I think I am among the minority of folks who liked the first season of Netflix’s Friends from College, a show that is akin to the marital version of the British The Office, in that much of the humor grew out of the awkwardness of the situations. In its first season, the show was about a group of six incestuous best friends from college reunited in their 40s, and the thing about college friends is that — no matter how old you get — when you’re around them, there’s a tendency to revert to your college “self” and behave like drunken, irresponsible assholes, especially in venues (weddings, bachelor parties, vacation weekends) that are already predisposed to that behavior. Obviously, when kids, marriages, and careers are at stake, that behavior is even more destructive. By the end of season one, this group of best friends had essentially destroyed themselves in the way that friend groups like these often do soon after college (instead of twenty years later).
Season two picks up basically a year later. The friend group has essentially disbanded thanks to the events of season one, but the impending nuptials of Max (Fred Savage) and Felix (Billy Eichner) brings them all back together again for various events leading up to that wedding (and the wedding itself). Also, in season two, everyone lives in New York, so proximity also keeps them in each others’ orbit.
It often takes a sitcom a season or so to find its footing, and as much as I liked the first season, the second season is far far better — looser, funnier, and all those awkward situations are more akin to the American The Office instead of the British version — it’s uncomfortable, but not painfully so, and the husband/wife creative team behind the series, Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller, are more quick to reach for the release valve when the stress of those situations begin to exert themselves. To wit: When Ethan (Keegan Michael-Key) and his soon-to-be ex-wife Lisa (Cobie Smulders) and their best friend, whom Ethan had been fucking for 20 years, Sam (Annie Parisse) are all forced together for Max’s bachelor party, the writers give us opportunities to laugh at other things (the strippers that Max absolutely does not want, the ridiculous David Beckham impersonator, the low-rent Atlantic City vibe) instead of stewing in the tension.
It also helps that everything is now out in the open — the first season was all about keeping long-held secrets hidden, while in the second season, everything has been revealed and instead of trying to tip-toe around it, the various characters confront the discomfort head-on. I don’t know if this is the exact right metaphor, but season one is like a funeral where the deceased died in a horrifically hilarious way and all the characters tried to mourn him while not acknowledging the way he died. Season two, on the other hand, is more like a funeral where the guy giving the eulogy begins with, “Oh shit! Can you believe Bob was killed by a falling stand mixer while having sex on the kitchen floor? At least he died doing what he loved: Making whoopie pie!” (Sorry, that was a very bad joke).
In any respect, the cast continues to be phenomenal, especially now that Keegan Michael-Key has been freed of his Fun Ethan character (“Fun Ethan is dead”) and Cobie Smulders is allowed to inflict emotional wounds instead of only absorbing them. It’s insane, however, that with a cast this fantastic that Fred Savage and his neurosis continues to be the stand-out, while even Greg Germann — in a supporting role — manages to get a lot of laughs, too, along with newcomer Charlie (Zack Robidas), Lisa’s frantically amped up boyfriend, who does terrific work as this season’s foil.
Like the second season of Santa Clarita Diet, Friends from College has found its groove, and is the rare Netflix season that’s actually shorter than I wanted it to be — I could have spent another four or five episodes with these characters, easily. It did, however, leave me pining for a third season — one in which the friend group puts itself back together again — and as Friends with College is produced in-house with Netflix, the odds of that seem pretty high.