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Like the Best Sitcoms, Girls5eva Strikes the Perfect Balance Between Heart and Humor

Our girls are back in action, thanks to Netflix, and, rather impressively, they’ve barely missed a step.
  • Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps, and Renée Elise Goldsberry in Girls5eva (Photo: Netflix)
    Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps, and Renée Elise Goldsberry in Girls5eva (Photo: Netflix)

    Just when the women of the reunited girl group Girls5eva started regaining their “Momentum,” the absolute gem of a Peacock series was tragically canceled after two seasons. It wasn’t all that dissimilar to the world of the show, in which the girl group of the early aughts found themselves broken up after their sophomore release, which involved “crashing a plane into my heart” came out around 9/11. But just like their Season 1 comeback and artistic reawakening in Season 2, our girls are back in action, thanks to Netflix, and, rather impressively, they've hardly missed a step.

    Despite a certain generation’s obsession with acts like Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child, we never had the pleasure of Dawn (Sara Bareilles), Summer (Busy Philipps), Gloria (played by Paula Pell in the present day and Erika Henningsen in flashbacks), Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry), and Ashley (Ashley Park, may her character rest in peace) actually singing amazing songs like “Dream Girlfriends” or “Space Boys.” But they serve as a part of a greater history of fake musicians and parody musicals (even the ones that are as sincere as they are winking) that are just as memorable as their real counterparts. The commitment to being as good as the real thing is why Weird Al persists, why films like Walk Hard and Popstar are so timeless, and why shows like Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Schmigadoon! are such treasures (though a shame that so many never make it past two seasons).

    Girls5eva was primed to join shows like Smash, Galavant, and Flight of the Conchords with its death knell after two seasons, but the revival proves that the group and its creator, Meredith Scardino, deserve the spotlight at all times. Season 3 finds the girls on a questionably planned tour across America, starting in Fort Worth (where they sing their ridiculous new anthem to Fort Worth every night) and leading up to a show at Radio City Music Hall that Wickie booked for Thanksgiving Day. Their travels take them all over the country, dealing with oppressive conservative politicians and bar owners (played by the ever delightful John Early) and stopping at various Italian restaurants to eat with truckers and have lasagna. And, if that wasn’t enough, Wickie has their assistant Percy (30 Rock’s John Lutz, in a welcome recurring role) filming a behind-the-scenes documentary for whenever they hit it truly big.

    If there’s a glaring fault in the new season, it’s that it feels unfairly condensed, given how much potential a tour season (and a mockumentary season) had to offer. Though the drop from eight episodes to six doesn’t seem like much, it is rather noticeable when looking at the show’s grand picture, which serves as a continuation while trying to give the girls a proper sendoff in case of another cancellation. There’s an overreliance on cutaways to old videos and memories in a couple of episodes, something that the series typically avoids. Those moments aren’t meant to serve as just a punchline (though they always have at least one good one in there), but as either character motivation for a larger subplot or, at the very least, a recurring gag that needs establishing.

    And those characters deserve all the time in the world, especially considering just how pitch perfect each performance is, tailored to exactly the kind of character each actress plays best. Though the girls are arguably going through the same motions of growth as in any other season — essentially becoming more self-aware with each passing episode — it’s an absolute delight to watch them be thrown into any given situation. Summer learning to be herself without a man’s input is just as important as Gloria trying to have sex with all 178 types of women (including some personal favorites: female Popeye, Femme Mr. Peanut, Susan Saran-dom, and Pre, During, and Post-Friends Courtney Cox-types).

    The series’s immense watchability isn’t just due to the fact that all four leads have phenomenal comic timing, but an ideal balance of heart and humor that the best sitcoms all boast. Its comic and dramatic sensibilities are most akin to 30 Rock — no surprise, given that Scardino wrote for both Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Mr. Mayor — and that’s exactly why it works. These disastrous human beings are as lovable as they are wonderful to laugh at. No matter how much the cast and crew are aiming for laughs, there’s always a sincere dramatic through line in the way these characters interact with each other and learn some often-nonsensical lesson (lest we forget the salad-making days of Season 1).

    In Season 3, it’s almost as though Scardino and her writers wanted to throw every single joke (or joke song) that they came up with into an episode, regardless of whether it fit. You can’t really blame them because they’re all still funny, whether it’s Wickie selling Spaghetti for Her, “designed for a woman’s throat, stomach, and intestines”; Summer doing a Clean Kids Club cover of “F*ck The Police” titled “Ducks Are Mean Geese”; or Gloria remembering her sex tape with Lance Bass, which just involves two queers playing hide and seek. Hell, even the references to other Netflix properties (which were presumably company mandated) like The Crown manage to still work because of how absurd they are, down to literally having a fake Prince Andrew list the names of all his 72 stuffed animals.

    Girls5eva does feel overstuffed at times, which leads to relegating brilliant joke songs that would usually warrant a full number in the credits to a few seconds. After its cover served as a visual gag in Season 1, the reveal of Wickie’s failure of a solo album, Yesternights, is a masterpiece, but one that deserved multiple full singles (especially considering the vibe is as goofily adult contemporary as “Meaningless Kiss” and “Dance With Me Tonight” from Music & Lyrics). Their concerts are chock full of these bite-sized songs that one can’t help but wish had their own entire episode, or at least a full scene — though the abundance of comic numbers may serve to make the impact of the show’s more sincere numbers that much greater. Maybe these statements are less nitpicks about the series itself and more the state of television in the streaming era, but to watch a show this whip smart and compelling have its episode count reduced rather than expanded is disappointing.

    Even in its truncated form, Girls5eva never ceases to be an amazing reminder of how great a sitcom can be. The four leads are a disaster, no matter how much they believe they’ve gotten their lives together, but whether they’re navigating being born in a middle-upper-class family (thus having no trauma to exploit) or getting advice on fame from Richard Kind, it’s impossible not to get attached to their nonsense like they’re a real band that you’ve developed an unhealthy parasocial relationship with. It hasn’t been all that long of a time — some might even say it’s been a “Medium Time” — but watching Wickie, Dawn, Gloria, and Summer go from distant former bandmates to a proper family on tour together has been an absolute pleasure. If this is its send-off, it’s a great way to go, one that will undoubtedly be on repeat 5eva, because 4ever is too short.

    Girls5eva Season 3 is streaming on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums.

    Juan Barquin is a Miami-based writer, programmer, filmmaker, and co-creator of the queer film series Flaming Classics. They aspire to be Bridget Jones.

    TOPICS: Girls5eva, Netflix, Peacock, 30 Rock, Ashley Park, Busy Philipps, Meredith Scardino, Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Sara Bareilles