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Millennials Stare Down Looming Midlife in Friends from College

A new generation faces the familiar dilemmas.

'Friends from College''Friends from College,' NetflixFriends from College. Available now on Netflix.

Nothing jingles at the box office like that first intimation of generational mortality. From the wistful yuppies in The Big Chill mourning the loss of their Woodstockian certainty that property is theft to the crushed Gen-Xers of St. Elmo's Fire who've just realized that the baby boomers already said, thought, did, ate, drank, smoked and fornicated everything worthwhile, age-demographic genocide is one of Hollywood's best loved themes.

And now time's up for the millennials, who with Netflix's new series Friends from College get to marvel at the squalid failure of their lives while weeping with nostalgia for 9/11, the dot-com bubble and all the other deliciously dope days of their youth.

But as clichés go, you could do a lot worse than Friends from College. It mostly avoids portentous "Voice of a Generation" claptrap and sticks to a character-driven story of six college pals who for 20 years have clung to a dysfunctional friendship that's less a lifeboat than a pocketful of lead weights. If the tagline for The Big Chill was, "In a cold world, you need your friends to keep you warm," Friends from College's might be, "You need your friends to remind you that, though the world has grown, you're still the same shallow, emotionally stunted dork you were as a teenager."

At the center of the phalanx of six pushing-40 Harvard alumni is Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key, Key and Peele), a novelist whose work is wildly popular with critics and ruthlessly shunned by readers. His move to New York with his wife and fellow alum Lisa (Cobie Smulders, How I Met Your Mother), a former ACLU lawyer who has just jumped ship to the corporate dark side, reunites the circle of friends—but also threatens to surface some damaging secrets in a group that imagines it has none.

The most threatening is Ethan's long-running but totally clandestine affair with upper-crust interior designer Sam (Annie Parisse, Vinyl), which predates even his marriage. Almost as complicated is Ethan's relationship with another member of the group, Max (Fred Savage, The Wonder Years), who doubles as his agent. Their friendship has, until now, kept Max from saying what he really thinks of Ethan's flock of literary awards: "You won a ton of shit that one's ever heard of." He advises Ethan to give on writing the Great American Novel and turn to young-adult books. Specifically: "Vampires with cancer. They live forever, they die forever!"

Rounding out the group are Marianne, (Jae Suh Park, The Mindy Project) an aspiring actress who has just hit the apogee of her career with a role in a waaaaaay off-Broadway (specifically, in a high-school gym) reverse-gender production of A Streetcar Named Desire, and Nick (Nat Faxon, Married), a trust-fund playboy whose major concern in life is the impending demise of the C-word.

"When they came for 'retard,'" I said, 'that's okay,'" he broods over a drink. "When they came for 'that's so gay,' I said nothing. But you gotta draw the line—you can't take away 'cunt'!"

Superficially, the interactions among these characters often concern the here and now, particularly the concerns of impending middle age from infertility to infidelity. But often they seemed to be literally continuing arguments from sophomore year, as when one yells, out of the blue, "You are such a Kantian!" during an argument over a dead rabbit. (Don't ask.)

And nearly always they seem to take place within harsh emotional and intellectual parameters established 20 years earlier. Sighs Sam's exasperated husband, who didn't go to Harvard, after one dinner: "Every time you get together with them, you all become a bunch of little bitches, all this sniping and shoving." And the petty backbiting has taken a toll over the decades, among other thing, in unasked question like: What's lacking in my marriage that has fueled a 20-year-affair? And why hasn't my spouse sensed anything wrong in all that time?

That's not to imply Friends from College is merely prickly bitchfest. The cast is far too talented to let that happen, particularly Key, who breaks away from his sketch-comedy characterizations for a complex—and yet still very funny—lead role. And the script, when it's going for laughs, is absolutely riotous. The scenes taking place in the frat-boy bullpen at Lisa's new hedge fund office—favorite on-going prank: during conversations with SEC compliance officers, they mute their end of the call, then drop trou and rub their junk on the phone—are pee-your-pants hilarious.

But even when Friends from College is being funny, there's a certain ominous backbeat to the show, a sense of stifled voices, bitten tongues, lives unlived. Like those vampires in Ethan's unwritten vampires, these people have been dying forever. And eventually, one of them is going to kick open the lid on their coffin.

Photo Credit: 'Friends from College,' Netflix

Contributing Editor Glenn Garvin is the author of Everybody Had His Own Gringo: The CIA and the Contras and (with Ana Rodriguez) Diary of a Survivor: Nineteen Years in a Cuban Women's Prison. He writes about television for the Miami Herald.

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  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    St. Elmo's Fire is 1985. I don't think that's a representative Gen X movie, as the youngest Gen Xers were turning one at that point.

    Also, I am getting sick of Keegan-Michael Key's shit.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Also, I think Mad Dogs is a better Millenial coming of age story.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    I don't think that's a representative Gen X movie, as the youngest Gen Xers were turning one at that point.

    Would is a better replacement? Singles? Reality Bites? Empire Records? Chasing Amy?

    Also, I am getting sick of Keegan-Michael Key's shit.

    You hate talent?

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    *What* not would. Jeepers.

  • Dillinger||

    >>>Singles? Reality Bites? Empire Records? Chasing Amy?

    jeebus if those are the representative films I want out of genX...ick

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    Feel free to substitute your own choices. Also, how dare you.

  • Dillinger||

    I love Bridget Fonda and all (Jackie Brown), but Singles was only good for the 3 minutes Alice In Chains was performing. the other three should never be mentioned again in any forum.

    all the 80s movies (Hughes, etc.) were high-school based, not so much "coming of age"...it's tough to find an in-between...I'll work on it.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    I chose Gen X movies, and the Kevin Smith/Ben Affleck combination was fun back in the 90s, especially if sultry Joey Lauren Adams was involved.

  • Dillinger||

    I think Amy is the only Smith movie I didn't care for...Clerks, Mallrats, Dogma etc. I loved.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    You are the Zeb of movies.

  • Dillinger||

    sweet. gotta be the Zeb of something.

  • Zeb||

    Chasing Amy wasn't my favorite, but I liked it well enough.

    So, am I the worst now that Nicole has been murdered by Episiarch (or whatever it is that happened)?

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    No, no, no, no, no, you are not the worst - far from it, and I am pretty sure I am far worse than you will ever be - you just epitomize bad taste.

  • Rhywun||

    I love Chasing Amy, more than his others even. And not because of Joey Lauren Adams, who is kind of annoying. But I never thought of it as a Gen-X movie because I was almost 30 when it came out. *shrug*

  • Dillinger||

    >>>Joey Lauren Adams, who is kind of annoying

    she's the bane of existence of my SO...the hatred is cute

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    And not because of Joey Lauren Adams,

    But you're an old queen, so you don't count. For a few years those earlier Kevin Smith movies may be, in a way, Gen X's "coming of age" films.

  • Rhywun||

    I defy any straight man to close his eyes and tolerate that for more than 10 minutes.

    Yeah, Clerks is pretty damn Gen X.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    I defy any straight man to close his eyes and tolerate that for more than 10 minutes.

    I am too rational to even dream of such vocal delights.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    Slackers is the film I think of first usually. Perhaps its too specific to be representative.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    I want out of genX

    Now you are thinking like a libertarian.

  • Azathoth!!||

    The youngest Gen Xer's were turning 1? In 85? What?

    Gen X started somewhere between 1960 and 1965 depending on the person defining the generation--

    "Generation X, or Gen X, is the demographic cohort following the baby boomers and preceding the Millennials. There are no precise dates for when Generation X starts or ends; demographers and researchers typically use starting birth years ranging from the early-to-mid 1960s and ending birth years ranging from the late 1970s to early 1980s."

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Thanks for proving my point. That's what you were trying to do, right?

  • Dillinger||

    he totally did...

  • Zeb||

    I always thought that Gen-X was supposed to end around 1980.

    Not that it matters or means anything.

  • SIV||

    That's why Gen-X is so demographically small. Their generation was over when the oldest member turned 15.

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    People date millennials back to about 1982 now.

  • Crusty Juggler - Double Great||

    "You need your friends to remind you that, though the world has grown, you're still the same shallow, emotionally stunted dork you were as a teenager."

    SO!

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I love navel-gazing. It is the only thing I can do well.

  • Chipper Morning, Now #1||

    Innie or outie?

  • BestUsedCarSales||

    I can make it either depending on what I'm arguing that day.

  • Dillinger||

    "pee your pants hilarious" should be reserved.

  • Bill Adams||

    for morons? already is.

  • Old Monkey||

    Gen-Xers are correct early baby boomers already said, thought, did, ate, drank, smoked and fornicated everything worthwhile, leaving a mess for others to clean up. Early baby boomers grabbed the ladder they climbed, preventing advancement for others; first lying, then chiding and ridiculing those not in the "cat bird seat" they were lucky enough to sit in by circumstance, to stay on top at the expense of others. Many deliberately sacrificing their siblings, and even their children in attempt to preserve the artificial economic and "social superiority" they created for themselves. Once realizing everyone knew "The King is Naked" dressed in his own delusion, the John Kerry and Bill Clinton Boomers by any means necessary, do anything to stay relevant, and on top.

  • Bill Adams||

    Hmm. Went to college in late 90s and uses -- no matter how incorrectly -- the word "Kantian?" Good to know these things are still written by people at least a generation older.

  • CE||

    It mostly avoids portentous "Voice of a Generation" claptrap and sticks to a character-driven story of six college pals who for 20 years have clung to a dysfunctional friendship that's less a lifeboat than a pocketful of lead weights.

    I liked this better when it was called "Friends".

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