I’ll be upfront with you all and say that I had my reservations going into Netflix’s Friends from College. While I’ll freely admit that Keegan-Michael Key is one of the funniest men on television at present, I’m not sure he was capable of carrying an entire series on his comedic shoulders. Effectively, this attempt at a Master of None for the oft-forgotten Generation X, though peppered with interesting moments and some comedy gems, falls flat more often than not by refusing to give the characters the depth they require to be interesting in spite of their overt selfishness.
Netflix has a penchant for taking a whole bunch of recognizable faces and throwing them all into one series knowing that you’ll watch for that reason—and that is exactly why I watched this show, so kudos there. The idea of following a group of dysfunctional (mostly toxic) adults as they stumble through life would be a pretty hard sell unless you could tack on the likes of Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years). While the show doesn’t pack an insane amount of star power, it features several faces you’re at least familiar with: Nat Faxon (Married), Billy Eichner (Billy on the Street, Difficult People) and Annie Parisse (The Following) to name a few. Even with this kind of cast, it seems pretty fascinating that the bulk of this series consists mainly of these 30- and 40-somethings stumbling over one another (and onto one another *cough* lots of affairs *cough*) for the eight episodes of season one.
Before I drive too far into the reasons why this show doesn’t necessarily work, let me point out a few things the show does well. First, the discussion around Lisa Turner’s (Smulders) struggles with fertility and the real-life horror of undergoing IVF are superb. Often, IVF is a choice a couple makes on-screen but undergoes off-screen. They go to the doctor a few times, and the rest is swept cleanly under a rug. But Friends from College does not shy away from the reality of IVF—particularly from a woman’s perspective. Lisa and her husband, Ethan (Key), spend a good amount of time reading pamphlets, watching instructional videos, administering injections and pretending that there is anything sexy about this clinical approach to babymaking. Particularly commendable is the show’s choice to show the bruises Lisa sustains as a result of these injections and the emotional trauma that IVF puts her through. I say her, specifically, because the process of IVF demands little more from the man than emotional support while the woman’s body goes through a biochemical hell—a reality the show embraces time and again.
Though, perhaps I made a misstep when I said I would “point out a few things the show does well.” That was it. The one thing it did really well. The rest of the series relies on half-baked character development pulled straight out of shows past (Will he get that book written and published? Will s/he confess his/her affair to her/his husband/wife? Will that one quirky theater friend ever be in a play that you don’t have to pretend didn’t suck? What do you mean gay couples have the same kinds of conflict as straight couples?!?). Perhaps the show can pave the way for future endeavors to examine the middle child complex of Generation X. Stuck between the on-going battles of Millennials and Baby Boomers, it’s not a bad idea to examine how Gen-Xers are handling their lots in life. Having all of these friends be graduates of the esteemed Harvard University was an admittedly smart decision. Revealing that, just because you get an education (and a top notch education at that), doesn’t necessarily mean you’re set and that life will be easy (though it helps)
But, rather, the show chose to explore how the ivy league among us are not better—and are often worse—than ourselves. Is this an exploration of Gen-X entitlement? I doubt it. Culture is too busy examining how entitled Millennials are supposed to be. Though, the characters’ consistent whining about their personal struggles is often undercut by the reality that the majority of these characters are financially sound, even outright wealthy, and focus almost exclusively on white struggles despite having one throw away comment from Key about being pulled over for “driving while Black.”
Ultimately, discussions of a season two for this series stem from the handful of loose ends the show refuses to wrap up. Though many assume the show will get a second season because of Netflix’s tendency to renew original content regardless of popularity, fans of Girlboss and Sense8 know better. At any rate, those who watched the first season should know that second would make the same decisions as the first: our protagonists will flounder, they will mess up a lot, they will make some half-hearted attempts to be good, if selfish, people and nothing will get solved. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Friends from College is now streaming in its entirety on Netflix.
Ashley Szanter is the associate editor of Salt Lake magazine and co-hosts the UniversiTV podcast.