Friends from College is a Netflix original series created by Francesca Delbanco and Nicholas Stoller. Season One debuted in 2017 to mixed reviews but had enough fans (including this critic) to warrant a renewal. Season Two picks up a year after the end of the first season, as Max (Fred Savage) is about to get married, bringing the fractured group of friends back together again.
The comedy in this season is much more likely to be well-received. Whereas the first season was based primarily in broad raunchy humor, this season is more focused on creating relatable humor out of awkward situations. As a result, audiences are even more likely to connect with the characters and their experiences. There are still a few episodes that are heavy in the broader style of humor, such as the inevitable bachelor party episode, but for the most part, the comedy is more elevated.
This season also felt much deeper than the last. The show used quite a few metaphors and symbols that helped create a more profound connection with the story. None of them were particularly mind-blowing, but they didn’t feel like an afterthought, either. One of the most thought-provoking moments in the season comes in the first episode when a character compares the main conflict of the story to being sprayed by a skunk. “The woman always gets the stink,” she explains.
The most significant success of Friends from College is the chemistry between the actors. The relationship between the characters is extremely complex, and that is what makes the series interesting. Even though some characters, like Marianne, don’t have strong individual storylines, they are an integral part of the whole. It is the overall connection that really sells the story and the emotion therein.
Although the show features an ensemble cast, the main focus is on Ethan. The character is made to be much more likable and sympathetic this season. In the first season, he was the part of “us” that we all hated, but we know it is there. Some of that is still present, but he becomes a much more rounded character, with not just one, but many characteristics we can see in ourselves. Keegan-Michael Key is also far more subtle in this role than is usual for him, which is refreshing.
Lisa (Cobie Smulders) is perhaps the most complex character this season. Since Ethan is the de-facto protagonist, Lisa is, in turn, the de-facto antagonist. However, the show presents her in an ambiguous light, allowing the audience to make their own decisions regarding her. She has the most exciting storyline in the entire season and the one with the most twists. However, her new romantic interest, Charlie (Zack Robidas) is somewhat underdeveloped.
The most welcome change in the series, though, is that Max (Fred Savage) is given a much larger role to play. He becomes more than just the humorous sidekick to Ethan, allowing Savage to flex not only his comedic muscles, but his dramatic muscles too. Max’s love interest, Felix (Billy Eichner), is also given more to do in this season. It is refreshing to see both actors playing roles outside of their normal range, and they have great chemistry together.
That being said, the character Nick (Nat Faxon) does have a very disappointing arc this season. In the first few episodes, it seems like he is going to legitimately grow into a fuller, more interesting character, but this arc isn’t fully explored, and his more annoying traits remains constant. This largely fails if only because Faxon is miscast. It is hard to believe he would be an eternal playboy because he so often plays the lovable goof.
Overall, Season Two of Friends From College takes the foundation laid by its predecessor and expands upon it with tons of heart and humor. Fans and new viewers alike will be enchanted by the story.
Season Two of Friends from College debuts on Netflix on January 11. (All eight episodes were reviewed.)