Netflix Brings Music Satire ‘Girls5eva’ Back From the Dead for a Well-Deserved Season 3: TV Review

The sitcom “Girls5eva” follows the attempted comeback of a fictional girl group that peaked in the early 2000s, now reunited as middle-aged women. But headed into its third season, it’s “Girls5eva,” not just Girls5eva, that’s trying to start anew. After two critically acclaimed, if evidently little-watched, seasons on Peacock, the show has been resurrected by Netflix, which has bankrolled a fresh batch of episodes and made the entire back catalog available to its massive audience of over 260 million global subscribers — many of whom will encounter “Girls5eva” for the first time as a Netflix original.

Once upon a time, Netflix made a name for itself as a place where cult favorites could find the fan base they deserved, making its rescue of a previously canceled project a retro throwback in itself. “Arrested Development” got a second life as a poster child for the possibilities of TV’s new normal; after an initial season on Lifetime, “You” exploded into a massive hit. (So did plenty of shows that weren’t even produced by Netflix in the first place, such as “Breaking Bad” and “The Office.”) Those days, of course, are long gone. Just this month, “The Brothers Sun” got the ax despite favorable reviews and spending weeks on the public-facing Top 10. In a full-circle moment, “One Day at a Time” aired its final season on Pop TV after Netflix declined to renew, a perfect reversal of Netflix boosting Pop TV’s own “Schitt’s Creek” to Emmys dominance.

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“Girls5eva,” it seems, was worth an exception. Netflix has a longstanding relationship with executive producer Tina Fey, who stewarded four seasons of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” after “30 Rock” found an afterlife as early fodder for the binge watch. And “Girls5eva” itself was far from exhausting its potential, either as a joke-dense satire of cultural misogyny or a resonant tale of later-in-life reinvention. Condensed to just six episodes from the first two seasons’ eight apiece, Season 3 acts more like a bite-sized preview of what “Girls5eva” could still become than a full delivery on its unrealized promise. It’s nonetheless in all our interests for this transplant to take. There simply aren’t enough shows where one could encounter a fake commercial for “Spaghetti for Her.” Losing the one we have — again! — would be a tragedy.

In the world of the show, the four surviving members of Girls5eva (one swam off the edge of an infinity pool in the aughts) have hit the road to tour in support of their comeback album. The parallels to real life only compound from there; just as the actual production had to rush a six-week shoot on a shoestring budget, this no-longer-girl-group is traveling between decidedly minor markets in a van driven by their tour manager Percy (“30 Rock” favorite John Lutz). The “Hacks” bus it isn’t. Ditzy, newly divorced Summer (Busy Phillips) even has to run a side hustle hawking tooth whiteners for a company founded by one Stacy Emellem. The potshot at multi-level marketing schemes is a perfect example of the show’s sly sense of humor, which often takes aim at corners of culture that speak to its demographic.

The hurried pace takes its toll on some of the serialized story. Responsible worrywart Dawn (Sara Bareilles) revealed her second pregnancy last season, but what could be a major plot line is largely relegated to the back burner. (There’s more real estate devoted to Dawn’s burning desire to get back to the Divorced Dad Suitelets so she can watch a spoof version of “The Crown” about Prince Andrew’s obsession with stuffed animals. To be fair, it’s a great gag.) Summer’s arc sees her trying to figure out her own identity after spending half her life as a unit with her boy-band ex, which could’ve used more time to see the character try on new personae.

Such complaints still come from a desire to see more of these women and the jokes supplied for them by creator Meredith Scardino and her writers. There’s at least space for more original songs, from a strained tribute to tour stop (“Know Your Fort Worth”) to a half-baked single from the failed solo career of Renée Elise Goldsberry’s delusional diva Wickie Roy (“Yesternights”). Cutaway gags to the group’s first run at the charts remain some of the series’ comic highlights: a “sex tape” between then-closeted Gloria (Paula Pell) and NSYNC’s Lance Bass turns out to be a game of hide-and-don’t-seek in an empty hotel room. New guest stars also inject some novelty. John Early plays a state senator who does duty as a “Fetal Citizen Advocate” during Dawn’s doctor’s appointment in a red state; Catherine Cohen appears as a grown-up fan with a rich older husband who commissions the crew for a private gig. Her episode works as both a chance for Dawn to fret over the messages the group sent to young listeners (an erstwhile single was called “Your Wife Sux”) and a chance to poke real-life pop stars for taking ethically suspect gigs. At one point, Wickie lists a slew of acts she claims once played for Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, culminating with fellow nostalgia object Nelly Furtado.

The season is structured as a build-up to a gig at Radio City Music Hall, booked by Wickie in a characteristic fit of overconfidence. Looming over the episodes leading up to the finale is the question of whether Girls5eva can attract enough of an audience to merit their new venue. They’ve certainly put in the time, both in the meat grinder of the Britney-era music industry and in establishing themselves outside of it. Girls5eva deserves its second chance; “Girls5eva” does, too.

All six episodes of “Girls5Eva” Season 3 are now streaming on Netflix.

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