Entertainment

'Friends From College,' 'Loaded' seek laughs in bonds of friendship

Posted July 13

Testing friendship through the trials of adulthood -- including infidelity and sudden wealth -- is at the heart of two new series, Netflix's "Friends From College" and AMC's British import "Loaded." Both have their moments, but amid a crowded sea of premium comedy wind up feeling nearly as generic as their titles.

"Friends From College" boasts a particularly good cast, and has the more "Friends"-like feel. The show focuses on a half-dozen New York friends who met at Harvard two decades ago and have remained close -- in some cases, a little too close.

That's the show's central tension, in fact, in the form of Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and Sam (Annie Parisse), who have been carrying on a 20-year affair. Never mind that they're both married to other people -- her to a wealthy older chap ("Ally McBeal's" Greg Germann), him to a slightly younger former classmate (Cobie Smulders), with whom he's trying to have a baby.

The "whole friend group," to borrow a term one of them uses, spends an inordinate amount of time together, and the relationships are complicated in other ways. Literary agent Max (Fred Savage), for example, is trying to help Ethan sell a book, while Marianne (Jae Suh Park) is aware of the affair, a bit of knowledge that's eating away at her. Then there's Nick (Nat Faxon) known for his womanizing ways, the Peter Pan who won't grow up.

It's a very strong ensemble, and the writing (the show was created by husband-and-wife team Nicholas Stoller and Francesca Delbanco) yields some amusing sequences, such as scouring the mail to intercept a potentially embarrassing citation for "public fornication." But the show doesn't have much narrative momentum, which makes the eight episodes at times feel slightly disconnected, including a trip to a wedding featuring a semi-gratuitous cameo by Seth Rogen, who Stoller directed in "Neighbors" and its sequel.

Netflix has exhibited ample skill in making its series seem like a very modern version of must-binge TV. Yet aside from the key players, "Friends From College" -- despite its Ivy League pedigree -- gets by with at best passing grades.

"Loaded," meanwhile, offers what amounts to another side of "Silicon Valley," with four friends who become mega-millionaires by selling their videogame start-up for $300 million. Over four previewed episodes, however, this product of the U.K.'s Channel 4 feels less like a British version of the HBO show than a poor-man's knockoff.

The premiere gets off to an energetic start, as the buddies revel in their new-found riches by hiring a barbershop quartet to sing foul-mouthed songs to those who wronged them. Asked what they've spent their money on, the de facto leader Leon (Samuel Anderson) replies, "Vengeance."

After a while, though, the exultant excess -- from champagne baths to extravagant purchases -- begins to fade, and the group has to get down to how they deal with their new tax status, as well as interference from their owner (Mary McCormack), who is eager to demonstrate who's boss and clearly represents somebody's idea of an ugly corporate American, unwilling to tolerate their laissez-faire management style.

While the bond among the guys has potential, the material dealing with how their lives have suddenly changed simply isn't as clever as one would hope. Nor do their eccentricities wear particularly well.

Questioned about their roles within the company, one of the gang responds, "Everybody thinks they're the brains." "Loaded" does exhibit its share of heart, but as for brains, well, it could use a few more of them.

"Friends From College" premieres July 14 on Netflix. "Loaded" premieres July 17 at 10 p.m. on AMC.

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