Comeback tour: why we should applaud Netflix for saving Girls5Eva

<span>Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps and Renée Elise Goldsberry in Girls5Eva.</span><span>Photograph: Emily V Aragones/Netflix</span>
Sara Bareilles, Paula Pell, Busy Philipps and Renée Elise Goldsberry in Girls5Eva.Photograph: Emily V Aragones/Netflix

Very quietly, without much publicity or promotion, Girls5Eva appeared on Netflix last week. For those of us who haven’t kept their eye on the ball, this came as an immense surprise. Because as far as we were concerned, Girls5Eva was dead. At the end of its second season a year and a half ago, the show’s original platform Peacock announced that it would not renew the show.

Related: Girls5Eva series two review – there is so much joy in every episode

And we made our peace with that. Written by Meredith Scardino, a storied writer with credits on SNL and The Colbert Report, Girls5Eva at times seemed almost too beautiful to live. A sitcom about four middle-aged women determined to reform their noughties girl group and recapture a flicker of their old fame, it was not only dense with every form of joke imaginable – never has a show revelled quite so much in the background sight gag – but at times weirdly touching. Produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, it shared an innate DNA with 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It was fast and precise, and boasted a murderer’s row of talent.

Some of the cast you knew would be good. Busy Philipps is as reliable a comedy performer as you are ever likely to find, with a face elastic enough to convey a full spectrum of confusion and disgust, and Paula Pell has spent years looking for a breakout vehicle like this. But others were a total coin toss. The ostensible lead of the show was the earnest piano balladeer Sara Bareilles, a woman who did not seem like a natural fit for screwball comedy, and yet turned out to be brilliant.

And then there was Renée Elise Goldsberry, best known for playing Angelica Schuyler in Hamilton, who was absolutely revelatory as the absurd narcissist Wickie Roy. It’s absurd that you can be in Hamilton and then find a star-making role, but that’s exactly what Goldsberry did with Girls5Eva. If you were reluctant to watch initially, it’s worth it just to see the levels of mania she is able to hit.

And now you have another chance. It’s slightly surprising that Netflix picked up Girls5Eva. Long gone are the days when Netflix would swoop in and rescue any vaguely beloved show that looked like it might be in trouble. Now it has a habit of cutting shows off in their prime, unless millions of diehard fans are prepared to dedicate their entire lives to relentlessly pestering executives for a renewal. And Girls5Eva definitely did not have that. It had fans, yes, but it was a show for adults with busy lives that didn’t leave any room for annoying letter-writing campaigns.

But here we are. Girls5Eva is back, and more or less as good as it ever was. The comeback season is structured around the group’s first tour following their new album. We find them in residence at Fort Worth, where they have fallen into a rut of fan service, singing long renditions of one song about the town, beefed up with tracts from Wikipedia and chants of “Fuck Dallas”. It’s comfortable but unfulfilling work, and they need to break out.

The ensuing tour takes them to Wickie’s home, where the group learns the truth about her hardscrabble upbringing (spoiler: her parents are good at Scrabble, which is hard) and visit a rich fan to be confronted about the casual insensitivity of their early-noughties hits. It’s just as quick and absurd as it ever was. One joke about tooth whiteners might be the best we see on screen all year.

Which isn’t to say that it’s perfect, of course. The new season has got a little too giddy about being on Netflix, and has become improbably dirty in the process. It’s jarring the first time a character says “dick”, purely because we had 16 episodes where nobody did that, but it’s soon followed by a kaleidoscope of filthy language. I can’t remember an American show that uses the C-word so readily (including once in a musical number). Which isn’t to say that it’s morally wrong, but the series sits in such a heightened, sunny, day-glo space that the swearing can take you out of the world a little. Also, this might just be me, but the return of Girls5Eva has made me ever so slightly resentful that Netflix didn’t also decide to renew Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s other lost masterpiece, Great News.

But these are quibbles. Girls5Eva is back, and in this media landscape we should treat it as the miracle that it is. Now it’s up to Netflix to keep making more of it.