A lot of well-known TV comedies revolve around the idea that people who aren’t necessarily likable have lives and relationships worth sampling.
The problem with the dreadful “Friends From College” is not that its core characters are often selfish, deluded or uncaring; that is almost to be expected in the edgier realms of the vital half-hour scene. The show’s main issue is that it demonstrates little ability to create or deepen characters who are worth watching, despite their personal deficiencies.
Take away the solid jokes that underpin more mainstream sitcoms, and the entrancingly selfish characters that inhabit the better streaming half-hours, and you are left with “Friends from College,” which flails wildly and unsuccessfully in search of a reason to exist.
The title explains the premise of the show: Years after graduating from Harvard, a group of friends reconnect in New York City. Some of these men and women (who bring up Harvard a lot, in that charming way Harvard grads do) have been in touch over the years, though most are consumed by their careers (or lack thereof). Two of them are cheating on their spouses with each other, a fact revealed in the opening scene, and that appears to be a story strand layered in so that “Friends From College” can comment on the compromises of middle age.
But that relationship never gains the kind of depth it needs to be worth caring about, nor do any of the marriages offer anything but superficial glosses on the challenges of commitment. As the series opens — and then drags on and on — many scenes focus on the show’s overriding dynamic: A series of ongoing passive-aggressive battles regarding who has accomplished more since these one-dimensional “friends” left the Ivy League. If you define friendship as an anxiety-provoking, soul-sucking competition with striving acquaintances you never liked all that much, then “Friends From College” will be right up your alley.
The show does boast one major accomplishment: It somehow wastes a very talented and appealing array of actors. Keegan-Michael Key, Cobie Smulders, Fred Savage and Kate McKinnon are among those stranded inside this panicky muddle, which never really decides on a tone and rarely bothers with consistent characterization.
Once in a while, members of the cast are able to lend a poignant or bittersweet note to the proceedings. But far more often, they are asked to pitch their performances in gratingly large and loud ways. Everything is oversized in “Friends From College”: Characters scream, shout and gesture wildly, to the point that other people on screen repeatedly ask them to rein in their sweaty hyperactivity. This is also a show that thinks it’s hilarious to name a hedge fund run by nasty people “Blackstool” (because sometimes stool means poop, get it?).
All we can hope is that these actors graduate from this project, never to return.