Girls5Eva is a smart, funny sitcom about middle-aged women attempting to mount a pop music comeback. It’s also a retread of the vast array of Tina Fey-approved sitcoms about smart, funny women pushing middle-age who find themselves hilariously at odds with the modern world and expectations of femininity.
Since 30 Rock, there have been very few female-led American sitcoms that don’t owe a debt to Fey. Girls5Eva, on which Fey is an executive producer, wears its debt proudly; its creator, Meredith Scardino, has written for both Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Fey’s recent Mr. Mayor. Here, the Fey manquee is Sara Bareilles’ grounded Dawn, a married mother and restaurateur who inadvertently reunites with her former girl group after a rapper samples their one hit in a new single.
Dawn worries about hurting others’ feelings, about failing as a wife and mother, and in general puts everyone before herself. That is not the case with her three bandmates: Christian, dippy Summer (Busy Phillips), out dentist Gloria (Paula Pell), and, in the Jane Krakowski role as a deluded narcissist whose past is a mishmash of cultural references, Tony winner Renee Elise Goldsberry as Wicky.
A fifth member of Girls5Eva, played by Ashley Park (Emily in Paris), died in a tragic infinity pool accident.
The series can be pointed about the fate of women in the music industry, but curiously only in retrospect. There are jokes about the 40somethings trying to get enough buzz to join Jingle Ball, but the sharpest jokes are reserved for their past, when their skeezy manager Larry did things like lock them in a tanning booth and then sell the footage to a Brazilian prank show.
That’s the issue with the Fey strain of comedy—and yes, I know that Girls5Eva was created by Scardino but Fey’s cadences and joke structure are all there, not to mention the songs and score by 30 Rock composer (and Fey’s husband) Jeff Richmond. There’s nothing remotely contemporary about series like 30 Rock, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Great News, or Girls5Eva. Topical, sure, but not contemporary. These are series based on deep nostalgia for, well, anything other than the tacky TikTok present that is held in contempt by Fey and her acolytes.
Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the series treatment of Andrew Rannells as a former boy band member now married to Summer. Everyone else has grown and morphed—except Kevin, whose hair remains in the same floppy, streaked arrow as in his heyday, and whose personal style is best summarized as discreet Miami homosexual. There’s no growth or nuance for the character the way that, say, Wicky occasionally reveals a shred of humanity. He exists solely as a dartboard for jokes about pop Christianity, closet cases, and boy bands. And yet not no one takes the joke into contemporary territory with a Hillsong Church reference, or anything specifically about the peculiar strain of 2021 Famous Person Christianity.
Peacock is betting heavily on Girls5Eva—but they already have a sharp, contemporary comedy on their streaming service with Saved by the Bell. That series—also from a Fey alumni, Tracy Wigfield—has a healthy distrust of easy nostalgia, and far prefers to engage with the contemporary world as a curious observer and commentator. Not as sharp as Saved by the Bell and not as heart-warming as Ted Lasso, Girls5Eva feels like an instantly familiar comfort comedy that, while brand-new, already feels threadbare in everything but its jokes.