Words by Louise Busfield
Nicolas Stoller brings his hilarious genius to the small screen this July in the form of Netflix original Friends From College. The cast and crew give us their take on the brand new comedy series….
Set in New York City, the show follows a group of friends that met while attending Harvard almost two decades ago. As their careers and personal lives undergo major changes, they discover their friendships may not stay the same, either.
“They’re still doing a thing that people really do all the time, which is struggling to figure out, ‘What do we still have in common?’” says Keegan-Michael Key. “And that’s what I think separates it from other shows. (It) doesn’t ring true when people are just like, ‘We’ve been friends for 25 years, and nothings changed.’”
Known for directing, writing and producing character-driven comedies, Friends from College marks Stoller’s first Netflix project. The series is also somewhat autobiographical for Stoller and Delbanco, who both attended Harvard University.
“I think that there is a sort of universal idea to a group of people who you’ve known forever, and they love you with all of your messiness and flaws – but that also makes you want to kill them, because they can remember that and access it at any time,” Delbanco says.
Cobie Smulders says the series offers an “amazing combination of real-life drama combined with hilarious moments.” And indeed, while the show’s humour is aimed at adults, so are the very real subjects it tackles, from infidelity to infertility to, well, crippling immaturity.
“The show is so hilarious and also heartbreaking. Its characters are noble and, like, horrifically immoral, and I think that’s what makes the show so interesting and so funny,” says Annie Parisse.
Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele, Fargo) plays Ethan Turner, a struggling and neurotic writer who has recently moved to New York from Michigan with his wife, Lisa (Cobie Smulders). On top of trying to pen a successful novel and conceive a child, Ethan is holding on to a pretty big secret: his ongoing 20-year affair with Sam (Annie Parisse), another college friend.
“He feels lots of ambivalence and lots of guilt pretty much all the time,” says Key. “He and his wife have a good relationship, but clearly, there’s something pulling at him; he’s not getting something from her that he gets from this other woman.”
Fans of Key’s sketch comedy will appreciate his versatility on the series, which showcases his comedic and dramatic skills.
“He does such amazing impressions of people, and I think that’s kind of what he’s known for, but he’s also such a great dramatic actor,” says Smulders. “This show is giving him the opportunity to showcase both: to do these wild comedic moments and then have some really intimate scenes.”
As Lisa Turner, Cobie Smulders (How I Met Your Mother, the Avengers films) plays a scrupulous, hard-working lawyer who’s trying to start a family and adjust to her new, higher-paying job.
“She worked for the ACLU and now has sort of sacrificed her beliefs to work for a firm in New York that’s run by terrible people,” says Smulders.
Lisa relies on her college friends for support, but they don’t always give her what she needs and so she occasionally regress back to the days when she was dubbed “Froshy” for being a few years younger than the rest of them.
Actress of stage and screen, Annie Parisse (Law & Order, The Following, Broadway’s Prelude to a Kiss) plays Sam, a successful interior designer who is hiding her affair with Ethan from her husband (played by Greg Germann).
“She’s got the perfect job. She’s really successful. She’s married to a great guy who also happens to be insanely rich. She has two adorable children,” says Parisse, adding, “Everything looks awesome on the surface, and broiling underneath is kind of a hot mess.”
“When we saw Annie’s first audition, we were like, ‘That’s exactly what we’re talking about.’ She’s just casual and funny and … charming as hell,” says Delbanco.
While Sam and Ethan pledge to end their affair when he moves to New York, the promise is short-lived.
“They have a raw passion for each other, but they also enjoy each other’s company,” Key says. I think that Sam made Ethan, when he was younger, feel vibrant and confident.”
While Friends from College will appeal to a variety of viewers, it may resonate most with those who are around the same age as its characters.
“It’s a moment that a lot of people feel like they are choosing between their dreams and growing up,” explains Delbanco. “The other thing about this age that interested us is it is an age where you feel like the things that defined your youth are kind of slipping away from you a little bit. You don’t want them to be gone from your life forever, but how is that gonna work now?”
These dilemmas play out in different ways among the group, whether it’s by sabotaging relationships, making major career changes or simply refusing to be a grownup at all.
“This is definitely a comedy that looks at what it is to be a grownup and how you reconcile that with how you were and what you thought you’d be,” adds Savage. “It allows us to see how their the friendships have enhanced their lives, but also how their friendships have held their lives back.”
Friends From College is available to watch exclusively on Netflix now.