It’s been two years since the Netflix original Friends From College premiered. It received tepid reviews and a lacklustre response from audiences, yet there was an undeniable draw to it. Now the show’s second season has just dropped and while the response has been more positive, it’s been flying well under the shadow of more talked about shows. But that’s ok. Critics may still not warm to it, but there’s something about it that makes it endlessly bingeable.
Created by the husband and wife team of Nicholas Stoller (Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Neighbors) and Francesca Delbanco, the show sees long time college friends fumbling their way through adulthood in New York City. Their lives are headlined by long-term affairs, job struggles, terrible relationships and a general unlikeability to their characters. It’s like Friends, except none of them are good people.
In fact, they are awful people. And that’s a big part of what makes the show really good.
It’s all conveniently highlighted in the recap of the first season. A long-term affair has destroyed a marriage and the fallout continues to underline the relationship they all have with each other. Watch the recap as a preamble to the second season and it is easy to remember why you love and loathe these characters so much.
The cast is superb- Cobie Smulders, Keegan-Michael Key, Annie Parisse, Nat Faxon, Jae Suh Park and Fred Savage- and while the characters they play are terrible, they are fantastic.
So what is it about watching bad people that is so rewarding? Surely its more than just a case of schadenfreude? It’s not like we don’t have many bad people on screen. But unlike the terrible people on The Good Place, Friends from College makes it clear that by the end of the run, there’s very little chance of redemption. Shows like The Good Place push the idea bad people can someday be good, and that there is an inherit goodness to humanity. Friends from College does no such thing. In fact, the characters redemptions are as short-lived as a Twitter account that goes from “#metoo” one tweet to dick pic DMs the next.
To make these characters even worse, none of them are even remotely concerned about bettering themselves, the world or society. In a time where a show with a social agenda is rewarded with praise and plaudits, the people we see in Friends from College really don’t care about anyone else but themselves, and it’s honestly quite refreshing. (Actually, this show IS a lot like Friends).
Maybe as audiences go, there’s just a lot of us that like bad people on screen, regardless of how important or unimportant they are to the television landscape. Maybe good people are just really boring, and the not-so-great people of Friends from College resonate so much because in the end, the majority of people in society are just like them.
What is inherently rewarding about a show with bad people? Is it the show’s “nineties-ness” where everyone on screen is beautiful? Is it the smartly written sardonic humour and the fact that it plays Ben Folds Five’s “Brick” and Radiohead’s “High And Dry” at the right times? Maybe it’s just that in a time where everyone is trying to be good all the time, it’s nice to watch a bunch of relatable people on TV that couldn’t give a fuck about anyone other than themselves. So maybe we don’t have to either.