourself that these are the people who know you better than anyone, who understand you more innately than any new person can because of your shared history. This concept is the backbone of the premise of Friends From College, created by married writing team–Paul W. Downs and Lucia Aniello know something about that–Nicholas Stoller (an Apatow alum with Get Him to the Greek and Forgetting Sarah Marshall) and Francesca Delbanco.
Yet another in the now endless arsenal of Netflix original series (though not every one can survive), the eight-episode first season introduces us to Ethan Turner (Keegan-Michael Key), Lisa Turner (Cobie Smulders), Samantha Delmonico (Annie Parisse), Nick (Nat Faxon), Max Adler (Fred Savage) and Marianne (Jae Suh Park) as they reunite after years of separation primarily as a result of Ethan and Lisa’s inability to remain in one place as a result of Lisa’s job. But now that they’re “getting the friend group back together,” as Ethan pathetically puts it, all the old habits, jealousies and competitiveness of the past crop up–not to mention the twenty-year long affair Ethan has been having with Samantha, much to Lisa’s unwitting chagrin.
In spite of each one being an alum of Harvard, their self-destructive behavior tends to infer a general lack of brightness. Ethan and Samantha especially veer toward the unbreakable pattern of calamitous behavior, flirting with the sort of comportment that’s guaranteed to get them caught, e.g. going to Samantha’s Connecticut home and setting the alarm off that her rich husband, John (Gregg Germann), changed the code to without warning her. To worsen the hijinks, Ethan has promised to take Marianne’s Hotot rabbit (the breed is very important), Anastasia, to the vet, hence the animal’s presence in the car as Samantha lurches forward to avoid a cyclist as Ethan panics over talking calmly to his wife on the phone throughout their escape from Connecticut crisis. The outcome is least favorable of all for Anastasia.
It is this sort of blatantly self-involved, self-interested conduct that punctuates the underlying dynamic of animosity between each friend, Lisa and Samantha’s reaching an especial crescendo in episode six, “Party Dog,” at a wedding for one of their seemingly infinite Harvard friends. Sensing something “off” a.k.a. that Ethan is cheating on her with Samantha, Lisa makes it a point to rail against the groom, Rich, for cheating on his wife with his now soon-to-be new one. Samantha counters her judgmental tone, insisting that life is short and one should go for what he wants. In many ways, Lisa is all too familiar with this cliched notion, having herself just spent $30,000 on a failed IVF treatment. Where she isn’t exactly “going for it” is in her career, forced to use her legal expertise at a hedge fund company to act as breadwinner while Ethan works on a YA novel. And this at the insistence of Max, who also acts as his literary agent in addition to friend. The death of the Great American novel is real, Max reminds him, and anyone who wants to invest in a book both financially and mentally is expecting a big return. No stranger to wounded pride at this point, Ethan agrees to write the book after meeting with nutso YA author Shaunna (Kate McKinnon), who is starting a publishing imprint of her own.
As Ethan’s dreams of being a Nobel Prize winning author wane, his affair with Samantha waxes, prompting them to meet up to talk about how they should end it–a subject they often deliberate on without actually executing. Netflix Studios, capitalizing on their New York City location affiliations, is sure to make use of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde just as they do in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for one of the numerous instances when Ethan and Samantha must meet clandestinely. It almost makes one want to take advantage of one of those Groupon deals to go there.
Ethan’s reluctance to take on YA “literature” after so long enjoying the rewards and accolades of being a “serious novelist” is a sentiment even the most self-assured of college graduates in a specific major (mainly of the artistic bent) can identify with. It is the running plot point that most acutely sums up the general deterioration of what one’s ambition in life originally was, you know, when he still had the confidence that comes with being a Harvard undergrad.
And so, more than anything, Friends From College speaks to the dangers of nostalgia, how getting intoxicated by it for too long can lead to poisoning oneself. And while there are mercifully no flashback scenes to when the sextet actually was in college, the lingering sentiments of the decade are omnipresent in the soundtrack, starting with Pavement’s “Cut Your Hair” in the first episode. Other staples from decade include Hanson’s “MMMBop,” The Sundays’ “Wild Horses,” Cornershop’s “Brimful of Asha” and Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You,” to name a few. The show’s reverence for the 90s is also, somewhat obviously, present in its twisted parallels to Friends, as though if the latter were pitched today, this is how dark it would be. In any case, one of the character’s final statements, “I think we should take a break”–a peak 90s homage in that Friends regard–is likely what Netflix will be saying when it comes time again to drop the ax on another batch of series originals. Unless, that is, narcissists really do love watching other narcissists.