All that being said, I understand if you’re still tempted to watch “Friends From College.” At just eight, half-hour episodes, and with all those great stars populating the cast — plus a few key cameos — the temptation to try it out seems harmless. That very well may be for some viewers, except it’s hard to imagine anyone not being upset by the ending. So for those of you who want to be fully prepared — to embrace the minor joys provided by the cast and set the story aside — here come the spoilers.
[Editor’s Note: The end of this review contains spoilers for “Friends With College.”]
For all the minor plots tossed around “Friends From College,” the major through-line is Ethan and Lisa’s marriage. An entire episode is devoted to the final IVF shot and what the struggle to procure it says about their marriage, but the entire first episode is based around the legitimate feelings in Ethan and Sam’s affair. We are asked to invest in both relationships, again and again, without every understanding why.
Complex affairs are a reality of life and on-screen characters shouldn’t be defined by their partners. But if we’re going to watch a destructive affair take place, we need to learn about how it affects these individuals. We need to know why they’re doing it, and “Friends From College” never makes that clear. Ethan loves Sam. He really does. He also really loves Lisa. And she really loves him. And Lisa really loves Sam, who really loves Ethan, too. But their guilt makes it clear this is unsustainable, even though the show keeps it going far beyond the recommended expiration date.
This brings us to the final episode: After spending three-and-a-half hours watching Ethan promise to end it, then Sam saying it’s over, and then both of them going back to each other, it seems we’ve reached the secret’s ultimate unveiling. Everyone is going to find out at Sam’s birthday party.
But they don’t. It never comes up. Instead, Lisa tells Ethan that she slept with Max, which literally just happened a day prior for inexplicable reasons of their own. (Max and Lisa’s dating history feels like the laziest last-minute exposition dump in recent memory, as well as a way to beat us over the head with the dated idea that men and women can’t actually be friends: “They’ve been talking, you guys! So of course they’re going to sleep together!”) Ethan is so relieved that Lisa doesn’t know about his affair he immediately forgives her, and then we’re meant to feel sorry for him because his book deal falls through.
So, to sum up: Ethan, the man who’s been cheating on his wife while they’ve been spending upward of $30,000 trying to get pregnant, is made to be the woe-is-me figure at the end of the show because his new novel has to be re-written. Moreover, everyone else gets the guilt off their chest, but he’s still harboring it. His secret is still the core plot-driver of the show, meaning Season 2 (if it gets picked up) will still be about this guy cheating on his wife.
Call me old-fashioned, but I’d rather watch a comedy where I can laugh with the funny folks on screen, not cringe at their catastrophic choices.
“Friends From College” is streaming now on Netflix.