Warning: Spoilers for season 2 of Friends From College ahead.
When we left off with the Friends From College gang at the end of season 1, they were standing in the wreckage of Ethan (Keegan-Michael Key) and Sam's (Annie Parisse) then-still secret affair.: Lisa (Cobie Smulders) confessed to sleeping with Nick (Nat Faxon) out of paranoid revenge because she thought something was going on with Ethan and Sam. Sam's SUV ends up at the bottom of her pool, which was excellent foreshadowing of where all these relationships headed in season 2.
Much criticism of season 1 of Friends From College was centered around viewers' animus towards the Ethan-Sam story arc. Many felt they faced no consequences for their affair, and that their relationship dominated the shows' eight episodes. The sophomore season atones for that by making the pair "pay" for their adultery: Sam gets sprayed by a skunk, symbolic of how the stench of her affair with one of her best friends’ husbands will not soon wear off and Ethan is living with a very creepy roommate. While Ethan and Sam are the obvious "bad guys" in the series, I'd argue that someone in the friend group has been worse all along: Lisa.
Yes, Lisa was the victim of immense betrayal by Sam and Ethan, whose affair was going on longer than either of their marriages, as Marianne (Jae Suh Park) helpfully points out. She experienced the grueling emotional and physical toll of a failed IVF cycle. She had a miserable job at a hedge fund where she worked alongside overgrown frat boys. All this while essentially living on her friend's couch. But to focus on Ethan and Sam's cheating exclusively is to ignore Lisa's many poor choices and, worst of all, her selfishness.
Let's start with the small things. In season 1, Lisa gives herself the nickname Judge Lisa, which is probably the only self-aware thing she does. She has a knack for judging everyone around her without taking so much as a cursory glance at her actions. She judges Marianne for her lifestyle, describing her as "a cat, all she does is nap and eat" in "Connecticut House.") She blames Ethan for dropping the vial of HCG even though she's the one who forgot it in the first place. And, after Nick starts to confess his true feelings for her, she laughs in his face and essentially calls him an empty person. These people, while flawed, are her "best friends" and yet she only interacts with them with them if there's something in it for her (Marianne's couch, Ethan's sperm, Nick's penchant for no-strings-attached sex).
Because of Ethan and Sam's shenanigans in season 1, it was easy to overlook Lisa's pettiness. But in season 2, her true colours on are full display. Max (Fred Savage) and Felix's (Billy Eichner) engagement party in the season opener is expectedly awkward, what with the whole friend group getting together in the year since all the affairs were out in the open. Lisa shows up with a new man on her arm, Charlie (Jack Robidas), who is clearly not aware he is a rebound. This is not the worst thing in the world; who among us hasn't rebounded after a nasty breakup?
The problem with Lisa is that she has tunnel vision when she wants something, people's feelings be damned.
Lisa's treatment of Charlie — who is a little dimwitted, but sweet and caring nonetheless — is the worst of anyone in the entire show. After she has sex with Ethan in the storage unit filled with the memories of their failed marriage, she confesses to Charlie that she cheated, but fails to tell him it was with her ex-husband.Her lie by omissions is bad enough, but she makes it worse when she asks Charlie to have a baby with her. Charlie is cluelessly in love with Lisa, while she is clearly ambivalent about their relationship. He agrees. But, a few episodes later when he broaches the topic of getting married, she squashes the prospect; not because she's "not ready" to get married, but because she only really wanted a baby from him, not with him.
After breaking Charlie's heart, Lisa calls Nick, who is is trying to move on with the snooty yet good for him Merrill Morgan (Sarah Chalke) even though he is still harboring his unrequited love for Lisa. Nick stupidly invites Lisa to join him at Merrill's grandmother's summer house for the day and, even though she knows she'll be intruding and that Nick is still in love with her, she goes. Why? Because Lisa wanted Nick's familiar comfort. To her, Merrill's feelings were just another nuisance getting in the way. In a matter of hours, Lisa blows up two relationships: her and Charlie's and Nick and Merrill's, and she does it with relative ease and without a hint of remorse for anyone — except herself, of course.
"Hey, Lis, before you go ... you know what your problem is?" a hurt Charlie asks as she and Nick are clearing her belongings out of his apartment. "You're a user. You need a sperm donor, you find me. You need a mover, you find this clown. You have a guy in your back pocket for every occasion. You're a user, that's what you are." And he's 100% right. In less than 50 words, Charlie — who is not entirely aware of all the fucked-up dynamics of this friend circle — sums up what Lisa's real problem is and why her life is in shambles better than any of her friends can. Nick later echoes Charlie's sentiment, when he finds out Lisa is pregnant with Ethan's baby after Lisa makes him believe they could really be together after all.
The other members of the group — Ethan, Sam, Nick, and Marianne — have done questionable things to each other, but what sets them apart is their intentions, and taking accountability despite their incredible immaturity. Ethan and Sam are genuinely in love with one another. Their actions were selfish and caused a lot of pain, but nothing they did was done out of malice. Also, they finally do the right thing, by being honest about their feelings for each other and desire to be together. Nick has deep-seated commitment issues, but every time Lisa needed him, he dropped everything to be there for her (he went to the Caymans so she wouldn't be alone; he blew up his relationship with Merrill Morgan for her; he let her crash at his place; he offered to raise Ethan's baby with her).
Lisa shows no such moral dilemma. In the entirety of the series, she does nothing for anyone else unless she has a vested interest in the outcome. She expresses antipathy at Marianne's plays; she went to Max and Felix's engagement party so she could show off her rebound; she ruins two of Nick's relationships; she uses Charlie; and finally, she may have ensured Sam and Ethan never get their happily ever after — and that may have been her ultimate goal all along. Lisa has let her heartache define her character, her relationships, and her entire life. Her woes can no longer be blamed on the people who wronged her; she’s actively self-destructing at every turn.
What Friends From College does well, perhaps too well, is make the viewer uncomfortable. It's easy to be angry at the cheaters, but it's more difficult to look at Lisa and realize she may be worse because her character's downfalls mirror the selfish decisions we’ve made in our own lives. When you're spiraling and your life is a mess, you tend to take down as many people you can with you. After a blow-up at Max's apartment, a defeated Ethan tells Lisa: "I'm not a monster. I'm just a flawed piece of shit." He was talking about himself, but he could have easily been referring to Lisa. Therein lies what may be the core lesson in Friends From College: in life, there are very few true villains, but a lot of flawed people.