While the world is still rejoicing that Netflix spent $100 million to keep “Friends” for another year, there is a much better, funnier and painfully underrated show that no one is talking about, and its second season just came out.
The Netflix original, “Friends from College,” a comedy series dealing with the strains of adulthood which premiered last summer, returned for a second season in January with more self-deprecating humor and less happy-go-lucky friendship than the first.
The season pulls us into the aftermath of the group falling out, a year after finding out that two of their friends, Sam and Ethan, were having an affair — for decades. Each character is still dealing with their own problems, such as struggling to get pregnant, trying to write a book or planning a wedding, all played out with comedic grace.
The facade of happiness is gone for the group of middle aged friends as a result of revealed affairs within the circle. The carefree laughter we’d gotten used to has been replaced by cutting jokes at the expense of each other and a sense of uncertainty: Can their friendship survive the strain of adulthood? Is it better if it doesn’t?
It all sounds very “Lifetime-y,” with the adultery and romantic flings, which is why it’s impressive that creator and executive producer Nicholas Stoller is able to make it so enjoyable rather than cringy and predictable. It also helps that the cast is so fun to watch — where else can you get Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Savage and Nat Faxon performing with imaginary instruments at a funeral wake?
It’s also weirdly comforting to watch the show as a college student, imagining what you’ll be like 20 years down the road. Hopefully with a wardrobe like Sam and a somewhat put together life and relationship like Max and Felix (Billy Eichner).
Yes, you’re watching a group of well-off Harvard graduates go through their midlife crises, and yes, it is annoying that most of them never seem to be working (unless it’s suddenly convenient for the plot), but you’re actually able to sympathize and relate to the characters.
Stoller doesn’t try to make every character likeable and he doesn’t rely on cliché stereotypes and catchphrases for you to relate to someone. Everyone is fully formed, with their own issues and unique traits and you don’t need to like or even enjoy all of them. There’s no villain, but you’re certainly validated to be annoyed by some of the characters, then rooting for them an episode later — no wait we’re annoyed by them again, okay we like them again. Just like real friends, right?
The characters are complicated and deal with their problems, stumbling and constantly second guessing themselves, just like the rest of us. You don’t really hate Sam and Ethan for cheating on their spouses; you empathize with them as they try to cope with their guilt and do the right thing. You might even start rooting for them when you see the actual chemistry Key and Annie Parisse have together.
While the show opts for a more serious tone in its second season, it’s done subtly and doesn’t try to be something it’s not. There are moments just like the first season that make you ache for the characters, but this time it’s not undermined by simultaneous attempts at humor anymore. When Lisa is struggling to have a baby, you’re allowed to feel her sadness. There’s no elaborate scheme to break into a clinic for a vial of hormones this time.
The show doesn’t forget its humorous roots, though. There are few attempts at humorous gags, but most of the comedy comes from the characters’ ability to laugh at themselves and their situations, and it’s reassuring to watch. It’s as if the show were telling you, “Life is going to kick your ass sometimes, but you might as well laugh while it’s happening.”
The friends use humor to cope, but it doesn’t feel forced when they all make jokes at each other’s expense. It’s the best portrayal I’ve seen of a group of friends just hanging out and enjoying the company, and it’s one of the funniest shows I’ve seen in a long time.
Although it doesn’t have a huge following, hopefully more people will catch on and give the show a chance, so I can spend more time with my “Friends from College.”