If you’ve been pining for a bit of Parks & Recreation-style comedy, look no further than Girls5Eva. This bright breezy series from Meredith Scardino hits all the right notes in its story of a ’90s girl-band that gets a second shot at fame.
Scardino was previously a producer and writer on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Kimmy… co-creators by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock are also producers on this show. So Scardino has that 30 Rock vibe going on from the start. Off-centre humour and snappy one-liners pepper each episode. And the series deftly treads the fine line of empathising with its characters as people, while simultaneously satirising their profession (another 30 Rock trait).
Back in the day, Girls5Eva was a pop group who scored a big hit. But since then, it’s been downhill. Songwriter Dawn (Sara Bareilles) has settled down to domestic life with her husband Scott (Daniel Breaker) and child. Summer (Busy Philipps) is also married but barely sees her husband Kev (Andrew Rannells). Kev is a former boy-band singer who spends most of his time in Tampa, while Summer stays in New York. Gloria (Paula Pell) is now a dedicated dentist with a suburban practice. And Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) is still trying to make it as a solo performer, but working a nowhere job at an airport. (The fifth member of the group Ashley (Ashley Park) has passed away but appears in flashback.)
Now, 20 years after their brief time in the sun, a popular rapper, Lil Stinker (Jeremiah Craft), samples their big hit on his latest track. To promote the song, he invites Girls5Eva to provide backing vocals at a live performance on The Tonight Show. The experience re-invigorates the women, and they start to believe maybe they can crack the big time again. But obstacles soon emerge. Obstacles like the fact their sleazy former manager Larry (Jonathan Hadary) owns the rights to all their old hits. But big dreams die hard, and Dawn sets out to write a new hit to make it happen.
Girls5Eva casts an acerbic eye over the pop music industry. A running gag involves just how inane the lyrics of the band’s songs were. Their name comes from their big hit “Girls5Eva”, which contains the line “We’re gonna be famous 5 Eva / ’Cause 4-ever’s 2 short… ”. More pointedly, it outlines how five naive young women were ruthlessly exploited by (mainly) men, then cast aside. The sexism in some of the lyrics in their old hits is both hilarious and perceptive.
Perhaps reflecting changes in the forces behind the show, Girls5Eva is a lot more mature in both structure and content than say 30 Rock, which could be hit-or-miss. Streaming has opened up the market for this type of compact series (8 episodes in season 1). But it also demands much greater discipline in writing and direction – something Scardino and her team deliver. Fro example, the grace note at the end of episode 7 is genius. But it’s still densely packed with pop culture references, in-jokes and social commentary that take a bit of getting used to.
The real coup for Scardino was scoring a really powerhouse cast. Sara Bareilles is a force of nature (just check her Wikipedia page for some idea) and delivers as Dawn, the putative leader of the group. Similarly, Renée Elise Goldsberry (Hamilton) is a wonderful performer and really finds her comic chops as the vain Wickie. Paula Pell (who was both a writer and actor on 30 Rock) shows brilliant comic timing as Gloria, while Busy Philipps (I Feel Pretty) sparks as the ditzy Summer.
Girls5Eva is eminently bingeable TV with polish. Yes, it’s brilliantly funny – but it also delivers insight and heart.
Season 1 of Girls5Eva is now streaming on Stan. The show has been renewed for a second season.
Other reviews you might enjoy:
- Maniac – streaming review
- Russian Doll (Netflix) – streaming review
- Homecoming (Amazon Prime) – streaming review
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television