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Why Does Everyone Seem to Hate Netflix's 'Friends from College'?

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | July 21, 2017 |

By Dustin Rowles | Streaming | July 21, 2017 |

I had not read any reviews of Netflix’s Friends from College going into it, which might be for the best because they have been brutal (it is sporting a 23 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) and it might have put me off the series before I’d ever watched it. But after a quick binge (eight episodes, four hours total), I’m left to wonder why it is so reviled by critics?

I liked it. I’m not trying to be contrarian here, either. I mean, I didn’t love it, but if I were the grading type, I’d probably give the series a B. I laughed frequently. I love the cast, and as unlikable as the characters could be, I felt invested enough in their storylines that I’m going to be bummed when Netflix cancels it because there’s no buzz on this series.

Friends from College stars Keegan-Michael Key and Cobie Smulders as a married couple, novelist Ethan and lawyer Lisa, who decide to move from Chicago back to New York, where several of their old college friends live. The catch here is that Ethan has been having an affair with Sam (Annie Parisse) since college and living in the same city and sharing the same group of friends creates an awkward environment. There’s also their gay friend from Harvard, Max (Fred Savage), who is in a relationship with Felix (Billy Eichner), one of the few people outside of their friend-group; Nick (Nat Faxon), a trust-fund layabout; and free-spirit Marianne (Jae Suh Park), with whom Ethan and Lisa crash when they move to New York.

The hook here is that these seemingly normal 40-year-olds instantly revert to their college personalities when they’re together (a familiar dynamic for many of us who have friend groups from college or grad school), and the way they behaved together in college doesn’t square particularly well with their new realities. Old romances are rekindled, friction resurfaces, and relationships outside of the friend group crumble on two levels: Those outside the friend group do not like how the friend group behaves around one another, and those in the friend group would rather spend time with each other than those outside of the friend group.

I get this dynamic, because it existed for several years within my own law school friend group (although, certainly not into our 40s). We revert to the people our friends remember us as rather than the people we have become, and it’s hard to function as a 40-year-old when you’re always hungover or hanging out with your friends instead of minding your adult responsibilities. I thought husband and wife team Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller (Neighbors, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) captured a slight exaggeration of that dynamic perfectly: It’s two worlds colliding, but instead of a weekend reunion, it’s a permanent situation. I mean, it’s one thing for your wife to put up with your drunken jackassery for a weekend, but quite another when that becomes her new reality (this is why college friends should always live in separate cities).

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There are also quite a few funny moments in the series, wrapped up in sitcom tropes as they are, and Fred Savage and Billy Eichner are particularly great (Seth Rogen and Kate McKinnon’s extended cameos are a mixed bag). Some of the humor, however, is often overshadowed by their terrible behaviors, in particular the affair between Nick and Sam, which continues even as Ethan’s wife is trying to have a baby. Keegan Michael-Key is not a particularly good cad because he’s so likable, which makes it difficult to hate him for being such an irredeemable shit, but then, it’s not like his wife is a saint either (and again, it’s difficult to resent the actions of a character played by Cobie Smulders because she’s also incredibly likable). Viewers may end up having a lot of confused feelings about these characters, both empathy and disgust.

I think it may be those confused feelings that are driving so many of the negative reviews. It may also be that the “friend group” dynamic is not something with which everyone is as familiar, or this show only appeals to a particular, older demographic, or it may simply be that a lot of viewers and critics found it difficult to invest in often unpleasant characters. The comedic and dramatic elements of Friends from College often have difficulties co-existing. Still, I still think it’s worth investigating, if only because it’s so rare that we get an American series that can be watched in its entirety in four hours.