WHAT IT’S ABOUT Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) has been having a long-distance affair with his old flame from Harvard, Sam (Annie Parisse), who’s a big-shot New York financier. Then things get really complicated: His wife, Lisa (Cobie Smulders) has landed a big job with an investment bank, Blackstool, in New York, which means a move from Chicago. He’s about to be in close proximity to Sam, and also with some of his other close friends from Harvard days — Nick (Nat Faxon), Marianne (Jae Suh Park) and Max (Fred Savage), a literary agent who persuades Ethan, an author of “serious fiction,” to tackle the YA market. More complications: Lisa wants to undergo in vitro fertilization, and the doctor who will perform the procedure is Max’s significant other (Billy Eichner.)
And there is a Long Island tie: Portions of the fifth episode (about a trip to a North Fork vineyard) were shot at Iron Pier Beach in Riverhead, and South Jamesport Avenue, North Railroad Avenue and South Railroad Avenue in Jamesport, according to riverheadlocal.com.
MY SAY “Friends from College” is either that mythical “Friends” reunion or the best reason why it should forever remain mythical. Monica and Chandler are trying IVF. Chandler is having a secret affair with Rachel who’s an investment banker, now married to Ross. Phoebe, a successful author, has ditched Mike and is back with David. Joey has come out of the closet and (what the hell) is in a relationship with Billy Eichner. They all still drink a lot.
In style, tone and humor, “Friends From College” does almost invoke another era, and even another network (NBC, circa late 1990s-early 2000s, to be exact). It’s a nostalgia play without the nostalgia, or a sentimental journey absent any sort of deep-seated sentiment. Most of the time, “Friends From College” just seems to hold itself in contempt. Four years at Harvard and all the perks a society can throw at them hasn’t done much for these six. Without any measurable self-awareness, they stumble around Manhattan like it’s their adult version of Disneyland. Ethan and Sam feel guilty over their two-decade long hot-pillow affair, but don’t seem to have any remorse that it’s such a baldfaced TV cliche. Lisa doesn’t know what’s going on, then she falls into Nick’s arms.
There’s nothing wrong with contemptible TV characters, and an argument can be made that there’s everything right with them. (“Seinfeld” managed that feat over nine seasons, after all.) But the contempt can’t be the whole joke, which it mostly is here. At some point, you have to like something about Ethan, Max, Lisa, Nick, Marianne and Sam. At no discernible point is that even remotely possible.
And what has “Friends From College” done with Eichner? One of the most inventive TV comedians of the past decade has been turned into an inert bag of rocks on this series. One of the most inventive TV comedians in history — Keegan-Michael Key — has been turned into a jerk. That’s not just perverse but wrong.
This is a 10-episode series (I saw half) and with a cast as good as this (on paper, anyway), love could come in time, maybe even “like” — there are a few funny lines here and there. But too few of them, and too far in between, makes “Friends From College” that rare Netflix misfire.
BOTTOM LINE Keegan-Michael Key? Cobie Smulders? Billy Eichner? What’s not to like? Mostly this.