Friday, May 7, 2021

Girls5Eva and Why Fun TV is So Necessary [Contributor: Jenn]

Not everything written about television has to be a critical analysis.

I know that’s a shocker, especially coming from the person who takes immense joy and pride in critically analyzing plot and character development. I like to pick apart scenes and try to get inside the minds of the showrunners and writers. I make grand, sweeping analyses that clock in over a thousand words most of the time. But sometimes television isn’t meant to be pulled apart and examined with a fine-tooth comb. Sometimes television is just meant to be fun.

2020 was an awful year, and though widespread COVID-19 vaccine distribution and a new president are making me a feel a little more hopeful, I have to admit that the world is still pretty gross. When the world feels heavy and dark, the last thing I usually want to watch is something equally heavy and dark. That’s why I spent so much of the last year watching or rewatching good comedies — Ted Lasso, Mythic Quest, Never Have I Ever, Julie and the Phantoms, etc. — that lifted my spirits. Did I care that a Netflix series about a girl and a bunch of ghosts from a 90s band was occasionally cheesy or not aimed at my demographic? No! Because it made me smile and the songs made me bop. I needed television to be my companion last year. And I needed it to be my hype woman; I wanted reminders that people are still good and that there’s still hope.

So no, I didn’t feel guilty for watching things that were just fun and maybe a little silly. And nor should you. Life is too short to do things that don’t add joy to your life. My friend and audio editor for our Community Rewatch podcast, Chels, often reminds me of this because she intentionally doesn’t use the phrase “guilty pleasure.” Her argument is that you shouldn’t feel shame about the things that bring you joy. If you love reality television more than the shows nominated for Emmys or you love Netflix rom-coms way more than anything nominated for an Oscar, don’t feel guilty about that. It doesn’t make you any less of a person!

Girls5Eva is a series that did make me laugh and feel joy. Is it a little out-there sometimes? Duh-doy. With Tina Fey behind the scenes, the series often gives off some Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock vibes. But when I say that the show is absurd or wild or out there, I’m not being dismissive; I think a lot of people equate “absurd” with “bad” and that’s just not the case. I think comedies like this are great because they’re unashamedly, authentically themselves. That’s something important I ask of television: Whatever you choose to be, commit to it. Don’t try to apologize for what you are; if you want to be a little silly, embrace your quirks and the absurdities.

The most important thing when it comes to more absurd shows is that they’re grounded in something. Sometimes television series get too carried away with their cartoonish characters and wild situations and miss the point that in order to be relatable, they need to be rooted. And Girls5Eva generally is grounded in reality. It’s rooted in the love that these four women have for one another and the fact that they’re all equally longing for something. They spend most of the eight episodes of this show just being glad they can be together again.


A quick rundown for those of you who haven’t watched this Peacock television show: A bunch of women were in a girl group 20 years ago and decide to reunite but face challenges in this new landscape of music and life. The series stars Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Philipps, and Paula Pell as the women from Girls5Eva. (Ashley Park recurs as the fifth group member who died years ago and Erika Henningsen plays the younger version of Paula’s character, Gloria.)

Created by Meredith Scardino, this show is all about the struggles that the adult women face to get back in the music game after being away from it for so long. It’s about motherhood and relationships and comedic shenanigans. And it also features some really fun original music. What I loved most about Girls5Eva is that it’s pure serotonin and really lets all of the actresses lean hard into being comedic giants. Busy Philipps, in particular, has an absolute blast with her character, Summer. Summer is a genuinely loving and enthusiastic person but the way Busy gets to draw out words and chew scenery is absolute perfection. Busy has always been so great at sitcom deliveries (R.I.P, Cougartown) and Girls5Eva is no exception. Likewise, Paula Pell plays Gloria, the openly gay woman in their girl group who’s also a dentist. If you like her character on A.P. Bio then you’ll find her Girls5Eva alter-ego to be equally fun and satisfying. (And honestly pretty similar in tone and delivery.) Paula has a great knack for subtle little comedic bits and physical comedy which gets to come out in this show.

I really also enjoyed getting the chance to watch Renée do some comedy work! She’s so fun as Wickie, a very confident and bold woman who can be sort of a narcissist. Her interactions with Sara Bareilles’ Dawn are so great and the two play off each other quite well. I love that we get the chance to see Renée embrace this fun character. She too gets to chew scenery and do some fun physical comedy. And I love Sara Bareilles. The show treats Dawn sort of like Parks and Recreation treated Ben Wyatt: More often than not, she’s the “straight man” in a world of comedic and quirky madness, but occasionally (like with her song “I’m Afraid” which made me cackle so much) Sara really gets to lean into some silliness and that’s where she shines.

As I noted above, the show contains original songs which are so great! Dawn’s song made me laugh the hardest in the show, but the theme song, “Famous 5eva,” will get stuck in your head. As proof that the show really leans into its silliness and absurdist comedy, even the more “serious” songs in the show, lyrically, include funny jokes and references. It feels very realistic because these women are learning how to write their own stuff and embrace their imperfections. For example, here’s a lyric: “Already graduated from salad school.”

There’s a moment in the show too that took me out in the best way: It’s a scene where Dawn and Wickie are seated at a piano singing together. And for just a moment, I wasn’t looking at these two characters but at Sara and Renée, vocal powerhouses, doing a beautiful little impromptu duet. 

If you’re a fan of Broadway and musical talent, then Girls5Eva really is for you. As stated earlier, we get a Mean Girls: The Musical mini-reunion with flashback scenes between Ashley Park and Erika Henningsen, but Andrew Rannells also recurs in the show as Kev, Summer’s husband and former boy band member. Other notable guest stars include Vanessa Williams, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert (yes, he’s great).

Of course, even though I found the show to be pure fun and can accept it as such, I still have a few qualms. The episodes are fairly inconsistent in terms of length and focus; some characters (like Gloria, even though she has one storyline to herself in episode 5) seem to get less development because of that and often shenanigans take up more time than character development. There aren’t a lot of truly serious moments in the show which does mean that it feels a little bit lighter and fluffier by the time you reach the finale. And even though I watched all eight episodes, I’m still not sure the show knows if Dawn or Wickie is supposed to be the main character; the argument is made for Dawn since she seems to have the most screentime and the series begins with her as the catalyst. But Renée as Wickie gets a lot of character development with her arc so I’m also not sure if she’s the lead.


Even though I have some qualms, they don’t override the point I made at the top of this post: I’ll always have qualms even if the show I watch is just for fun because that’s how I’m wired as a person and writer. But the point of Girls5Eva isn’t necessarily to provide me with fodder for a deep dive on character analysis; it was to emphasize the realities for adult women in the music industry (“Alf Musik” is a great episode for that) and demonstrate what happens to female friendships when you get older and go through marriages, divorces, and kids. Ultimately, it’s a show about women chasing their dreams, no matter how much the world may tell them they can’t or shouldn’t.

There’s a scene in the season finale where Summer, Dawn, and Gloria verbally run through the risks of doing something wild to fulfill a dream. Summer lists all the things that could go wrong and the women agree that there’s so much they’re risking if they do something. But then Dawn asks what’ll happen if they choose to not take a risk, and Summer talks about how they’ll all probably still be happy and successful women but will also likely have this nagging thought in the back of their mind that’ll always wonder what could have been.

I loved that moment because it’s so relatable: We all have the chance to do something that’ll cost us. But are we willing to take that risk and be able to look ourselves in the eye, knowing we did everything we could to fulfill our dream?

Girls5Eva is fun, bright, and full of catchy pop music. (And for a show about women, I was pleased to see a variety of women credited as directors and writers for the eight episodes. It doesn’t always happen, people.) If you have Peacock and are looking for something quick and light to binge — it’s only eight episodes at roughly 20-30 minutes each — then this girl group is for you! 


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