We’re currently on our way out of the That Girl era. The most idealized version of femininity is to be That Girl; the girl who manages to make an organic smoothie bowl, go to work, get her hair and nails done, stop by the gym, and meet her friends for dinner and drinks all in one day. Despite what’s seen (and now, often maligned) on TikTok, being That Girl is overrated. In a world where women are encouraged to be themselves as long as they’re consuming consistently, That Girl treads a delicate line created by late-stage capitalism. That Girl says, practice self-care, but in a marketable way in a world where everyone lives online and everything we post is a performance. Where every front-facing Instagram story and TikTok posted in an effort to seem “real” is what we think is the best, most valuable version of ourselves.
Peacock’s Girls5eva explores what happens when women who have been trained to live their lives as That Girl, as it were, get the chance to step back into the public eye and attempt to do things on their terms. While there are attempts by the girl group to get in the good graces of the now-hyper online public, aided by record label executive Tate (Grey Henson), the four are repeatedly at their best when they throw their desire to conform to the wind, letting their fans new and old discover who they truly are.
Like any good show, the team of four provides plenty of sitcom shenanigans in between, but when the show’s thesis bubbles up to the top, it does so in a way that truly sparkles rather than feeling pedantic. It’s seen in the show’s fourth episode, “Can’t Wait 2 Wait,” which largely focuses on Summer’s (Busy Philipps) parents, Chris (Neil Flynn) and Kris (a pitch perfect Amy Sedaris), visiting her following her split from her ex, Kevin (Andrew Rannells). In an odd turn of events (that would feel much darker and cult-like if not expertly played for laughs), Summer’s parents ask her to pledge her celibacy to them once again now that she’s single. Summer, who runs the risk of falling into the dumb blonde trope more often than not, is a character that for the most part, is written with a fresh voice. Following the advice and encouragement of her bandmates, she chooses to choose herself, fearing the life that might follow if she decides to be kept in a box—much like the preserved dolls her parents use as an on-the-nose metaphor throughout the episode. It feels rare to watch a character like Summer, so easily mislabeled as just a ditz, be able to reclaim her life and be a ditz all in the same breath. It’s fun to get to watch Summer grow from just another bimbo to a bimbo who can stand up for herself and make salads!
There are still pieces of Girls5eva that feel gimmicky; a masked enigmatic pop star known as TK that Gloria (Paula Pell) thinks is former group member and allegedly deceased Ashley (Ashley Park) doesn’t lead to much more than Sia comparisons. A Succession parody called “Business Throne” envelopes a B-plot where Dawn (Sara Bareilles) “cheats” on her husband Scott (Daniel Breaker) by watching episodes of Business Throne with new album producer Ray (Piter Marek). These plotlines, while well-tread, do open doors to potential plotlines down the road. While I’m not too interested in Dawn potentially cheating on her husband with a coworker (yawn), the idea of Girls5eva‘s missing fifth member re-entering the picture is exciting. Adding a little intrigue to one of the goofier helpings of TV currently airing is a good thing.
Despite Tina Fey’s only credit on Girls5eva being an executive producer (aside from a miscast cameo as Dolly Parton in season one), her influence bleeds through the entire show. At times, Girls5eva feels like an extended 30 Rock gag, complete with jaunty Jeff Richmond music interstitials, original songs that are at the same time hilarious and genuinely toe-tapping, and pop culture references that feel like they could have only been written by the world’s most terminally online gay person (at one point in the show’s fifth episode, “Leave a Message if You Love Me,” Dawn tries to talk Summer out of plastic surgery by telling her, “you don’t want to look like Susan from Guess Who.”). Perhaps it’s because I’m a teenager of the late 2000s, but there is something so comforting about a sitcom with a Tina Fey stamp. While my own admiration for Fey herself has faded over the years, my love for her artistic touch has always held strong. That torch has been relit by Girls5eva, a comedy that feels made for the post-Me Too, post-That Girl era. Nowhere else is it funnier to watch women break out of the shells made for them by society—and themselves.