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‘Friends From College’ is a Second-Rate Reunion
July 15, 2017  | By David Hinckley

The new Netflix ensemble comedy Friends From College takes a familiar premise and doesn’t quite know what to do with it.

Friends From College, whose eight-episode first season became available Friday on the world’s most popular streaming service, starts with six Harvard pals whose lives bring them back together in New York 20 years later. 

If that sounds like someone is dusting off The Big Chill, well, yes, that’s exactly what’s happening.

Nor would that be an awful idea, if Friends From College were simply bringing another generation of bright kids together to reflect on what they’d done with their lives.

Unfortunately, they mostly seem to have become neurotic and self-centered, which may offer promising material for a comedy show, but doesn’t give us much of a reason to care about what has happened or will happen to any of them.

Friends From College is stuck halfway between comedy and drama, and not in a good way.

The six pals here, for those keeping score at home, include the married couple Ethan and Lisa Turner (Keegan-Michael Key and Cobie Smulders, right). They’re trying to have their first child and as the show gets under way they have just moved from Chicago to New York, where they complete the old-friends six-pack. 

Lisa initiates the move, but it’s particularly fortuitous for Ethan, since he has been having a long-distance affair and periodic sleepovers ever since Harvard with one of those pals, Sam (Annie Parisse). Sam is married, too, to a bit of a pompous jerk, and they do have a child. 

Friend four is Max (Fred Savage, right, with Key), Ethan’s literary agent. Ethan writes serious, acclaimed books that Max somehow has just realized don’t sell many copies. So, Max wants Ethan to start writing Young Adult (YA) fiction because that draws maximum social media traffic.

Max is partnered up with Dr. Felix Forzenheim (Billy Eichner), who becomes Ethan’s and Lisa’s fertility clinic doctor. Small world.

Nick (Nat Faxon) is a trust fund baby who doesn’t have a job and apparently went to Harvard just because he could. He’s confronting middle age by seeking out women who are barely of voting age.

And then there’s Marianne (Jae Suh Park, with Parisse, below), who writes and acts in dreadful avant garde plays that are staged in high school gymnasiums when the basketball team isn’t practicing.

Marianne is devoted to her pet rabbit.

Friends From College utilizes lots of sex jokes, frequent sharp-tongued repartee over dinner with wine, a bunch of bungled-sex scenes and multiple opportunities for Key to do the weird voices from his standup act.

Bits here and there are amusing, and there are moments when we remember why we have liked all these actors in other roles.

The problem perhaps is en Friends From College capsulated in an early scene where Lisa starts her New York job and is warned that the company has a “masculine culture.”

What she sees at her first meeting is three minutes of profane misogyny on steroids – designed, obviously, as an exaggeration to make a comedic point.

But it goes on so long that it graduates from satiric to ridiculous to simply numbing.

By the end, we just don’t care, any more than we care about how or why this slice of Harvard’s alumni association got from there to here.

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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is now available in paperback for under $15. Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. Interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer are high points... Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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