Tina Fey executive produces a fun and witty comedy about a 90s girl group reuniting for another taste of stardom.
NBC’s streaming app Peacock plays a strong hand in the nostalgia game. It’s the streaming home of The Office. It’s rebooted sitcom classics like Saved by the Bell and Punky Brewster. Adding to the nostalgia trip is its new original comedy Girls5eva. Created by Meredith Scardino and executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Girls5eva might first look like pure bubblegum pop fluff, but it digs deeper as a comedic exploration of pop music’s problematic past.
Girls5eva follows a one-hit-wonder female pop group “Girls5eva” formed in the late 90s by Larry (Jonathan Hadary), a shady manager. It consists of leader Ashley (Ashley Park), diva Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry), ditz Summer (Busy Phillips), youngest member Gloria (Paula Pell), and rational Dawn (Sara Bareilles). They find themselves back in the spotlight decades later when their song is sampled by rapper Lil’ Stinker (Jeremiah Craft). They decide to try to launch a career comeback while balancing kids, spouses, debt, and living “5eva” (because “4eva is too short”).
The cast of Girls5eva is, to put in words of Lil’ Stinker, “stank, which means good.” Bareilles shines as Dawn, a woman juggling motherhood and married life to loving husband Scott (Daniel Breaker), while dreaming of a songwriting career instead of working a restaurant owned by her brother Nick (Dean Winters). Phillips is lovable as Summer, the naive member whose recent career aspirations were auditioning for “housewives.” Goldberry gets to showcase her comedy chops as Wickie, the diva who left the group to go solo, only to have her career fizzle when her “difficult” personality got in the way.
Then there’s the baby of the group, Gloria, played to perfection by Paula Pell. Gloria was a closeted lesbian during the height of their fame; now she’s out and proud to be semi-famous as part of the first divorced gay couple in New York State. Sadly, the fifth member, Ashley, is only seen in flashbacks, as she died in 2004 when she swam off the edge of an infinity pool.
In addition to the primary cast, there are some hilarious supporting and guest stars. Andrew Rannells jumps in as Summer’s PR husband Kevin (they’re girl band/boy band royalty!), who’s potentially repressing his homosexuality under his Bieber-esque haircut. Stephen Colbert makes an appearance as a hit Swedish songwriter Alf Musik, the man who wrote most of Girls5eva’s hits and now lives as a recluse. Vanessa Williams is Nance Trace, a powerhouse music manager ready to take the women to the next level. Finally, if you’ve ever wondered what Tina Fey’s Dolly Parton impression would be, well, wonder no more as she pops up as Dawn’s muse (or rather a hallucination of), the legendary country singer.
Girls5eva might first look like pure bubblegum pop fluff, but it digs deeper as a comedic exploration of pop music’s problematic past.
If you’re a fan of 30 Rock bangers like “Werewolf Bar Mitzvah” or “Muffin Top,” then you’ll love the songs of Girls5eva. Jeff Richmond, the maestro behind the sounds of 30 Rock, is back, and he’s creating catchy earworms and bubblegum pop for the group. The songs have the sound and also the layered misogynistic lyrics that permeated pop music in the late 90s. Their song “Dream Girlfriend” features one lyric: “Tell me why Tarantino is a genius.” They look back through their musical catalog and find their songs were full of problematic themes like oversexualizing teens (like in lyric “Jailbait/great at sex but it’s our first time”) and distrusting women (lyric “We may be incredible/but that don’t mean we’re credible/sometimes girls lie”).
Girls5eva’s hook is nostalgia, mashing up the 90s era of TRL with the early aughts comedy style of 30 Rock. What it’s also doing is deconstructing that era, acknowledging the predatory behaviors that catapulted many young women to fame, and then left them high and dry when the hits stopped. Girls5eva is smart to grab our attention with a catchy tune, then draws us in further with some disarming comedy, finally walloping us with social commentary. The positive note is the women don’t want to be a cautionary tale – they want to take control of their legacy on their terms, thus empowering themselves and others in the process.
In the words of Ashley, Dawn, Wickie, Gloria, and Summer, “What are you waiting 5?” Do yourself a favor and skip the comfort rewatches of nostalgic sitcoms and turn on Girls5eva.
Girls5eva premieres on Peacock May 6th.