There’s rarely been a TV moment as purely joyous, strange and poignant as the final scene of “Girls5eva,” Peacock’s new comedy about a ‘90s girl group reuniting 20 years later to recapture their old magic. As women who are — as fearsome diva Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) puts it — “40-blah blah” years old, the former girls of Girls5eva waffle between exuberantly leaping at their dream of stardom and finding it completely ridiculous.
Summer (Busy Philipps) uses the group to distract from her stagnant marriage, while practical Gloria (Paula Pell) tries to allow herself some fun after a wrenching divorce from her wife. Songwriter Dawn (Sara Bareilles) is so nervous about performing pop songs as a full-fledged adult that she has to create a cocky alter ego in order to take the stage at all. And yet, the final moments of the season let the fierce foursome have an unequivocally triumphant moment as they debut a song that’s all about how unlikely it is that they made it this far. “Take off the filter from the photograph, and who is it you see?” they sing, arms outstretched. “It isn’t perfect, but what’s wrong with that?”
From writer Meredith Scardino (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), “Girls5eva” is just the latest example of how Peacock has quietly emerged with a slate of comedies that put the spotlight on the kind of women who haven’t traditionally had that space, but who have long deserved it.
One of Peacock’s first critical hits was “The Amber Ruffin Show.” While the “Late Night With Seth Meyers” writer didn’t expect her show to debut during a pandemic, which would keep her from having a live audience for months, Ruffin and her team adjusted with creativity and verve. The variety show is wonderfully weird and more than occasionally moving as Ruffin addresses the country’s most pressing issues. She was also the first Black woman to anchor her own late-night variety show, an overdue honorific that carries weight no matter the network.
A couple months later, Peacock debuted its “Saved by the Bell” revival, which immediately surpassed expectations by subverting the very idea of what a revival could be. While original cast members Mario Lopez and Elizabeth Berkley returned, the immediate breakouts are the new generation of Bayside High girls: type-A valedictorian Daisy (Haskiri Velazquez), cool jock Aisha (Alycia Pascual- Peña) and popular theater kid Lexi (Josie Totah), who also happens to be trans.
Shortly before “Girls5eva” came “Rutherford Falls,” a new comedy from Ed Helms, Michael Schur and Sierra Teller Ornelas about a hapless white guy (Helms) and his best friend, Reagan (Jana Schmieding), a Native American trying to preserve her tribe’s history without losing her cool amid all the red tape. Native American women are vanishingly rare on television, period, let alone the stars of their own comedies with ongoing wants, needs, and romantic entanglements with a besotted journalist (Dustin Milligan). Schmieding’s Reagan is so compelling, in fact, that it’s hard to understand why she has to share top billing with Helms’ character at all.
By now, we’ve all heard the phrase “representation matters” so much that it threatens to lose all meaning. But there is something especially encouraging about seeing all these women get to steer their own stories while having this much fun with them. They might get moments of pathos, but they’re not slogging through grim dramas. They’re getting to play with comedy that’s specific, strange, nuanced and clever. Looking to its future in a TV landscape that seems to welcome new streaming networks every other day, Peacock could do worse than build a brand around women like these.
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