‘Friends From College’ Creator on the ‘Divisive’ Reaction and Real-Life Friends
Netflix’s newest original, Friends From College, has certainly struck a chord with folks. Some are loving it, others, not so much. It’s not as polarizing as say, Girls, but it’s sure to incite feelings.
Starring an A-list ensemble and created by The Carmichael Show‘s Nick Stoller and wife Francesca Delbanco, the comedic drama kicks off with marrieds Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and Lisa (Cobie Smulders) moving from Chicago to New York, where they reunite with their old Harvard squad, including gay book agent Max (Fred Savage), trust-fund slacker Nick (Nat Faxon), still-struggling actress Marianne (Jae Suh Park) and Sam (Annie Parisse), now a married designer…and Ethan’s mistress of 20 years.
To say this group is messed-up would be an understatement. Each one has baggage and a penchant for bad life choices that is only exacerbated by their relationships with one another. It’s like The Big Chill crossed with undiagnosed ADHD—and that is not going to be for everyone. Here, Stoller opens up about the origins of Friends, the “divisive” response so far and seeing one show end as another begins.
OK, how many of these people are based on people in your real life, and how angry are they?
You know, when my wife and I started writing it years ago, it was more based on people we knew. Then we rewrote it and rewrote it and rewrote it and then recast it, and it’s no longer based on anyone. Some of the dynamics, which I hope and think are universal, are kind of based on our friendship dynamics, but there’s no specific “this person is this character” or “that person is this person.” I don’t think anyone in our world is having an affair, so…maybe they are, who knows. [Laughs]
So you are still close to your friends from college?
Oh, yeah. They’re like our family. I’ve lived in L.A. for a long time, but I don’t have any family there. I have a lot of old friends from college and they tend to be our family, for better or worse. Like when we’re around each other, there is this regression because people still think of you as the age you were when you met each other, versus where you are now.
Right, in the way Sam keeps calling Lisa “Froshy.” It was a compliment then, but now, she takes it offensively.
It’s kind of annoying but yeah…there were people who were two years older than me from college who I still feel like I should defer to when I see them because they were seniors when I was a sophomore. So it just seems like a funny, rich thing to explore in a TV show.
Friends really are the family we choose, but sometimes we choose wrong.
Yeah. We definitely delve into that, like, are these friendships destructive? Y’know, are they destructive and should this group part ways? But they’re also addicted to each other and addicted to nostalgia. I’m really interested in nostalgia like that. It’s a siren call to your past that cannot be totally healthy, but it also is one of those sorta fun times to talk about those things.
How did you wind up casting this? It’s just kinda like a dream team. You’ve got some of the funniest people…Fred Savage, I’ve never seen him this loose before!
We got very lucky with our cast. I’m friends with Fred through our kids, they go to the same school and so I became friends with him years ago actually. He’s hysterical. Then I was an EP on The Grinder, which he did. He’s also just a great guy and I like to work with people who are pleasant. We approached him early on to see if he would want to do this part and he was into it. Then we got Cobie, we got Keegan and it all kinda fell in place.
I need to thank you for getting Annie Parisse on this show because she is always so good.
Lisa was a hard part to cast. We had a lot of people come in and read for it and we had a lot of conversations in the writer’s room about that character because you want them to be relatable, which is a really hard thing to pull off as an character. You can just tell how conflicted Lisa is throughout the whole thing and even if you don’t like what she is doing, my hope is that you relate to her. Everyone has that person, you know, the one who got away or the person they had in college or high-school or in your early 20s that you wonder about. And this is someone who can’t let go of that person. And her husband (Greg German), he’s a strong guy and she loves hime, but he doesn’t care about these old friends of hers and she needs the drama and chaos of her old friends from back then.
Nat Faxon is also great…his character has one of the best lines after his tryst with one of the characters. It’s so raunchy and hilarious.
Yeah, he improvised that! He’s the funniest guy.
So I have to ask about the last episode. [Spoiler alert] Why have so much go wrong at Sam’s birthday party and position them all to be so estranged?
[What happens at the party] is a symbol of these friends literally destroying the idea of her becoming an adult or being a mature person. In addition, as we broke the season, we broke it like a four-hour movie, like “at the mid-point of the season, this has to happen and the end, this has to happen.” We thought that at the end of this ride, there’s just no way Ethan and Lisa’s marriage would be the same. It just couldn’t. Whether it starts to unravel from there or whether it’s just going to be that thing where it needs to fall apart to come together stronger, something needed to change.
I’ve read some reviews of Friends and got the feeling some of them don’t actually have a group of old friends to relate this to.
Right? I know. It’s way more divisive than I thought it was going to be. [Laughs] Like, doesn’t everyone have like old friendships—even if it’s not college—old high-school or old work friends that you’re just competitive with and have weird shit with? Every time I see a TV show where people are just nice to each other, I’m like that is not the reality I live in.
No. Time with my oldest friends is usually fun, but complicated and probably deeply unsettling to others. Exactly. I’ve had this experience twice. I’ve had it with my friends from college, then I had it when I worked on Undeclared, which was the Judd Apatow show about college. We were all sort of in our early 20s so it felt like college to a lot of us again. We became a tight group of friends—we’re still good friends, like Jennie Konner, Ali Rushfield and Seth Rogan—but when people from outside that group hung out with us, they hated it. They hated us. It was the exact same dynamic and it’s just like… I don’t know. It’s really funny. I don’t know. To me, it reflects reality.
You accomplished a ton with that [The Carmichael Show] as far as the conversations it started. How do you feel about that show coming to an end the way it did?
Thank you. Yeah, I mean, it’s sad that they canceled it. I’m probably speaking out of turn, but I don’t know if NBC really understood what the show was ever. Like they kept putting us on in the summer and there was over a year between our second and third seasons. I think it should have been paired with stuff like The Good Place but I don’t think that they understood what it was. But I’m still really proud of the work that Jerrod and all the writers did. Daniel Sanchez, who ran the show, was brilliant. I’m just really proud of it.
Friends From College, Now Streaming, Netflix