IIf you didn’t already know, it wouldn’t be long before you realized that Girls5Eva (Sky, Now) came from Tina Fey School and Robert Carlock, who gave us those enduring delights, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The new show, about a ’90s made-up girl band of the same name (“We’ve been close friends since we auditioned for a guy in a New Jersey hotel room!”), is the brainchild of writer and producer Kimmy Meredith Scardino, in collaboration with Fey and Carlock. It provides a similar blend of laughter. There’s parodies (this time mostly for music videos rather than TV shows or characters), and the “proper” jokes are so crammed that you still find out more in the third and fourth views, callbacks, and cool gags that they’re respectable treasures elsewhere. The chemistry between its strands—even if it doesn’t quite get there, because nothing can or will— summons the chemistry between Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In short, it is a joy.
Under the auspices of their corrupt manager Larry, Girls5Eva took a hit (the famous 5Eva) three decades ago but fell into obscurity after their following declined. It was called Quit Flying Planes at My Heart and was released on September 10, 2001. Since then, one of the girls has died (Ashley – “the one who brought us all through our breakup with Moby”) and the remaining four members have drifted away, aloof, on the end. We first meet Dawn (Sarah Bareilles) as she listens to the radio during a mammogram. Her doctor says she has perfect breasts for that – “really full!” Fey’s spirit, unable to know a female’s physical insult without jumping into her embrace for comic effect, remains strong throughout. Dawn is the mother character of the group. Always in charge, she’s now married with one child, constantly stressed (“Fireworks or terror?” screaming when she woke up to strange noises at night), working long hours at her idiot brother’s restaurant (Dean Winters, essentially repeating his 30th role in Rock Dennis Duffy). After listening to Famous 5Eva, sampled as part of rapper Li’l Stinker’s latest cash earnings, she went to pick up her royal check from Larry and was persuaded to hand the rest over to her former bandmates as well.
Still blonde, messy, and kind-hearted, Summer (Busy Philipps) is now married to ex-boy Kev (Andrew Rannells), although he now lives and works in Tampa and appears to be gay. Gloria (Paula Bell) is a successful dentist (“with a kind of rosacea you get from other people’s breath”—Rock’s craving for light memories of nasty skin conditions continues, too). Only Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) had the right talent (she was also the Wettest Mouth winner in a girl group award) and left the band to go it alone. She is famous on social media as her charming “fempire” boss, but we all know Instagram – and in general anyone who uses the word “fempire” – is lying. When Li’l Stinker’s attention brings the possibility of the girls back, they’re all engaged. “We should celebrate!” Dawn’s husband (Daniel Breaker) says when he hears the plan. “Do you want to start Americans?”
The eight-episode season is packed with sweet jokes, absurdities, sharp commentary (plus some decidedly blunt defensive moments about “wake-up” criticism and contemporary issues included in the previous Fey/Carlock collaboration), song and dance numbers (largely Scardino lyrics, scores of course by Jeff Richmond). – Mr. Tina Fey – who did wonders with Kimmy Schmidt’s musical side. But just as it is the defining characteristic of a husband, it is also distinguished by the heart. The women – very different than they were when they first met – must mend their bond as well as the group, and find different ways to thrive. The authenticity of their friendship and the supportive dynamism gradually woven between them (Gloria gently encouraged Summer to see that all was not well with her marriage, Summer encouraged Dawn to create a stage character that would set her free, and the broken Dawn Wiki—a transparent grand piano—into her home) makes you wonder if Not everyone involved in And Just Like That should have been forced into the show right away.
In any case. It is, as I say, a delight. Faye, Carlock, Scardino, Richmond 5 Eva.