NEW YORK, N.Y. – The way they were laughing and horsing around during interviews, you’d think Cobie Smulders, Fred Savage and Nicholas Stoller really were “Friends From College.” Instead, that’s the title of their new Netflix comedy, which debuted Friday.
Fact is, Smulders — still best known for “How I Met Your Mother” despite appearing as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill in several incarnations of the Marvel “Avengers” series — never attended college.
The Vancouver native registered at the University of Victoria. Her original plan was to become a marine biologist, but after modelling through high school she was bitten by “the acting bug.”
Smulders was just 22 when she landed the role as Canadian-born reporter Robin Scherbatsky on “How I Met Your Mother.” The CBS comedy enjoyed a nine-season run that ended in 2014.
Her new role, as Lisa on “Friends From College,” calls on the 35-year-old actress to be the junior member of a group of Harvard chums. Holding onto friendships while heading into their 40s — despite one or two serious obstacles — is the premise of this edgy new comedy.
The first episode finds Lisa and her husband Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) moving to New York and reuniting with the rest of the gang. Trouble is, Ethan has been carrying on a long distance affair — since college — with successful designer Sam (Annie Parisse). Sam’s actress friend Marianne (Jae Suh Park) is tired of keeping the adulterous couple’s secret. Meanwhile, literary agent Max (Fred Savage) has to give his buddy Ethan the bad news about his latest book. Nick (Nat Faxon) is the gang’s slacker pal.
Sam’s businessman husband (guest star Greg Germann) is detached enough to see this group in all their petty, competitive glory.
Executive producer and writer Stoller directed all eight first-season episodes. Smulders says the London native was the main reason she signed on for the series.
“I just really love his work. I’m a fan,” says Smulders, who attended a table read for Stoller’s 2008 feature hit “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” His other work includes writing and directing “Get Him to the Greek” as well as writing the most recent Muppet features plus “Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie.”
Shooting the series in New York also suited Smulders, who lives there with husband and former “Saturday Night Live” player Taran Killam and their two young children. Then there was the script: “The characters were interesting and the writing was really good. It was a no brainer, really.”
The series draws from Stoller’s own experience as a Harvard grad. He met his wife Francesca Delbanco — co-creator on the series — at a playwriting workshop while attending the Ivy League institution.
Stoller says he’s never felt the need to attend a Harvard reunion because he sees his core friends all the time. They’re a fairly co-ed group, he adds, “which basically means everyone dated one another at one point.”
What Stoller observed is that while his old friends all seem to “really love each other and care for each other, they might be kind of destructive to be around. My wife and I have weird, regressive relationships with all of our friends from college.”
— Bill Brioux is a freelance TV columnist based in Brampton, Ont. While in New York, Brioux was a guest of Netflix.