Peacock has a runaway hit on its hands, and that’s the Y2K nostalgia-filled comedy Girls5eva. The sitcom, starring Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell, and Renée Elise Goldsberry, is a joyful zany comedy from the team behind Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and 30 Rock, with Meredith Scardino at the helm as creator and writer.
Girls5eva is about a defunct pop girl group of the same name, who became popular in the early aughts only to be chewed up and spit out by the music industry after two years on the charts. The girls, who are now 40-somethings, moved on from the glitz and glam of their TRL heyday but suddenly found a second chance at stardom when rapper Lil’ Stinker uses their old single in his new hit song. With very little convincing, together, they decide this might be their last chance to capitalize on their music and right some wrongs of the past.
All of the elements of this show come together seamlessly, from the catchy throwback tracks by composer Jeff Richmond, and the way the show effortlessly leans into the more insane pop culture moments of the early millennia. The secret ingredient of the show is how well the cast gels together.
With spectacular comedic sensibilities and a strong script, creator and writer Meredith Scardino (The Colbert Report, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) captured that magic of the girl group as it was unfolding.
“I think they take the ball and run with it. I’ve been writing for a long time and have been fortunate to work on so many amazing shows, and you see how great actors elevate dialogue, and elevate the stories, and make you care about things,” said Scardino. “If you read the words they’re insane! But they somehow play it with humanity, and it brings moments of heart in the show.”
Awards Radar sat down with Meredith Scardino to discuss creating one of the funniest shows of the season.
Niki Cruz: You’ve written for sketch comedy, The Colbert Report, sitcoms, late-night; how did all of that inform writing a show like Girls5eva?
Meredith Scardino: I think I’ve just gleaned from working at all these great places with these amazing people. It seasoned me like a griddle pan, so now, when I make pancakes, they’re seasoned with Tina Fey, Robert Carlock, and Stephen Colbert.
NC: This is based on a very specific time, and the comedy also has a very precise rhythm to it, but what made you want to tackle the world of pop groups?
MS: It was a very kind of organic process where I was thinking about trying to write a show about women in their 40s — I was interested in that as a topic, but then I batted it around my head, wondering what is this show? And then I realized there was a bunch of groups that were doing reunion tours. When I was in the middle of developing this, the Spice Girls announced they were doing a reunion tour without Posh. It kind of clicked for me, and I said, “Oh this is really fertile territory.” Just having the fun of writing jokes up against the music industry, which is already hyperbolic within itself. Knowing you have that engine is fun, and then you can talk about real stuff going on in your 40s and look back at your past in the late 90s, which is when I came of age. I liked a lot of those shows; I used to watch Making The Band.
NC: I also came of age at that time, so I appreciated that Girls5eva is heavy on Y2K nostalgia, and playing with the formats of those old shows like Making The Band and TRL. Did you enjoy diving back into that era?
MS: Yeah, it’s fun to look back — sometimes it’s with horror [laughs] at what you were doing back then, but it is interesting to use the language of that time and what was big at that time, like flashing back to TRL and degrading the footage or Larry King with the ticker that said, “Apologies to viewers, Tony Blair had to cancel so this is pop girl group Girls5eva.” So, it’s fun to use the type of shows that were real and make it feel like these characters existed in the world.
NC: It was a reunion with the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt crew. What was it like coming back together to create this show?
MS: That was really exciting. There were a few writers that were on Kimmy that ended up on this show as well, and working with Tina, Robert and Jeff Richmond on the music, that was wonderful. Then our crew — we shot this during COVID, and it was wonderful to be able to shoot with a crew that we knew because there was a shorthand there. It made the set in a very uncertain time feel safer. I got to borrow from all the hard work that Tina and Robert did to assemble this crew back on 30 Rock.
NC: You mentioned shooting during COVID. How was the experience of shooting a comedy during a time where things felt so uncertain?
MS: We were all very grateful to go to work during this time but it presented challenges — it’s hard. There are lots of challenges that come with making a show, it’s a mad dash to get things into your shoot, but then you add on lots of testing, and just logistical things that would come up on a day-to-day basis. Like okay, we have to shoot a show where they perform in front of a lot of people but people are the problem, so we can’t really have a lot of people around. It was trying to sell that they were playing shows where we couldn’t have a lot of extras. It was something we were mindful of with the directors to tile in the crowd or shoot with lights in their eyes, so it looked like they were looking out into a big crowd, but you don’t see people.
We pivoted on a daily basis. In episode 4 Busy Philipps and Andrew Rannells, are hosting a bible study, but when we broke it, they were supposed to be at a megachurch, so we made it into a petite little bible study. It was challenging, but the chemistry of the cast is amazing, so I think your eye is just so much on the cast because they’re so dynamic that you don’t care that much that the world isn’t populated by the bustle.
NC: Absolutely. The cast brings their own different energy and strengths that make this show a standout. When you were in the development stage, did you have people like Paula Pell and Sara Bareilles in mind?
MS: I wrote the script before I pitched it to the network, so I would go pitch the show to networks and leave the script behind, so it was before we cast anybody. When I was writing just as a writer, I had some ideas in mind. I’m a big fan of Paula Pell, so as I was writing the character of Gloria, I imagined her saying these lines, and it made it easier for me. It makes the voice more specific. Then I was so excited when she said yes to the show.
Once we had the characters and had the draft, we went out to Sara Bareilles first. It’s a character that’s grounded with a bunch of insanity swirling around them. Tina Fey is really amazing at casting; she has great instincts. Tina had seen Sara in Waitress, and I saw Sara co-host the Tony’s with Josh Groban, and she’s so incredibly natural and funny. Tina was like, “She’s just got it. I think she could really do this if she wanted to.” We went to her, and somehow we got her to say yes…we somehow got people that can do everything, so that became really exciting where we were able to write full-length songs, do an album, it just opened it all up. It was really a gift to have a cast that could do everything.
NC: It sounds wild to say but a lot of people are discovering Paula Pell’s brilliance through this show but she’s been around for years and years. At one point in my notes, I just wrote Paula Pell’s name with five exclamation points.
MS: She’s so funny! I’ve been a fan of hers as a writer forever. It’s really cool to see her getting on camera roles like in AP Bio. People now know who she is, which is wonderful. I remember meeting her after I wrote for one of the Golden Globes. I saw her in a bathroom at an after-party and said, “Hi! I’m Meredith, and I’m a fan!” And she was so nice! I was just so happy I get to work with her.
NC: What has surprised you about the whole process?
MS: I just think a lot has to align. It’s like making a cake. You can have a good script, and the acting doesn’t work — there’s a million ways a show can go wrong. I’m just so happy that so many parts of the cake conspired to make it into a cake.
I’m obviously close to the show, but when I watch some of it, the cast makes me cry a little bit. There are a few moments — when they get the bench out of the van at the end of episode 1, and in episode 8 when they decide to take the risk and run on stage. I can watch those moments hundreds of times — and I have [Laughs] — and it gets me every time, and that’s a testament to the cast. It’s been exciting to write a very silly show, but the added part of having it be something you care about is really exciting.
NC: Well, I’m glad you didn’t get extra baking soda in that cake because this show is such a wonderful highlight.
MS: [Laughs] No one put salt instead of sugar!
Girls5eva is now available to stream on Peacock.
[This interview has been edited for length and clarity.]