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Peacock's Girls5eva is a feel-good comedy that avoids simple parody

  • "Girl5eva could have been a simple parody of '90s pop bands, emphasizing a desperation to reclaim a youth long gone and playing up its protagonists' inability to accept what is instead of what was," says Melanie McFarland of the Tina Fey-produced comedy. "Calling their quest to muscle their way back into relevance quixotic in our youth-obsessed culture is being mild. But if the caliber of the main cast doesn't let you know this show is better than making its middle-aged protagonists the butt of its jokes, the production's pedigree should spell that out for you. Creator Meredith Scardino worked on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt along with executive producers Tina Fey (who pops up in a glorious celebrity impersonation) and Robert Carlock. In this show, as in Kimmy Schmidt, Scardino and the writers sling jokes with the quickness and certitude of a casino blackjack dealer while emphasizing these women's combined dedication to go after their long-shelved dreams as aspirational, and possible, instead of delusional. Girls 5eva" also establishes the problematic nature of most of the 1990s girl-pop genre early on, and in part through a flawless cameo by Stephen Colbert, playing a Swedish songwriting impresario who reminds them that it has been 'an entire Zendaya' since the world has even thought about them. (One Girls5eva classic banger has them proclaiming themselves to be 'dream girlfriends, 'cause our dads are dead.') Despite that, absurdity doesn't rule Girls5eva in the same way it drove Scardino's Netflix series. Instead the scripts play up the bizarreness of our mass hunger for fame, pitting the women against their ability to influence more than youth . . . although the writers can't resist the odd joke on that front here and there. When Wickie takes on a hookup many years her junior, (Dean) Winter's leathery bro quips that she's 'feasting on youth' like some sort of anti-aging vampire."


    • Nearly every element of Girls5eva is funny, sweet, and fresh: "The most perfect element within Girls5eva is that cast, with absolutely no one feeling out of place," says Kristen Lopez. "Bareilles obviously has proven her songwriting prowess before; a Grammy winner and multiple time nominee, she wrote the music and lyrics for the Broadway hit Waitress. But the series gives her a chance to be funny as the Tina Fey of the group (and it’s no surprise that Fey also makes a guest appearance at one point). During the group’s success Dawn dreamed of writing original songs, so when the group reunites but is unable to perform their own music it’s up to her to write them a hit that’s relatable. The songs assembled for the series feel like stuff you’d hear on the radio — and that you’ll eagerly want to grab on Spotify. The various Girls5eva songs are cringeworthy, reminiscent of when we all learned the lyrics of 'Semi-Charmed Life.' When the women sing the song 'Dream Girlfriend' its lyrics include dated digs about how female comics aren’t funny and that they’re damaged because their dads are dead (but don’t worry, they had a cool uncle with a boat!) (Though it’ll be hard for any song to top 'New York Lonely Boy,' an acoustic indie hit Dawn hears when she thinks of her son growing up an only child in the city.) Bareilles is a solid straight woman for the series, especially because she’s surrounded by so many big personalities who could easily overshadow her. Goldsberry is a comic genius as the diva of the group; she has a remarkable way of taking a turn of phrase and creating a side-splitting joke out of it ('I get paid….by the goose!') She’s also a great physical comedienne, as evidenced by a trip to the CVS that almost turns tragic. If Peacock were smart they’d start campaigning for Goldsberry to get closer to that EGOT. Pell and Philipps are also wonderful as Gloria and Summer."
    • It’s impossible not to think of executive producer Tina Fey’s other shows when watching Girls5eva: "Its best moments recall the inspired silliness, pointed feminism and scathing showbiz satire of Fey and her collaborators’ best work (30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Great News)," says Inkoo Kang. "Created by Kimmy Schmidt alum Meredith Scardino, Girls5eva feels more like a Tina Fey show than Fey’s current show Mr. Mayor, brimming with so many cutaways, parodic music videos and densely packed jokes you’re almost afraid to laugh lest you miss a half-second gag. Wickie is this show’s Jenna Maroney and Philipps its Jacqueline White, but the one-liners feel specific to this universe, which is populated by YouTubers named Stevia and institutions like Eric Trump Casino University. Girls5eva hits just the right note between nostalgia and side eye for late ‘90s pop, with frequent flashbacks to the turn of the millennium when they were still a quintet."
    • Girls5eva's jokes wouldn't have felt out of place on Fey's other shows like 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Great News: "It is a show built for the age of streaming interfaces that allow you to jump back 10 seconds at a time, because the punchlines can be so layered or unexpected that second, third, and even fourth replays will come in handy," says Alan Sepinwall. "In one episode, Nick drives the group to a gig in his van — though, as he explains, “For tax purposes, it’s 10 wheelchairs.” In another, Wickie says that she met her latest boyfriend 'at the Instagram wall in the vape lounge of the Sriracha Museum.' The group’s misogynist ex-manager Larry (Jonathan Hadary) keeps trying in vain to convince them to let him book gigs in places like 'Eric Trump Casino University,' and there’s a running gag about Wickie owning a transparent-bordering-on-invisible piano that she named Ghislaine years before Ghislaine Maxwell’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein came to light. Goldsberry, in her first leading TV role since she won a Tony for playing Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, takes to Scardino’s off-kilter writing like a duck to water. She’s essentially playing the Jane Krakowski role: desperate for attention and blessedly immune to shame. She embodies the detached overconfidence with joy, and is also great at isolated bits of slapstick, like a scene where Wickie has to scoot on her butt up the wheelchair access ramp to a Duane Reade pharmacy because her heels are too steep for the incline."
    • Like all the best satires, Girls5eva has a moral compass that never drowns out its humor, but amplifies it instead: "The show is, in a fundamental sense, about the indignities of aging, especially for women fed through the meat grinder of the pop machine in their youth," says Alison Herman. "Arriving so soon after the New York Times documentary about Britney Spears, it’s also well timed to a larger cultural reckoning with how ’90s media mistreated women. But Girls5eva isn’t a lecture—it’s just a joke-forward comedy whose clarity of purpose gives it a sharp edge and, before long, emotional resonance. A midseason plot about the group’s members learning to outgrow their assigned roles is authentically sweet."
    • Jeff Richmond's soundtrack is full of earworms: "The fifth star of Girls5eva — not Ashley Park as the one member who died before the reunion — is Richmond's soundtrack, now streaming and once again full of ear worms," Proma Khosla says of Tina Fey's music director husband. "It evokes the boy bands and girl groups of the '90s to a T, with tongue-in-cheek lyrics that poke fun at the times ('If our man cheats we'll only get mad at the other girl / it was her fault only'). Don't be surprised if you find yourself crooning 'Girls5evaaaaa' for days to come. At eight episodes, Girls5eva will fly by faster than your 20s felt like they did. It's a fulfilling first season with seeds for more story. It scratches the Kimmy Schmidt itch more than anything, and Fey fans should be satisfied enough to click through that Peacock paywall if they haven't already. As the title song asks: What are you waiting 5?"
    • Tina Fey’s name always attracts a top-flight cast, but this one is exceptional: "Singer Sara Bareilles shows off nice comic timing (and some serious Liz Lemon energy) as frustrated housewife/group leader Dawn," says Dave Nemetz. "Busy Philipps adopts a breathy, slightly drunk voice to play the ditzy Summer, and 30 Rock writer Paula Pell adds deadpan sass as Gloria. Plus, Renée Elise Goldsberry (The Good Wife) is simply spectacular as Wickie, the self-styled Beyoncé of the group whose solo career fell flat, but who still fakes her way through a super glam lifestyle, speaking every line of dialogue with a self-satisfied purr. (When Dawn and Wickie duet, suddenly we’re reminded that Bareilles and Goldsberry can really sang.) Andrew Rannells is a riot as Summer’s clueless, Bieber-haired husband Kev, and as Sara’s blunt brother, Dean Winters is basically slipping back into his 30 Rock character Dennis Duffy — but that’s just fine with me. The flashbacks to Girls5eva’s glory days are a sugar rush of pure Y2K-era nostalgia, with the girls soaking up the fame on TRL and Cribs. And their songs are… actually legitimately good? Not in the sense of quality music, mind you, but they are hilariously spot-on copies of that era’s brainless pop hits — maybe the funniest TV songs I’ve heard since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend."
    • Girls5eva not only tackles nostalgia, but views it through a critical lens: "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!')," says Chelsea Steiner. "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."
    • Girls5eva has one key twist -- it might also break your heart: "(Girls5eva's) goal, stated early, is to perform at the Jingle Ball, the real-world Christmas pop event that fills arenas in selected cities," says Robert Lloyd. "And this long arc, with its fits and starts and steps forward and back, ends just about where you’d think it will, if the precise path is unpredictable. Neither is it a surprise that in a story about friendship and teamwork there are stretches where friends are fighting and the team doesn’t work. That there will be personal growth — which would not necessarily be the case in a full-season network sitcom — is also pretty much a given. Here and there, issues those of us not in a reuniting pop group might experience are raised. However obvious the narrative nuts and bolts, one feels the defeats and victories, the rifts and reconciliations, on a human level. Admittedly, I am a softy, but you too may be moved."
    • It would be nice to see Girls5eva work out its kinks in a typical 22-episode network season, instead of over eight episodes: "If Girls5eva were early in a 22-episode broadcast season, or had a 10-episode cable order, all these growing pains could be worked out by the finale," says Darren Franich. "But the first season is only eight episodes long; god, the streaming era sucks. Still, the show generally succeeds with its throw-everything-at-the-wall mentality, and the season finale is a triumph of ridiculousness and pent-up emotion. Beyond the quotable zingers, there's an interesting paradox built into Girls5eva's comedy. Can these women move forward together? Or will their reunion leave them even more stuck in their wonderful, terrible past?"
    • Renée Elise Goldsberry really stands out in Girls5eva: "While all the members of the main cast are game, it’s Goldsberry, best known for her role as Angelica in the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, who bursts forward with the funniest performance in the series," says Jen Chaney. "As Wickie, she has serious pipes and is not afraid to show them off at literally any time, even if that means doing a random vocal run just to finish a sentence. The character is admittedly cut from cloth of the same color and texture as 30 Rock’s Jenna Maroney and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s Titus Andromedon. Like them, Wickie is pure audacity and narcissism molded into the shape of a human being. Still, Goldsberry has such a naturally sophisticated presence that watching her subvert it with so much jackassery makes Wickie feel like a fresh creation."
    • Girls5eva offers heightened scenarios and lets its four main actors revel in them, even if not all of the humor lands: "Where Girls5eva struggles in matching its tone with cohesive storytelling," says Saloni Gajjar. "In the show, four members of a pop band called Girls5eva, which briefly achieved fame in 2000, try to stage a comeback. There is a bit too much emphasis on the bizarreness of this premise and not enough on fleshing out character dynamics. Girls5eva shines when it prioritizes the latter. Kimmy Schmidt found nuanced ways for its protagonist Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) to cope with her grief and trauma after being kidnapped and living in a bunker for years, while building out her friendships with other characters. Girls5eva’s main members—Dawn (Bareilles), Wickie (Goldsberry), Summer (Phillipps), and Gloria (Pell)—may not be reeling from such an ordeal, but they are going through their own set of individual challenges."
    • At first, Girls5eva relies too heavily on well-worn fodder: "This satire is 20 years removed from the music genre it's parodying, and sometimes, that's more of a flaw than an asset," says Aisha Harris. "If silly bits about 9/11, Total Request Live, and eccentric Swedish music hitmakers were the only things Girls5eva served up, the enterprise would seem unnecessary, like a sophomore album arriving two decades too late. Yet as the season carries on and the writers really latch on to the comedic tension between the past and the present, Girls5eva blossoms into something beyond a blatant tool for nostalgia aimed squarely at millennials and Gen-Xers raised on a diet of Tina Fey and Fey-adjacent humor."
    • From Stephen Colbert to Bowen Yang to Ashley Park, Girls5eva's guest-stars show the range of the Tina Fey Cinematic Universe
    • Busy Philipps calls Girls5eva "an actual dream come true": "I don't know if there's one person alive who hasn't at one point or another fantasized about what it would be like to be a popstar," she says. "And to get to sing with an actual popstar, Sara Bareilles, and Renee's voice and Paula's voice, I truly was like, 'Oh, I've won. I won life guys, I won.'" Paula Pell adds: "I'm such a musical theatre nerd, so singing with Sara and Renee already was just making me feel like I can't even absorb this and then Busy... It was such a pincher everyday. It's like, 'This cannot be happening, I cannot believe how much fun this is.' I love harmonizing and I've said so many times in my older years, I really miss harmonizing. Should I just join a local choir 'cause I really miss singing with people?"
    • How did Sara Bareilles go from producing Apple TV+'s Little Voice to starring in Girls5eva?: "I have to say that I think almost everything that has come for me in television has actually come from my work on Waitress," she says. "That’s how Tina and I encountered each other for the first time. She had come to see Waitress and she just liked my work when I was in it at the time. So I think she just felt like I would be a good fit for Dawn. And in some ways I was really thinking about it, Dawn and Jenna, the leading character of Waitress, have a few similar qualities, in the sense that they sort of ended up inside the life they didn’t altogether choose. It was sort of circumstantial, and they’re at this crossroads of deciding who they want to be from this point on. So it’s really beautiful that that theme has kind of cropped up in my life a few different times." Bareilles adds: "There is a lot of coming-of-aging. It was one of the things that I know that all of my castmates as well as I were really excited about — telling stories about women at a certain age. There’s a lot of the stuff that gets built around young women, and I’m a really big fan of those kinds of shows as well. But this one is fun because you get to see grown ladies a little bit out of their comfort zone. They’re all in this place of rediscovery and they’re taking risks. And I mean, I love that one of the first scenes of the first episode is getting a mammogram. It’s like so humiliating, but that’s what we all have to go through, so it’s fun to kind of dance in that territory."

    TOPICS: Girls5eva, Peacock, Busy Philipps, Jeff Richmond, Meredith Scardino, Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles, Tina Fey