The first thing you should know about the new Peacock series Girls5Eva is that after a few episodes, you WILL get the show’s theme song hopelessly stuck in your head. Even as I try to write this, the chorus “Gonna be famous 5eva / Cuz 4ever’s too short!” is endlessly looping through my brain. The next thing you should know is that if you’ve watched executive producer Tina Fey’s previous television work (along with co-executive producer and frequent collaborator Robert Carlock), this show is going to feel very, very familiar. Whether or not that’s a good thing is going to vary from person to person.
The comedy features the fictional girl group, Girls5Eva, who saw a measure of success in the early 2000s with their hit song “Famous 5eva.” But in the grand tradition of pop groups, they eventually disbanded, with their lives going off in various directions. When rapper Lil Stinker (Jeremiah Craft) samples their hit single twenty-one years later, the task of distributing the meager royalty checks falls on Dawn (Sara Bareilles), “The Chill One” of the group. Now a wife and mother, she ekes out a living working at her brother Nick’s (Dean Winters, delightfully dirtbaggish as always) restaurant. As she tracks down each of the remaining members of Girls5Eva—there used to be five but one of their numbers, Ashley (Ashley Gold) “The Fun One,” perished in an infinity pool accident—memories of their time together resurface, and she starts to believe that their previous dreams of stardom can be resurrected.
Each member, now well into their forties and upwards, has their particular set of talents and real-life drama. Gloria (Paula Pell), “The Sporty One,” is now a dentist who’s trying to shrug off her recent divorce but still carries a torch for her ex-wife. There’s Summer (Busy Phillips), “The Sexy One,” who really can’t sing but excels at baby-voiced ad libbing, who’s married to swoopy-haired former boy band member Kev (Andrew Rannells). Finally, there’s Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) who’s “The Fierce One,” by far the most glamorous of the group and, as we soon discover, also the messiest.
It’s the four women at the center of this story that manages to sell the series. Bareilles is, unsurprisingly, absolutely adorable in this. She’s basically the embodiment of baskets of kittens and puppies, and I hope this is the start of seeing her in more on-screen leading roles. She’s the slightly neurotic lead, the sort of role that Tina Fey has excelled at throughout her career. Bareilles brings a nice balance of ambition and fear as a woman who’s trying to balance out the needs of family life with the desire to fulfill her dreams. Pell, formerly a long-time SNL writer, is excellent as a well-meaning individual with control issues, one of those people who are excellent when it comes to helping their friends figure out their issues but has an awful time turning that insightful gaze inwards. Meanwhile, Phillips is all hair extensions and pouty lips, the sort of stereotypical sexy bombshell who’s not terribly bright, but is basically a sweetheart. Phillips plays it all the way up, her exaggerated mouth movements and the way she bounces from scene to scene lends her the impression of being a human Muppet (this is a compliment, I swear). As far as Goldsberry goes, for those who are only familiar with her work in Hamilton, they’re gonna have a surprise coming to them. The level of enjoyment that Goldsberry is getting from playing the utterly self-absorbed Wickie is palpable. From her over-the-top outfits, tendency to randomly belt out tunes—it would be negligent to hire Goldsberry and not have her sing at every opportunity—and fantastic one-liners (“You human B-Side!” is now forever added to my lexicon), I’m pretty sure no one is having more fun than she is.
The other major star of the show is the music, most of which was composed by executive producer Jeff Richmond with show creator Meredith Scardino writing many of the lyrics. Bareilles also has a few writing credits as well and yes, the entire soundtrack is now available for purchase. Out of the original songs, the one that got the biggest laugh from me is “New York Lonely Boy,” which pokes fun at that particular sub-demographic of upper middle class NY children who sport fancy hats and consider the building doorman to be their closest friend. We also get to see the newly united Girls5Eva contend with trying to break away from their previous work in order to create songs that more accurately represent their life experiences and current taste. With many of their 2000s era songs sporting titles such as “If a Man Does Cheat We’ll Only Get Real Mad at the Other Girl” and “Jailbait” (“Jailbait! / Great sex but it’s our first time!”), the group now recognizes how problematic their previous work has been.
Speaking of problematic, would it be a Fey and company series without some jokes that should have been left in the drafts? The biggest issue with this show is that when damn near every moment is intended for laughs, there’s little concern for earnestness or, much worse, no discernment in their treatment between what’s simply outlandish from what’s actively harmful. When Dawn’s first attempt at songwriting results in her belting out a song about her fears, one of which includes being the victim of necrophilia, it’s pretty funny to watch. But when the group decides to put on auditions for new members, only for one random woman to show up in a QAnon shirt singing about how the cast of Friends are pedophiles (with zero pushback), it just feels deeply tiresome. It’s the type of edgy humor that had its heyday in the aughts and 2010s, but now feels like it’s long past its expiration date.
For those who miss the quippy satire of 30 Rock or Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, this show will probably be welcome viewing for those who are willing to shell out for Peacock. But for those who have any reservations about Tina Fey’s particular brand of humor—my biggest frustration with it being that there seems to be little willingness to evolve as a creator—than you’ll probably not be motivated to get Peacock for the express purpose of watching this series. However, if you can access it and have some time to spare, there are a lot of jokes that land, and those who make it to the end are rewarded with a pretty heart-warming finale. It’s unclear whether or not this will finally be the show that convinces people to invest in yet another streaming service, but Bareilles and crew are certainly fated to be famous 5eva.
Season one of Girls5Eva is available for streaming on Peacock.
Kaleena Rivera is a tv and film writer. When she isn’t researching whether or not that was Busy Phillips performing those tricks in that pole dancing scene (it was!), she can be found on Twitter here.
Header Image Source: NBCUniversal Television