There are some friendships you just can’t shake, even if they aren’t necessarily good for you. That’s the central premise behind Netflix’s Friends from College, a mature comedy with an all-star cast that’s not afraid of acting immature. It’s been 20 years since this tight-knit crew stormed the halls of Harvard, but they still know how to bring out the best and worst (honestly, it’s usually the worst) in each other.
Season 1 saw this sextet go through a whole lot of drama, mainly centered around the long-running affair between Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and Sam (Annie Parisse). Complicating matters even more, Ethan’s wife Lisa (Cobie Smulders) slipped up and slipped into bed with fellow Harvard bud Nick (Nat Faxon). It’s been a year and a half since all the adulterous tea was spilled in the Season 1 finale. How will that affect this now estranged group in Season 2? If the trailer is any indication, it’ll only make things more awkward.
With this tense reunion underway after taking 2018 off, Decider caught up with Friends from College co-creators and executive producers Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco to talk about what’s in store for the gang this time around. Have they grown up at all? What’s it like getting goofy in the most luxurious spots in New York City? And, most importantly, are centaurs the new werewolves?
Decider: We’re going into Season 2 of Friends from College. I know you both went to Harvard and the show is inspired, in part, on your college experience. Have any of your friends from college responded to Season 1?
Francesa Delbanco: Yes, as is true on the show, many of our closest, oldest, dearest friends are our friends from college. A lot of them have weighed in on the show and talked about their responses to it. In a kind of meta way, a lot of them are also in Hollywood, in the entertainment industry and in television, so they’ve talked to us about the critical responses to it.
Nicholas Stoller: It’s a good reflection of the themes of the show. Some of our friends from college have been supportive, some of them literally never saw it and won’t watch it for some reason we don’t understand. Some of them are overly-critical in a quote-un-quote “thoughtful” way.
Delbanco: Some of them we don’t know if they’ve watched it. There’s always this weird elephant in the room like, did you watch it? Did you like it? Did you not watch it?
Stoller: It’s like why we did the show was all these reactions you have with your old friends, whether they’re from high school or college.
What was your mission statement for the show going into Season 2? How did you want to differentiate it from Season 1?
Stoller: I think the first season is about how old friendships can be destructive and I think the second season is more about being honest and trying to be kind to each other. These characters are trying to be their best selves in the second season.
Delbanco: And why old friendships are worth salvaging, even when they have a deep history of strife within us.
Stoller: When we finished the first season, we were like, “If we get a second season we don’t want to just do more destructive stuff. We want to do something that’s more about why people can’t help but be pulled towards each other.”
You see that in Fred Savage’s character, Max, who is now engaged to Felix after their break-up last season. Why did you single out the Max and Felix relationship to be the most stable–or stable-ish–part of Season 2?
Delbanco: At the end of Season 1, they have had it with each other and are all going in separate directions. We felt like for Season 2 we needed an occasion that would bring everybody together. Max was the character who everyone had pretty good feelings about. No one is angry with Max, no one is on the outs with Max, no one has an axe to grind with him. So he seemed like the person that they would all feel beholden to attend his wedding. Nobody would be like, “I’m skipping that,” because they love him and he’s been nothing but good to all of them. So he seemed like the right person who everybody would come back together for.
Stoller: The fight he has with Felix in the first season would not end the relationship. It was basically like Max choosing his friends over his fiancé, which is a thing — especially as an adult — you’d be like, “What am I doing?” and correct that. It wasn’t some crazy thing that he had to overcome. It’s a sign of an ultimately successful relationship.
That break-up occurred during one of the show’s many destination episodes, the party bus one. There are a few other group trips in Season 2, specifically an episode in Atlantic City. How do you decide where you’re going to take the cast and are those episodes more difficult to pull off than the other ones?
Delbanco: We decide where to the take cast as long as it’s in the tax zone of our shooting credits. We would really like to take the cast to, like, London or the Sahara Desert or something but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards or the tax rebate zone. So there are some logistical reasons why we shoot where we shoot, but also the necessities of shooting we can’t do some huge travel thing.
But also, these characters live in New York City, their real lives take them to outside of New York City. When I lived in New York, those were the kind of places you would go. We could very easily imagine a Hamptons episode in the summer or something like that — the real life places you would go with your friends. As much as I love my friends, I haven’t gone to Europe with them, but we still do stuff like go away for the weekend.
Stoller: We like the show to feel like a movie, like it has scope to it. Both of those episodes — in addition to being in vineyards and casinos — had a comedy idea behind them, like one of them being “shitty vineyards in Long Island” and the other one being Atlantic City. So that aspect of it, too, is funny to us, I think.
Delbanco: They are fun to shoot, because it’s a little bit like camp. When you’re shooting [in New York], everybody’s together all the time, which is really fun, but at the end of the shoot everybody goes home to their apartments. But when you’re shooting on location that way, everybody’s staying in the same hotel and eating breakfast in the same room. It’s very fun, like camp.
You also use the landmarks in New York City really well. There’s a scene in Season 2 that takes place at the fountain outside Lincoln Center. That’s one of the most beautiful spots in New York City and the fact that you got it empty enough to shoot a comedy fight in, it adds a lot of production value.
Delbanco: I’m so glad you called that out, because that was the main crowning achievement of our production this summer and our shoot. We love to shoot at those iconic, glamorous, beautiful parts of New York, because what could be more fun and exciting? But it’s a balancing act for the show’s budget. That was a very expensive and involved place to shoot, so to do that we had to shoot a lot of scenes inside Marianne’s apartment, basically. It’s a logistical challenge and it’s a financial challenge, but we feel that it really pays off in the show to be able to see the steps of The Met in Season 1, or Central Park, or Lincoln Center; all of those places that you associate with New York and that feel romantic and dreamy.
Season 2 adds Sarah Chalke and Zack Robidas in major recurring parts. When you’re casting, what are you looking for in an actor that makes them fit the Friends From College vibe?
Stoller: This season we have Sarah Chalke and Zack Robidas and they were both just the only people who nailed the part, really. They had to be that rare combination of a good actor who is good at drama, but is also really funny, who is able to nail the comedy and bring their own weirdness to it. I think both the actors brought an originality, a spark to those characters, that really made those characters on the page really come alive.
Delbanco: Then there’s this special other thing, which is do they seem plausibly like they are from this exact milieu, you know what I mean? Not everybody feels, necessarily, like they would’ve gone to college with these guys. That’s fun in shooting, because some of these people have to be insiders. Like Sarah Chalke’s character went to college with the rest of them, but was “cooler” than they were in college. I mean, 25 years later, I’ll see someone who was cooler than I was in college and instantly go back to my teenage kind of fawning, desperate self. “You remember my name?” And then there are characters who are outsiders and who don’t seem exactly like they’re from the same milieu and the same kind of background and that’s also a thing with these characters. Zack’s character is the same enough for Cobie [Smulders]’ character to want to date him, but just a little too different for him to truly make the cut. And that’s this weird thing you just kind of feel and intuit in peoples’ performances.
Do you have any dream performers that you think would feel like they went to college with these characters?
Delbanco: We haven’t thought about that for a future season. Of course, there are a lot of people who could do it. It’s not a “only these people.”
Stoller: Ryan Gosling.
Delbanco: Just Ryan Gosling and Cardi B feels really of this world.
I have to ask about Ethan’s new artistic, literary endeavor in Season 2, the YA centaur novel Boy Horse. How much Boy Horse mythology did you or the writers come up with for this season?
Delbanco: It’s nonsense that we came up for this season that just appealed to us and would make our writers room laugh.
Stoller: There isn’t really any carefully-planned out show with thematic connections to Boy Horse. We just couldn’t stop riffing. I literally wrote a whole spec about centaurs. I love centaurs, I think they’re hilarious and it just seemed funny. It was a little bit of a set up in the first season for people who are fans of the show. This world of fantasy just seemed like a funny area for Keegan[-Michael Key] to be writing.
Delbanco: Especially for someone who fancies themselves this incredibly high-brow, literary fiction writer, to have to come to something that seems so silly.
Stoller: There was one thing that I would keep giving notes on and it was the Boy Horse [book] cover. That artwork, I kept having to be like, “The body of Hugh Jackman and the face of a boy.”
Delbanco: 90% of the creative energy this season went to that, particular thing.
I know Season 2 just came out, but I have to ask about a potential Season 3. Is there anything you’d like to do in a Season 3? And just in general, is there such thing as a happy ending for any of these characters?
Delbanco: I mean, we always feel like these characters’ essential nature is happy/sad and I don’t think they can escape that. I think that there will always be really funny joys that bring them together and that is the glue of their friendships, and the sadness of getting older and growing apart and all of the strife between them and just the sadness of their mortality. They won’t be able to escape that, any more than the rest of us. There are some things we’d like to do in Season 3 if we are lucky enough to get one.
Stoller: We’re really superstitious and don’t like to talk about what we wanna do. We’re just hoping we get a Season 3.
Delbanco: Yeah, it’s been such a dream to shoot this show, because like you said: we get to shoot in the most glamorous places in New York, with all these incredible, hilarious actors.
Stoller: Netflix is totally cool and hands-off. It’s just a really fun experience.
Delbanco: Yeah, it’s really fun.
Friends from College Season 2 is now streaming on Netflix.