Sitting down to watch some preview episodes of Friends from College last week, I should readily admit my expectations were low. I wanted it to work given its fantastic cast which played to so many people's tastes; Keegan-Michael Key - one half of Comedy Central's hilarious duo Key and Peele, Cobie Smulders from How I Met Your Mother - a show which had its ups and downs but was sitcom gold when it got it right. Fred Savage. Fred Savage! It's Kevin from the goddamn Wonder Years, we loved him already. Billy Eichner from Parks and Recreation and well, some other folk we kind of recognised along with the dude from Ally McBeal.
So yeah, the cast was golden on paper, but the reviews! Friends from College has been taken to the cleaners by a lot of critics with a level of vitriol that is almost comical. We're talking Ed Sheeran showing up in Game of Thrones level of hate, and we're here to tell you that it really isn't all that bad.
It's written by Nicholas Stoller and his wife Francesca Delbanco, the former known for the likes of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbours and Get Him to the Greek. It was this that caused my hesitation as these movies are, well, fine, but ultimately this actually helped me to like Friends from College because as with those movies, I went into it expecting a lot of silly laughs from adults who should really know better, and well, that's what I got.
As the title lets you know, it's about a bunch of thirty/forty-somethings who were all close friends back in their days at Harvard, and thanks to the return of the group's couple, Ethan and Lisa, have all started hanging out together again and very easily slide back into their old dynamic... and it's not a good look.
We know from the get go that Ethan is having an affair with Sam which already pegs them off as unfavourable characters and honestly, a major problem with the show is that it just never seems to sit well that marital infidelity is used as a source of humour with these characters, particularly when from the outset Ethan and Lisa seem perfectly happy with one another. Except of course for their fertility problem that leads the couple into IVF treatment serving up what was probably the best episode of the lot as somehow the show manages to get across the utter despair and frustration the treatment can bring but also allowing for laughs too. It was a reminder that if the writers weren't so busy making us hate all these characters, we would actually happily root for them.
Saying that, our judgement of them is echoed in the eyes of the fantastic Billy Eichner who plays Max's partner Felix and manages to cut through all the BS at times pointing out just how unsuccessful at adulting this lot are. It may have hit Max hard when Felix broke up with him after the wine tasting/adult spring break, but it hurt more to watch the show's best character walk away.
A close second favourite would be Max himself, and it was great to see Fred Savage put himself in front of the camera after years spent behind it directing and producing. It was actually Nicholas Stoller that persuaded the former child star to return to acting with his show The Grinder, and initially, Fred only met with Nick as their kids went to school together. Thankfully, he succeeded in also roping him into Friends from College as his character Max managed to nab some of the best lines while him and Keegan-Michael Key have a natural comedy chemistry together.
The cameos come thick and fast too, with Kate McKinnon stopping by to play an eccentric young adult author with a man slave, Seth Rogen is a former class clown turned divorced doctor and Chris Elliot shows up as the mentalist stirring the pot at the end. All of whom proved entertaining enough but very much seemed like the token cameos they were.
Still, Friends from College does provide some good laughs as long as you are not expecting any kind of real explanation for why these characters are behaving the way they are. You may not like them all but the whole dynamic of their 'friend group', as they call themselves, may prove a nice reminder of the craic you have with your own band of misfit mates you've known since the beginning of time. There are some belter songs in there but the music choice is labouring a little too hard on the "we know you grew up in the eighties/nineties so here's our 'Best Of' playlist". Everything from The Stone Roses to Oasis to even Mmmbop are thrown in. We see what you are doing Friends From College - a satellite from space could see what you're doing.
For all its faults, and clearly, there are plenty, a couple episodes into Friends From College and I couldn't help but like it, perhaps it appealed more to my sense of humour, maybe it was just my low expectations or maybe it was this insanely muggy heat affecting my brain cells. However, nearing the end, the laughs did begin to wane, and the likes of Ethan's goofy accents that entertained in the first couple episodes, like his friends, I began to find irritating now.
However, at just eight half-hour episodes, we'd prescribe giving Friends from College a four-hour hangover binge-watch some weekend and then, like so many of your actual friends from college, forget they ever existed.