Peacock’s send-up of all-girl pop groups falls flat
At its peak, Tina Fey’s production gang creates shows packed full of jokes that zing around like the jackpot mode on a pinball machine. At other times, it offers us shows that fail to stick the landing, like Peacock’s Girls5eva. A show sending up the mindless pop vixens of the early 2000s should sizzle, but here, it never musters any heat.
After up-and-coming rapper Lil Stinker samples a Girls5eva hit, Jimmy Fallon asks the (now very womanly) group to perform on his show. Though they’ve grown apart over time, the rush of performing ignites their collective desire to be in the spotlight again, only this time as agents of their own success. To their surprise, it’s hard to be a fortysomething pop starlet who pays attention to the words she’s singing and the messages she’s sending.
Given the overloaded graveyard of girl groups and the talented cast’s range, Girls5eva should easily find comedic depths to plunder. But it stops at characterizations instead of bothering to invent characters.
There’s Dawn (Sara Bareilles), resigned to working for her brother, who we immediately clock as a tool because Dean Winters plays him. Summer (Busy Philipps) blithely ignores the super extreme secret gayness of her husband, while Gloria (Paula Pell) sadly yearns for her ex-wife. Though Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) presents as a blazing success, she actually shoots birds at a regional airport for money. Ashley, the fifth member of the Girls, tragically swam off the edge of an infinity pool. Now she’s a name on a memorial bench.
There’s a fine line between endearing underdogs and flat-out losers, and Girls5eva consistently fails to recognize the difference. When the Girls venture to the mall where it all began, they realize they can’t perform without their manager to verbally tear them down, and the mall is out of business. Nevertheless, they persist, and post their performance online. That same manager blocks their video, as the contracts they once signed are not even for humans, but circus animals, and he owns all their rights. To make a true comeback, they’re going to have to rely on girl power.
At a certain point, in a cast stacked with razor-sharp actresses, the collective plethora of stupid character choices teeters over into territory of too much. And there’s nothing to balance things out properly. The gay jokes feel like relics of the early 2000s, too. Is it still supposed to be hilarious when someone is flamboyantly in the closet? All the actresses play themselves in flashbacks, except for the oldest, Pell, randomly replaced by a much younger woman. But why? Somehow, this powerhouse showcase meant to call out the music industry’s rampant misogyny ends up serving a little hate of its own.
In spite of its egregious sins, there are enough jokes crammed in to earn a few comedic moments. Some of the throwback would-be pop hits are real bops. Mostly, it made me miss the magical musical numbers and biting wit of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a far more clever though less pedigreed show. Girls5eva may eventually find its own slick beat, but it will be 5eva before I tune in again.