yestrap in for the return of Girls5Eva (Peacock UK), the beautifully silly comedy about a 90s girl band and their unlikely return to the public eye. The first season arrived at the start of the year, and its rat-a-tat gag rate was a perfect winter warmer. The second proves it wasn’t a one-hit wonder.
To recap: Girls5Eva were a flash-in-the-pan pop group in the late 90s/early 00s, until they fell apart and then lost their fifth member. (She didn’t leave, Geri-style. She died after the band’s breakup, in an infinity pool tragedy.) But when a hot rapper called Lil Stinker samples their one big hit, they stumble back into the limelight as an older, wiser four-piece, who are still hungry for fame, sort of – as long as it doesn’t interfere too much with the school run, or the dental practice, or the sham Christian marriage and potentially evil daughter, Stevia.
We left Girls5Eva on the brink of a chance to return, having fulfilled their long-held ambition of playing the Jingle Ball, albeit in their own impromptu, gatecrashing way. The stunt got them noticed, they are signed to a label and about to enter album mode. The show treads a delicate line when it comes to success. Girls5Eva are underdogs and can’t do too well because their catastrophes are the series showing their best hand. But neither can they fail too often, because it’s no fun to watch them endure repeated knock-backs.
Getting the balance right is tricky, but the show pulls it off. There is so much joy to be found in every episode, and we get the first three in one go, which is a lot of delight in a single sitting. It has the zip of 30 Rock and the giddy pace of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, which showrunner Meredith Scardino also worked on – and is executive produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock. The jokes come thick and fast, barely pausing to land before they leap for another punchline. The set-ups are surreal. Gloria (Paula Pell) on pain medication doing a podcast interview is a comedy masterclass, as is Wickie’s vow to get back to dating after accidentally going out with two men pretending to be the same man for an online social experiment last season. Renée Elise Goldsberry deserves all the awards for playing Wickie, not least for demonstrating her “Rolodex of riffs” and managing to keep a straight face.
Sara Bareilles is reliably earnest as Dawn, the songwriter of the group, who means well but has a tendency to overfill the pot when it comes to cooking up pop hits. Bareilles is in the straight role, which can be thankless, but she rolls up her sleeves and gets stuck in. Busy Philipps is coming into her own de ella as Summer, whose marriage to Kev (Andrew Rannells) is on the rocks, having fallen apart in a crab-breeding betrayal. She is convinced that God will punish her for getting a divorce, and when Gloria’s attention-grabbing death drop results in a knee injury flare-up, Summer is convinced that she has stolen her from her “divorce smite”. Philipps played Summer’s ditsyness to perfection last time, but this time there is scope for more. Her journey to independence is bizarrely sweet, yet does not jar with the brazen stupidity of the gags.
Girls5Eva is good at piling on the layers. There is the slapstick and the silliness, while the flashbacks to Girls5Eva’s heyday add an element of satire. “Let’s talk about your music career. Are you a virgin? asks one late 90s interviewer, before asking a male band a question about songs. The newest pop sensations are a boyband who got big on TikTok “doing push-ups to the audio of Reagan getting shot”. And then there is the fact that the leads are women hovering around 40, trying to crowbar the absurdities of showbiz into more lived-in lives as mothers, career women or Christian internet harlots. The idea that they might get another shot at their dream is a good premise, even if that dream has changed beyond recognition in a world where pop stars are now in the market of “celebrity brand expansion”.
It’s irresistible. If I find that I’m too far into a weighty drama that is thoroughly miserable – hello, Ozark – and starting to feel like a slog, I like something on standby for light relief. For a while, it was Modern Family, then Schitt’s Creek. Now it’s Girls5Eva, which has such a Midas touch that it turns truly dreadful lyrics into hummable songs. You will be rooting for them to have a No 1 in no time.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism