For Your Consideration: Girls5eva Had Some of 2021’s Most Stellar Comedic Performances

Sarah Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Phillipps could teach a comedic masterclass

Illustration by Steven Fiche

    Our 2021 Annual Report continues with a look at one of the year’s most underrated comedy shows. As December rolls along, stay tuned for more awards, lists, and articles about the best music, film, and TV of 2021. You can find it all in one place here.

    One word sums up Girls5eva best: commitment. In every aspect of the show — which premiered on NBC’s Peacock streaming service in May of 2021 — there is unwavering commitment to an energetic tenacity.

    This is reflected in its narrative: Four women who enjoyed a few minutes of fame in the early 2000s as a girl group find themselves remotely popular again after a rapper samples their one-hit-wonder, inspiring them to revive the group for a performance at New York City’s Jingle Ball. It’s also evident in the linguistic trappings of the plot, with its hysterically absurd jokes and killer of-the-era jams written by a team of comedy and music masterminds.


    That commitment is primarily demonstrated by its outstanding quartet of leads — Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Paula Pell, and Busy Phillipps — who portray these characters with so much enthusiasm, courage, and heart that it seems these are the parts they were born to play. Indeed, Girls5eva is one of the best comedies of the year (it landed at No. 3 on our Top 25 Shows of 2021 list), and much of that is due to the cast’s stellar performances.

    Created by Meredith Scardino (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Saturday Night Live), the show tends to live in the same absurdist world as producers Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s other comedy classic, 30 Rock. But rather than strictly represent the entertainment landscape with a satirical, irreverent edge, Scardino and co. imbue a sense of wholesome determination and earnestness into these characters (enough that a second season has already been confirmed).

    Perhaps the most successful performance is Goldsberry’s turn as the diva of the group, Wickie Roy. As proven with her universally acclaimed role as the original Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton (as well as her hilarious feature in Documentary Now’s “Co-Op: The Musical” episode, which, coincidentally, also stars an excellent Pell), Goldsberry is a seasoned singer and actor who could easily headline her own project.

    Her addition to the Girls5eva cast was a blessing, especially given that we hadn’t gotten too many chances to witness Goldsberry in a fully comedic role. She embraces the part fully, investing an astounding level of moment-to-moment detail in Wickie.

    Girls5eva Sara Bareilles Renee Elise Goldsberry For Your Consideration: Girls5eva Had Some of 2021s Most Stellar Comedic Performances

    Girls5eva (Peacock)

    Take Episode 4 of the show, where Wickie dates a younger (TikTok-ing) boy, who — spoiler — turns out to be a set of twins that prank her with her own narcissism. The situation reveals how absurdly desperate for attention and prideful Wickie is; in one great cutaway bit, she refuses to wear reading glasses to read a wine menu, instead putting in a full set of contact lenses right at the dinner table just to order a glass of shiraz. While the joke itself is a funny depiction of how Wickie refuses to acknowledge her age, it’s Goldsberry’s patience and physical command that makes the moment shine.


    She displays those gifts again when, after being pranked at the end of the episode, another cutaway joke shows Wickie being “intimate” with the boy, which, remarkably, is just her alone on a bed doing a ridiculous movement routine, completely in her own diva universe. Goldsberry inhabits Wickie Roy’s vanity and performative peacocking so well that it comes across as entirely genuine, and her outlandish behavior is maximized by the conviction of Goldsberry’s commanding screen presence and conviction.

    On the other hand, Bareilles was not necessarily a shoe-in for this show prior to casting. After co-writing and starring in the Broadway musical Waitress, Bareilles’ path to acting notoriety seemed to echo her vulnerable, honest songwriting endeavors. Girls5eva’s irreverent, self-deprecating tone was a complete left turn for the pop star, who is undeniably down-to-earth, but can be bogged down by the seriousness of her own work.

    Here, though, her performance as the self-proclaimed “chill” member of the group, Dawn Solano, is Bareilles at her most playfully unbridled and self-aware, proving that she, in fact, can be extremely funny.

    Her brightest moment in the show arrives when she performs “I’m Afraid (Dawn’s Song of Fears)” for her bandmates. The song comes about while Dawn is seeking inspiration from a hallucination of Dolly Parton (played by Fey), and it describes her deepest fears as a woman and a mother.


    Not only is the song hysterical (sample lyric: “I’m afraid that when I die, someone will have sex with my dead body/ And be like, ‘Not worth it!’”), it’s a self-reflexive take on Bareilles’ own music. It feels like she’s making fun of herself — or rather, the entire genre of “singer-songwriters.” Dawn’s earnestness and genuine qualities feel authentic to Bareilles, but it’s the fact that Bareilles is finally not taking herself too seriously that elevates the character and the show.

    That leads us to Paula Pell and Busy Phillipps. Pell is usually on the other side of the table, having written for SNL, 30 Rock, and other standout NBC comedies; this time, she gets her spotlight as the brassy and hilarious Gloria. Pell’s portrayal of the divorced dentist feels like Parks and Recreation’s Midwestern charm on steroids, and her commitment to specific, detailed jokes and physical comedy are unparalleled (for example, her amazing “Rekindling” autumn romance montage).

    Girls5eva cast For Your Consideration: Girls5eva Had Some of 2021s Most Stellar Comedic Performances

    Girls5eva (Peacock)

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