TV Review: Girls5Eva Delivers Solid Laughs and Early 2000s Nostalgia
4/5 vocal runs.
Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s sitcoms have a signature feel to them. Rapid-fire jokes, riffs on pop culture, and touches of surrealism abound in series like 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and Great News. Even Peacock’s Saved by the Bell reboot, created by 30 Rock alum Tracey Wigfield, follows a similar breakneck comedic pace. New to the fold is Girls5Eva, created by Meredith Scardino (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Colbert Report). The series follows a pop girl group (the titular Girls5Eva) who achieved early 2000s fame and then promptly sank into obscurity like so many one-hit wonders.
But when rapper Lil Stinker samples their hit song in his latest single, the ladies find themselves tasting pop culture relevancy once more and contemplating a reunion. But it’s been a long 20 years since their bubblegum pop days. Dawn (Sara Bareilles) is married and living in Queens, where she manages her brother’s (Dean Winters, channeling beeper king Dennis Duffy) restaurant. Dawn has a son, and is debating trying for another kid. There’s a great subplot and song where she fears that her son is becoming a “New York lonely boy” whose only friends are doormen. Dawn is essentially the Liz Lemon of the show, and takes up the leadership role left unfilled after the death of group member Ashley (Ashley Park) who died in a tragic infinity pool accident.
The remaining women are struggling as well. Gloria (SNL mainstay and A.P. Bio‘s Paula Pell) is a practical dentist who was the first gay woman in New York to get divorced. Summer (Busy Philipps), a Jessica Simpson type, is struggling in a marriage to a closeted former boy bander (Andrew Rannells). And then there’s Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry), a diva with a show-stopping voice whose jet-set career in fashion may be more based in fantasy than reality. The cast is terrific but Goldsberry is a standout, channeling the same unhinged diva energy as 30 Rock‘s Jenna Maroney.
The series delves into the estranged relationships between the group while also dealing with pop culture’s dismissal of women over a certain age. There is plenty of early 2000s nostalgia to explore in those halcyon bubble-gum days before 9/11 (there’s a running joke that the group’s career died when they released a single on September 10, 2001, titled “Quit flying planes in my heart!”). But the series also looks at those days through today’s critical lens, as the group discovers just how toxic their song lyrics and image really were.
It’s a poignant look at early aughts misogyny, which has been reexamined in the recent documentaries about Paris Hilton and Britney Spears. Beneath that pop pink girl power exterior were the same issues that have plagued pop stars for decades: harassment, addiction, and financial malfeasance from shady managers. And the show’s all-star cast effortlessly pivot between the more absurd moments and the heartfelt ones.
The series also scores laughs with music from Jeff Richmond (Tina Fey’s husband), the same man who gave us Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt‘s “Daddy’s Boy” and “Pinot Noir.” Each episode features songs from Girls5Eva that are as hilarious as they are catchy. The series takes a few episodes to find its footing, and its brief 8-episode first season had me wishing for more episodes. It’s an issue found in plenty of streaming comedies, which hit their stride just as the season ends.
All in all, Girls5Eva is a cracking comedy stacked with talented women and great writing. It’s as fun and breezy as a pop song, and who doesn’t love a good pop song?
Girls5Eva is now streaming on Peacock.
(image: Heidi Gutman/Peacock)
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