Cast of Netflix’s ‘Friends from College’ Overshadowed By Uninspired Writing

The reason the novel “The Great Gatsby” resonated so much with readers is that it showed the dark underbelly of the decadence and opulence that characterized the Roaring ’20s. The era had written a huge tab that would eventually be called, and F. Scott Fitzgerald saw that grizzly truth almost four years before the Great Depression. With the new Netflix series “Friends from College,” we’re introduced to a group of friends who met in the ’90s, an era largely identified with characteristics like disillusionment and slackerdom. As the characters reminisce about the good ol’ days and lament the pall that formed over their adult lives, there’s not as much contrast as “The Great Gatsby.” It is impossible to build an additional remove when the starting point is apathy. Sadly, this is only the start of the tonal problems facing the series throughout its dismal eight-episode first season.

Give the cast credit. They are all talented, charming and doing their best. Whenever they appear together, they inject as much comedy and panache into their screen time as possible, cheerleading their way through the procession. But the sad truth is that even the dream team cast (Keegan-Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, Annie Parisse, Nat Faxon, Fred Savage, and Jae Suh Park) are rendered utterly useless in the face of terrible script writing.

Part of the problem is the ham-fisted attempts to insert comedy into normal interactions. For instance, there’s a scene where Key and Savage are discussing a potential book deal and playing tennis. None of their actual dialog is humorous, but the joke (or attempt thereof) is that every time they volley back and forth, each man ejaculates an absurd, Maria Sharapova-inspired grunt. A tennis instructor off to the side asks them to calm down, essentially acting as the comedic foil and voice of reason, but she may as well stand-in for the audience. Because this is just one instance of the comedy happening in spite of the material present, and the writing’s inability to create any humor within the actual plot makes the show frustratingly hard to watch at times.

“Friends from College” focuses on an abysmal, self-sabotaging community who only succeed in lying, gamesmanship, philandering and debauchery. The attempts at humor fall flat because their fun-loving (but ultimately aimless) group shenanigans are continuously undercut by the intense drama that’s rarely addressed and often ignored in favor of more wacky antics. All the clown makeup in the world couldn’t redeem these characters, and audiences will not find it easy to root for their self-interested manipulations just because they’re zany enough to throw some pizza on the ceiling. After a while, their complaints about their imperfect lives fall on deaf ears, because it doesn’t take a psychology degree to see that if they would stop being terrible, miserable people, they would quit inviting terror and misery into their lives.

Their complaints about their own insignificance also feel tone deaf because each character has a prestigious career – novelist, interior decorator, lawyer, doctor. The show’s most extreme example is Faxon’s character Nick, a trust fund baby who wiles his life away sleeping with women half his age, napping, and doing copious amounts of drugs. And he’s probably the most likable character. Their esteemed careers and dissonant complaints have the sum total of not making any sense in the context of the era the show references most. These people are too well-off and too self-absorbed to have even been touched by the great recession, one of the main touchstones for anyone who came of age in the ‘90s.

To revisit my opening argument: If this group of lackaday weirdos had lost their livelihoods in the Great Recession and been forced to buckle down and get serious in order to survive, there would have been the same unique tonal shift that characterized “The Great Gatsby.” Instead, we’re treated to pure indulgence draped in existential dread that arises from no conflict other than the one’s the characters could easily self-correct. It’s essentially a comedic idiot plot. This means that the show spends most of its time referencing an era it doesn’t really belong to, expounding all types of energy on nostalgia that feels unjustified. Likewise, the comedy is completely untethered to the situations at hand, and the very talented actors – despite their admirable efforts – find themselves adrift as well.

Friends from College premieres on Netflix July 14.