Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell and Renée Elise Goldsberry of Girls5eva

Emily Assiran

Sara Bareilles

Emily Assiran

Busy Philipps

Emily Assiran

Paula Pell

Emily Assiran

Renée Elise Goldsberry

Emily Assiran

Meredith Scardino

Emily Assiran
Fill 1
Fill 1
May 05, 2022

Girls5eva Back 2getha

Women who value the here and now powered the first season of the Peacock comedy. The stars are back for an encore, with more brillantly funny songs and even more gratitude for being together.

Mara Reinstein

If you've ever wondered what it's like to watch a '90s-era "girl power" in action, spend a few minutes with the Girls5eva cast in 2022.

Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Paula Pell are posing for group selfies after a photo shoot. Goldsberry makes dinner plans with Pell, even though they just shared a late lunch. They coo over Bareilles's new puppy, then depart with deep hugs. "We just prefer to be together," Bareilles says.

They also happen to be in harmony, on several levels, on their Peacock comedy, where season two is now streaming. The series follows a one-hit-wonder girl group that reunites twenty years later to realize its members' musical dreams on their own terms. It was an instant hit upon its May 2021 premiere, thanks to whip-smart dialogue and infectious original songs like "Famous 5eva." In the new season, Girls5eva will land a record deal (thanks, Property Brothers!) and finally start writing and recording an album.

"The bar was set pretty high, so we really tried to figure out how to take care of everybody's stories and still make fun and interesting music," says Jeff Richmond, an executive producer (along with his wife, Tina Fey, and Robert Carlock, David Miner, Meredith Scardino and Eric Gurian). He also supervises the music and directed the season premiere. Viewers will hear roughly twenty new songs in all shapes and sizes this season, he promises.

Girls5eva was the brainchild of Scardino, a writer long fascinated by the Total Request Live era of pop music acts. Her goal was to show what happens after all that shrieking goes silent. "I wanted this group of women to think about what it's like to have a voice now," she says.

But she never expected the stars — all veterans of stage and screen — to become such a united front. "It's really lightning in a bottle," she marvels. As Philipps explains, they're destiny's children: "We are all women of the same generation who have been in this industry huffing and puffing and trying to make it work. We related so deeply to the story that it allows us to be intimate with each other."

Now these ladies share all about Girls5eva and beyond. 'Cuz 4ever's too short.

She had just wrapped season one of Girls5eva and was still processing the experience when Bareilles first hopped on the phone for an emmy interview — last year. "I was a little bit uncomfortable," she admitted at the time. "I told Tina and Meredith that I didn't even know I could do this."

A year later, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, Tony-nominated composer and Emmy-nominated composer-actress-host confirms with a relieved smile that she's no longer "the deer in the headlights." In fact, she was so relaxed during production that she started noticing new insights. "I felt more creative on the set and had all these ideas," she says.

That sentiment should be music to her fans' ears. Her character, Dawn, continues to be the slightly neurotic voice of reason ("She's the one holding the balloons for dear life to make sure they don't all fly away"), and as a writer, Bareilles contributed two songs. One is a laugh-out-loud ditty revolving around the word set; the other is a finale anthem titled "Bend Don't Break."

Richmond says: "She wrote with heart and emotion and fun and cleverness and all the things she's exceptional at."

Bareilles, who raves about her group text chains and long dinners with the cast, says the inspiration for the big number was a no-brainer. "The song is about remembering that we can do anything," she says, "as long as we lean on each other."

Don't even think about comparing this Tony-winning powerhouse to the hysterically desperate and narcissistic diva that is Wickie. Still. She understands this character to the core — especially why she'd agree to be part of a pop group in the first place.

"She doesn't want to share the spotlight, but it is a means to an end," Goldsberry explains. "People come to their form of success in many ways. And you literally just keep showing up until something hits. I was doing the same thing in the '90s."

For Goldsberry, the pavement-pounding led to a gig as a backup singer on Ally McBeal for five seasons. TV work on One Life to Live and The Good Wife followed, as did her breakout role as Angelica Schuyler in Broadway's Hamilton. The move into broad comedy "was a total departure," she says, "but it felt so natural for me. I'm an extremely silly person."

But watch out: Wickie is poised to grow up. That is, after she fixates on dating and splitting up with a celebrity just for the publicity. "These women accept that she always wants to be in the center," Goldsberry says. "But she's going to start asking for more — from herself and for herself." Baby steps.

"I truly don't know where or how I would be if I didn't get this job," Philipps declares as her eyes start to glisten. She's not referring to the line on her résumé — after all, the actress and former late-night host has been a steady TV presence since Freaks and Geeks in 1999. But emotionally? Philipps felt adrift and burned-out, she reveals, until Fey contacted her in 2020 to gauge her interest in Girls5eva. "It was like the confluence of all these things that I love," she says. "This was a gift sent from the heavens."

Given an opportunity to reach for the stars, Philipps decided to shape her character, Summer, as a girl stuck in her youth. Notably, she altered her voice to give it an "arrested vocal fry, almost like she's a baby because she hasn't developed." But in season two, she reveals, Summer finally splits from her boy-bander hubby (Andrew Rannells) and "goes on a real journey to try to find herself."

And that gave Philipps the chance to perform live a cappella with Bareilles in a recording booth. "I can sing, but I'm self-aware enough to know that I'm not Sara Bareilles, and that brings me comfort," she says. "I have no ego about this process at all."

Only one Girls5eva cast member has firsthand experience with Spice Girls, All Saints and TLC. Shout-out to Pell, a former Saturday Night Live writer who watched all those pop sensations hit the stage in Rockefeller Center's Studio 8H — and even created a recurring parody sketch about a boy band. "NSYNC once came on and did this goofy dance to a song called 'Hold the Pickle,'" she recalls. "I thought it was the best day of my life."

All those groups are long gone. And now she is holding the microphone. "What I find incredible is that I'm approaching fifty-nine and I'm performing, which has always sparked deep joy in me," says Pell, who's been Emmy-nominated ten times as a writer (winning once for SNL) and one time as an actress (for Mapleworth Murders). "It shows that these roles do happen. Because it's not like I'm Kevin Costner looking hot in my jeans out on the ranch."

Her Gloria, however, is a dynamo. Consider that the singer-turned-dentist-turned-singer coined her own dance move, The Excelsior. Early in season two, she takes it up a notch and busts her knee — but, surgery be damned, she bolts from the hospital to be here for her girls.

Pell really did have her knee replaced a few years ago, by the way. "The writers told me that it was the most Gloria thing ever," she says. "I actually think I came into the show as her."

The Girls5eva stars are quick to, well, sing the praises of their show creator. "She writes these lyrics that are crazy in all the best ways," Bareilles says. Goldsberry adds: "When you have the benefit of Meredith and her writers, there is no sophomore slump."

The unassuming Scardino downplays it all. "We write scenes, and you imagine it happening in one way in your head," she says. "But when you see this group of actors interpret the material, everything is elevated."

A former writer on Late Show with David Letterman and The Colbert Report, Scardino went from scripting jokes about breaking news to joining the staff of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. "Late-night experience was really helpful because Tina and Robert came from Saturday Night Live, and their minds work in a certain way," she notes. "You really have to fire out jokes in that rat-a-tat style."

Her late-night experience also sparked plenty of Emmy notice: across her career, Scardino has been nominated fourteen times, including last year as a writer for Girls5eva; she won four Emmys as a writer for Colbert.

With Girls5eva (a concept that she pitched to Fey and Carlock), the first-time showrunner can dig into her '90s past — she was an ardent fan of Making the Band and Destiny's Child back in the day — and move the needle forward on representing characters of a certain age. "It's fun to write jokes about the experiences of women in their forties," she says. "It's not like we went away. We just grew up."

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine issue #4, 2022, under the title, "Now and 5eva."

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