Why Didn’t ‘Girls5eva’ Hit on Netflix As It Should Have? Here’s My Unfortunate Theory


There is something so delicious about biting into a comedy from the Tina Fey/Robert Carlock universe. “30 Rock,” of course, was the gold standard — and a show I find myself still quoting to this day. (Literally, as I just once again referenced the famed Jack Donaghy gag “Make It 1997 Again Through Science or Magic” in a recent Variety feature.) Team the Fey camp with Meredith Scardino, who cut her teeth on “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report,” and you get “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” another landmark show that helped Netflix define its smart comedy brand early in that streamer’s life.

Scardino was also part of the Fey/Carlock collab that gave us NBC’s “Mr. Mayor,” and I am still a bit angry that not enough people tuned into that sharp series. Ted Danson and Holly Hunter led a workplace comedy that delightfully skewered Los Angeles while setting up some amazing character dynamics.

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But that’s not what this column is about. Yes, the short life of “Mr. Mayor” still stings. Instead, I’m here to scold you all for not making “Girls5eva” the hit on Netflix it deserved to be. I’m not angry (OK, I’m a little angry), just disappointed. Scardino created another joke-dense, music-filled pop culture satire that also said so much about being a woman of a certain age looking to rediscover their voice and their place in the world.

When I wrote a major feature for Variety back in March about the third season, it was about how Netflix had picked up the first two seasons of “Girls5eva” from Peacock and had added six new episodes to the mix. If anything, the chemistry between stars Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry, Busy Philipps and Paula Pell was even more pronounced, and the show had pulled off even bigger things. Through its dense layer of jokes were some of the show’s most heartfelt moments yet — including Bareilles’ beautiful original song “The Medium Time.”

That’s why I thought — as did many others — that “Girls5eva” would join other series that have experienced the so-called “Netflix Effect.” Those are the shows that were critical darlings, but not broad hits, until they got a window on Netflix. It’s famously happened to “Schitt’s Creek,” and most recently to the little-seen “Loudermilk.” But then “Girls5eva” had its Netflix premiere on March 14… and it didn’t explode as expected.

In the weeks that have followed, I’ve had the conversation with several industry execs on why they think it didn’t go as planned. No one has a good explanation — and I really hate my theory, although it does make sense. Sad to say, it’s the title.

As a fan of comedic absurdity and irony, I get that the title “Girls5eva” is a play on the silly teenybopper boy and girl groups of the 1990s and early 2000s. This is a show rife with winks and nods, particularly when it comes to silly puns. (In Season 3, Pell’s character is on a bit of a relationship tear and calls herself “Ho Spice” — but, she adds, don’t write it down, since it looks like “Hospice.” Wordplay!)

But for audiences that don’t know what the show is, they see “Girls5eva” and think it isn’t something meant for them. I discovered that firsthand when I was on a radio show giving my TV picks, and when I mentioned “Girls5eva,” they wrinkled their nose. “What is that??” a DJ asked me, thinking I was pointing them to a cheesy reality show. When I explained the premise and the auspices, they lit up. But when you’re scrolling past a Netflix tile, you don’t always stick around long enough to watch the preview and get the context.

Titles still matter, which is why I’m always fascinated by how confusing they can be — or, in many cases, how similar. The fact that “Apples Never Fall” is on Peacock, and not Apple TV+ as your brain might tell you, is hysterical. This is the year of “The Gentlemen” and “A Gentleman in Moscow.” And we’re in the midst of an Emmy race where so many shows with animal titles — “Slow Horses,” “Reservation Dogs,” “The Bear,” “Baby Reindeer” — have nothing to do with animals.

I was hoping “Girls5eva” was gonna be famous 5eva — like its theme song promised. No matter the reason, it’s a shame it couldn’t follow “30 Rock” or “Kimmy Schmidt” in success, because three seasons is just too short.

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