TV Review – Friends From College
This is probably the most sexual that we’ve seen from Emmy winner, Keegan-Michael Key. The first scene in fact is him naked in flagrante delicto. It all ends on a joke about condom use and how sex in real life is never like it is in the movies. This is also probably the most dramatic that we’ve seen from him, but his funny and goofy self can’t help but be unleashed in all of his scenes. I’m not sure if it’s the character or the actor that can’t help but flex his comedy muscles with every scene, but regardless Key is funny. He’s also the romantic lead, which is not a common thing for men of color in Hollywood. Created by Francesca DelBanco and Nicholas Stoller, it might be the character who continues a trend in Stoller’s films of man-children, men suffering from arrested development who can’t but be funny or juvenile, or else it’s just a defense mechanism for them to help alleviate guilt or compensate for awkwardness because they can’t handle being grown-ups.
Keegan-Michael Key (Key & Peele) stars as Ethan Turner, a writer who is married to a lawyer, Lisa, played by Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother). It’s not clear how long he’s been married. All that’s clear is that it’s been twenty years since college. He attended Harvard where he presumably met Lisa and they fell in love or maybe not. Apparently, they were friends first, but he was friends with another girl named Sam, played by Annie Parisse (Law & Order). The trick is that despite being married to Lisa, he’s been having an affair with Sam, an affair that started in college and continues to today.
At the beginning, Ethan and Lisa are living in Chicago, whereas Sam is living with her husband, Jon, played by Greg Germann (Ally McBeal), and their two kids in New York. Yet, Ethan and Sam are still having their affair. Sam simply flies to Chicago for business or false pretenses. She gets a hotel room and has sex with Ethan there. Things change when Ethan and Lisa decide to move to New York.
Ethan and Sam find it more difficult to resist each other living in closer proximity but know that they have to resist because the risk is too high that they’ll get caught. More difficulties arise when Ethan and Lisa have troubles with their careers, finding a place to live and having a baby. Ethan finds it more and more difficult as a result to resist Sam. Consequently, Lisa drifts toward another college friend, Nick, played by Nat Faxon, the Oscar-winning writer of The Descendants (2011). Nick is a trust-fund baby who professionally and personally just drifts. Lisa ends up having an affair with Nick.
The majority of the series is about Ethan and Lisa falling further apart and Ethan trying to keep his affair secret, along with Sam trying to keep it secret too. Stoller and his writers do come up with hilarious scenarios as Ethan and Lisa stumble their way into an obvious break up. Unfortunately, Stoller and his writers have a huge gap that through all these shenanigans never gets filled or bridged.
Aside from knowing these people were in college together and Ethan’s affair, the history of these characters is very elusive. It’s all rather up in the air. One could argue the opposite, but the history does matter, especially since the show likes to invoke history when it suits them but not when it truly matters. Perhaps, the show is saving the history for Season 2, but knowing how the characters got to this point feels crucial.
Ethan has these two women in his orbit, his wife Lisa and his married mistress Sam. It’s confusing because it doesn’t seem to be a strictly sexual affair. It’s suggested that he has deeper feelings for Sam, but why? And, if those feelings are so deep, why did he marry Lisa? Why would Sam marry Jon? Sam seems to be neurotic and all over-the-map, but was she always that way?
The series has the word “college” in the title, yet we get no real illumination from that time period. The general impression is that most, if not all of them either long to live in that time period or think that they still are. Given that these college relationships are so vital here, the fact that we get no deeper exploration or deeper understanding of that earlier time is frustrating
What’s also frustrating is that despite being second-billed, the show doesn’t make maximum use of Fred Savage. Here, Savage plays Max Adler, a literary agent who represents Ethan and is another friend from Harvard. Max is in a relationship with Felix, played by Billy Eichner (Parks and Recreation). For the most part though, this relationship is relegated to the background. Savage has some good comedic moments, but overall his story is given not the full breath as he deserves.
Running Time: 30 mins. / 8 eps.
Available on Netflix.