In Defense of Friends from College… and other First Season Shows

Terror. Fear. Horror. Fright.

The above is a list of the adjectives I felt when reading the reviews for the new Netflix show, Friends from College.

I was a little saddened by this. The cast is amazing. You have Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother) and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years) which is more than enough to make me happy. Then you also have Billy Eichner, Kate McKinnon, Seth Rogen, Ike Barinholtz in supporting roles and Nat Faxon, Annie Parisse and Jae Suh Park to round out the main group, it’s the best and with all those shiny happy people, it’s the perfect group.

On top of all of that, it was created by Nicholas Stoller who is responsible for Neighbors and Forgetting Sarah Marshall and the very much underrated show The Grinder which has nothing to do with the app.

With all of this talent on board, why wouldn’t it be a hit?

The answer came with those reviews.

Now, I kept coming across two stories:

  1. The show is awful, horrible, just the worst…..everything that is stinky in the world is apparently because of this show.
  2. Fred Savage doesn’t like to play with others…..when the cameras stop rolling

Okay let’s discuss the second one first because this is going to be a rant that will be irrelevant to the rest of this but I feel like ranting anyway.

How is Fred Savage not wanting to hang out with his co-stars a story?

This has clearly taken on a life of its own so let’s take it out of the context of a celebrity not wanting to hang out with co-stars and put it into the context of someone not wanting to mix business with pleasure and wanting to keep his personal life separate from his business life, look at it that way and Fred Savage is no different than the millions of other people in the world who prefer to keep a distance between their work life and personal life.

In fact, I actually find it admirable that he has such boundaries. I always thought work happy hours were mandatory…..I could stay home instead? I always thought I had to go so I could network and be sociable and crap. I don’t have to? Fine with me. I mean, okay, people have boundaries. It’s no different than people who refuse to add work friends on Facebook. It’s not personal, it’s just a way to keep things separate. This should not be a story. Unless the story becomes “Fred Savage won’t hang out with his co-stars and also kicks them in the shins and runs away from them super fast” there is no story and we’re putting a negative spin on professionalism.

Rant over.

Now let’s discuss the reviews.

Is this show perfect?

Well…..no. No, it’s not.

The show centers around six close college friends: Ethan (Key),Lisa (Smulders), Sam (Parisse), Nick (Faxon), Max (Savage) and Marianne (Park). Ethan and Lisa are married as is Sam but Sam and Ethan are having an affair which has been going on for twenty years. This is kept hidden from the rest of the group with the exception of Marianne. So basically, Marianne knows that one of her best friends is cheating with the husband of one of her best friends. It’s a little twisted, not gonna lie.

Now, the show has been compared to Friends but with the exception of it being a co-dependent group of six, the fact that it takes place in New York and two of the main friends in the group are married to each other, the two friend groups really could not be more different. For one thing, the six friends in Friends were in their twenties moving towards the future together. These friends are in their forties and are tied to the past and not looking ahead at the future. Also, Rachel and Chandler were not having an affair that only Phoebe knew about…..so there’s that.

Another difference is that Friends had 236 episodes and ten years to add layers to those characters. Friends from College only had eight thirty minute episodes. That’s four hours to get to know six people.

That’s not a whole lot of time and because of that, I hope they get a second season.

The world we live in now is fast. We want immediate gratification. If a show is not a smash right out of the gate, it’s finished. We are definitely in a Golden Age of  Television. We have so much amazing content out there. It used to be that movie stars would look down on television actors, now we have people like Oscar Winner Reese Witherspoon starring in one of the biggest shows on HBO: Big Little Lies.  We are so consumed by content that there aren’t enough hours in the day to consume it all and while this is most certainly a blessing, it’s also a curse.

The curse being that a lot of television shows are not being given a shot to prove themselves past the first season.

When shows are given a chance to grow, magical things can happen.

For example, did you hear about that show that took place in a bar in Boston? First season, it was dead last in the ratings. Yet when Cheers ended in 1993, 84 million people watched that finale and it is now considered one of the greatest sitcoms of all times and that finale was pretty awesome.

Oh and there was another show about four friends who basically sat around and talked about nothing. Research that was done on the pilot received mostly negative reviews and now, just like Cheers, Seinfeld is considered iconic. Even the horrible series finale did nothing to damper the quality of the rest of the series.

Seinfeld and Cheers were given a chance to find their footing, to grow, to be better. Even Friends, their pilot episode while hilariously funny no longer fits with how the series developed over time.

Look at Orange is the New Black on Netflix. The show doesn’t even resemble what it was in the first season. Piper is no longer front and center and rotating characters seems to be the norm now.

So, the point?

Sometimes more time is needed and in the case of Friends from College, I hope they get that chance. This is definitely a show that needs more than four hours to prove itself.

And if they do get a second season, I hope it’s longer and here’s what I would love more of:

1) This season focused mainly on the love triangle between Sam, Lisa and Ethan. Lisa had no idea about the affair between Sam and Ethan. Sometimes this got a little tiring. If there’s another season, can we focus on Max, Marianne and Nick? I felt like all three had so much more to add and there were so many stories to be told that could feature the three of them. Nick has a trust fund, but what does he do all day? What was his purpose in the group? Max is an agent with apparently a very light work load….he has one client, Ethan….and Marianne is an actress? I wanted to know so much more and let’s go back to Marianne. She’s stuck in the middle of her two close female friends, Sam and Lisa, knowing everything that’s going on. She deserves a prize.

2) I hope they go into more background on all of the six. I want to know more about them. Why are they even friends? That was the question I kept asking. Yes, they have fun together, they enjoy each other but for the most part, they’re not very nice to each other. There’s the affair and the episode where it’s revealed that all of the friends forgot Max’s 40th birthday. Lisa and Ethan interrupt Max’s birthday dinner with his boyfriend, Felix, who is played by Eichner….Max reminds them and yet nothing is really done. Yes, Lisa and Ethan were in the midst of a crisis of their own, dealing with Lisa’s infertility issues but I was hoping the final scene of that episode would be a birthday party for poor Max.

I also hope that whatever background they do bring, they add layers to Ethan because Ethan is not all that sympathetic in this series. It’s one thing to be unlikable but I wanted to root for him a little bit. He’s sleeping with his wife’s best friend who is also married, he’s an author but he relies on his agent so much that it doesn’t seem like Max has time to focus on anyone else.

3) Bring Billy Eichner back and have him be the Billy Eichner we all know and love. Yes, it’s great that he can play more subdued and he was a fantastic partner for Max.  He is very talented but I like the Billy on the Street character. It makes me happy. Although, I guess I can see why they had him be more subdued. It matched more with Max who was a little more hyper and the two balanced each other out…..but still… I’m  gonna just sulk about it.

4) Jobs? Yes, in the world of Hollywood, jobs are secondary to the plot, but if this is a show about the nostalgia of the past competing with the present then career would be important.  Marianne is an actress? Yet the play she does seems to be in a high school gym. Max is an agent but he has one client?  Lisa has a high profile job where she’s often subjected to sexual harassment? It might be interesting to see how their addiction to each other interferes with their real lives? We get a little bit at the end with Max. Max ends up not only losing Felix but makes a major mistake which I won’t spoil but in real life would cost him his job and quite possibly his one client..which leads me to my final thing

5) No consequences. There are no consequences to anyone’s actions. From adultery to destruction of property to drunk driving, these six friends live in a world where they don’t suffer from the consequences of some pretty serious actions. Television is filled with self absorbed characters, unlikable characters but every action has a reaction and maybe that’s where a second season will come into play….

What will happen next?  Is there a fall out? There are more stories and with this cast and Nicholas Stoller at the helm, these stories can be told.

These six deserve another shot…every show deserves a chance to grow even in the world of instant gratification.

Oh and if there is a second season, cool it on the YA dissing. As an adult who loves and writes Young Adult fiction, it’s not all about werewolves, witches and monsters but then again, the scene with Fred Savage tap dancing while high on cocaine was one of the better moments and also Kate McKinnon….okay, on second thought, continue with the werewolves and monsters if it means more Kate McKinnon.

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