Girls5Eva review – Tina Fey’s gags are so good they should be revered

There are shades of 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt in this hilarious show about a one-hit-wonder girl band reuniting after 30 years. No wonder, given it’s by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock

If you didn’t know beforehand, it would not be long before you realised that Girls5Eva (Sky, Now) came from the school of Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, who gave us those perennial delights, 30 Rock and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The new show, about a manufactured 1990s girlband of the same name (“We’ve been best friends ever since we auditioned for a man in a New Jersey hotel room!”), is the brainchild of Kimmy writer and producer Meredith Scardino, in collaboration with Fey and Carlock. It provides a similar cocktail of laughs. There are parodies (this time mostly of music videos rather than TV shows or characters), “proper” jokes so densely packed you’re still unearthing more on third and fourth viewings, call backs, and throwaway gags so good they would be revered treasures anywhere else. The chemistry among its leads recalls – even if it doesn’t quite get there, because nothing can or will – the chemistry between Ellie Kemper and Titus Burgess in Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. In short, it is a joy.

Under the aegis of their sleazy manager Larry, Girls5Eva had one hit (Famous 5Eva) three decades ago but fell into obscurity after their follow-up tanked. It was called Quit Flying Planes at My Heart and was released on 10 September 2001. Since then, one of the girls has died (Ashley – “The one who got us all through our breakups with Moby”) and the remaining four members have drifted apart. We first meet Dawn (Sara Bareilles) as she is listening to the radio while having a mammogram. She has the perfect breasts for it, her doctor says – “Already so smooshed!” The Fey spirit, unable to know of a physical female indignity without leaping to embrace it for comic effect, remains strong throughout. Dawn herself is the mother-figure of the group. Always the responsible one then, she is now married with one child, constantly stressed (“Fireworks or terrorism?” she shouts when woken by a strange noise at night), and works long hours at her idiot brother’s restaurant (Dean Winters, essentially reprising his 30 Rock Dennis Duffy role). Hearing Famous 5Eva sampled as part of hit rapper Li’l Stinker’s latest moneymaker, she goes to pick up her royalty cheque from Larry and is coaxed into delivering the rest to her former bandmates, too.

Summer (Busy Philipps) is still blond, chaotic, goodhearted and now married to former boybander Kev (Andrew Rannells), though he does now live and work in Tampa and appear to be gay. Gloria (Paula Pell) is a successful dentist (“with a kind of rosacea you get from other people’s breath” – 30 Rock’s fondness for light evocations of foul skin conditions lives on, too). Wickie (Renée Elise Goldsberry) was the only one with proper talent (she was also the winner of the Wettest Mouth in a girl group award) and left the band to go solo. She is famous on social media as the head of her own glamorous “fempire”, but we all know that Instagram – and generally anyone who uses the word “fempire” – lies. When the Li’l Stinker attention brings the possibility of the girls staging a comeback, they are all in. “We should celebrate!” says Dawn’s husband (Daniel Breaker) when he hears the plan. “Wanna start The Americans?”

The eight-episode season is full of beautifully honed jokes, absurdities, acute commentary (as well as some more similar to the decidedly unacute, defensive moments about “woke” criticism and contemporary issues the previous Fey/Carlock collaborations contained), sight gags and song and dance numbers (lyrics largely by Scardino, scores, of course, by Jeff Richmond – Mr Tina Fey – who did such wonders with the musical side of Kimmy Schmidt). But as is also the pair’s hallmark, it has heart too. The women – so different from when they first met – must reform their bonds as well as the group, and find different ways to flourish. The authenticity of their friendship and the supportive dynamic gradually woven among them (Gloria gently encouraging Summer to see that all is not well with her marriage, Summer encouraging Dawn to create a stage persona that will liberate her, Dawn taking the broke Wickie – and her transparent grand piano – into her home) makes you wonder if everyone involved in And Just Like That shouldn’t be forced to a screening immediately.

Anyway. It is, as I say, a joy. Fey, Carlock, Scardino and Richmond 5Eva.