How long should you stay friends with your friends from college? This is a question you might be asking yourself after watching the new Netflix series, Friends from College, which follows three men and three women twenty years after they graduate from Harvard University.
This is not a show about remaining close with one or two people from your freshman dorm. The characters actually describe themselves as a “friend group”—a married couple, a married woman, a single woman, a gay guy and a straight guy—a single unit that has a great deal of trouble accepting outsiders. Indeed, one might reasonably conclude that it is the persistence of the group itself that is preventing its members from reaching adulthood.
The characters, as you might expect from their Ivy League pedigrees, have all made good careers for themselves and/or married well. The one woman who is still performing bad theater in high school gyms seems to be otherwise employed and able to afford a nice brownstone. Their problems are purely personal ones.
Ethan (played by Keegan-Michael Key) is having an affair with Sam (Annie Parisse) because, well, they’ve been fooling around regularly since they were in college. Nothing about the fact that either of them got married more than a decade ago has put a halt to their antics. In one conversation it becomes clear that both of them make a distinction between actual cheating and cheating with each other. I don’t know how frequently such extramarital couplings occur in real life but the friends-with-benefits relationships that go on for years certainly make it more difficult for people to get into strong committed relationships and stay in them. And all enlightened married people are forced to accept that their spouses have close friendships with people of the opposite sex and oftentimes their ex-boyfriends and girlfriends.
The people who offer a sensible perspective on the destructiveness of this friend group are those outside it, but they are generally portrayed as socially awkward or not very kind. Felix (Billy Eichner) tells his boyfriend Max (Fred Savage) that his friends are “stuck in some twenty-year time warp” and that they are “f—king pathetic.” But Felix, a successful, handsome doctor has no bedside manner and is always made to seem like a selfish killjoy. So we don’t have to listen.
Meanwhile Sam’s husband (Greg Germann) is seen as self-absorbed because he can’t remember all of the names of (let alone details regarding the careers of) the members of the friend group, despite, presumably meeting them many times over the years. He tells his wife that he doesn’t care about these people and at first she seems shocked, but when he says that its their life together—his and hers and their children—that matters, she is at least somewhat chastened.
The characters in Friends from College are not quite guilty of putting off their lives the way many of their generation have done. The married ones married before they were thirty, which is becoming more unusual in their socioeconomic group. But Ethan and his wife Lisa have waited a long time to start having children. Well, that’s not quite true. She got pregnant many years ago but had an abortion because they weren’t ready for kids. Now, at the age of thirty-seven, the two are forced to spend $30,000 on fertility treatments. If there is a more graphic depiction on screen of the injections that a woman must endure for this purpose, I haven’t seen it yet.
The best metaphor for the group is probably the “party bus” they rent to take a wine tasting tour of the North Fork of Long Island. It seems like such a fun idea—a way to relive their youth and start things anew. But like everything else the friend group does, it ends badly, messily, and seems only to push them further away from real life and real happiness.