By Troi Watts
I think we can all agree that Netflix original shows and movies are pretty hit-or-miss. A few new releases like Death Note (2017) and The Defenders (2017) have had less than high praise. These sorts of things make us weary when deciding whether or not to watch that latest Netflix release. Trust me, I felt the same way when I pushed play on the first episode of Friends From College, but I was happily surprised.
Warning: Potential spoilers for the show. Continue reading at your own risk.
Friends From College revolves around a group of college friends who are entering their forties and dealing with family, professional, and personal problems as best as they can. Ethan Turner, played by Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele, Keanu), handles the show’s most important issue: his twenty-year affair with college friend, Sam, played by Annie Parisse (The Following, Person of Interest). While they may be content to continue their affair indefinitely, there is a shake-up when Ethan and his wife Lisa, played by Cobie Smulders (The Avengers, How I Met Your Mother), move to New York where the rest of their friends, including Sam, live. Ethan and Sam try to end things, but that doesn’t seem to be happening. Will they be able to keep their secret? Will they decide to end things and be honest with their spouses? No, probably not…
This show is officially labeled a comedic drama. The subject matter is absolutely the stuff of dramas, but when you have actors like Keegan-Michael Key and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years, The Grinder), comedy is inevitable. This balance between serious and funny makes the show realistic and entertaining. Everyday life has a bit of drama, but people get through that drama with humor, both intentionally and unintentionally. The comedy of this show is its saving grace. Without it, I honestly don’t think this show would hold up.
That being said, Friends From College is extremely interesting if you are into character dynamics and people-watching. As you may have noticed, there are some big-name actors in this show and they live up to their reputations here. Every character is complex, complete, and convincing. It is easy to form connections to them. For example, Lisa and Ethan go through a fertility program to try to have a baby. Lisa is naturally very stressed and emotional throughout this process, and even more so when the process ends in a failure to conceive. That last bit of news is tear-jerking especially after you have watched Lisa go through weeks of painful injections and procedures and exhausting tension. Cobie Smulders may have drawn from her own experience to help make this performance real. Her acting skills are incredible in these scenes and throughout the entire show. And while Keegan-Michael Key may be best known for his comedic roles, he does a great job playing a more serious, struggling character here. Along with trying to hide his affair, Ethan struggles as an author. Any aspiring or established writer can connect with him as he sits in an agent’s office being told that his book is bad.
As for the plot of Friends From College, it is not the most original. Affairs have been the leading conflicts in various TV shows throughout history and most of them have been approached the same way: the couple says they will stop when things get risky, but they don’t. They try really hard to hide it from their spouses, but it all comes out in the end. While this last part hasn’t happened yet in this show, the ending of Season 1 contains a lot of clues that it definitely will.
If you need a new Netflix show to watch but are scared to end up wasting your time on garbage, my advice is to try Friends From College. Ignore the super overdone plot, enjoy the hilarious bits, and invest in the humanity of the characters and the performances of the actors. With so many sci-fi and historical fiction shows out right now, it’s refreshing to watch some real people deal with real-life issues.