‘Girls5Eva’ Star Paula Pell Thinks the World ‘Desperately Needs White-Hot Comedy’

If Paula Pell had her way, “Girls5Eva” would be one of the longest-running comedies on television.

“I could do it for 15 seasons, and I’d be tapping my foot like, ‘What’s the news on 16?’” Pell told TheWrap. Part of that passion has to do with the talent behind the series, which moved from Peacock to Netflix for its third season. Created by Meredith Scardino and executive produced by the team of Robert Carlock, Tina Fey and Jeff Richmond, the series centers on Pell, Sara Bareilles, Renée Elise Goldsberry and Busy Philipps.

“Girls5Eva” follows a girl group that used to be big in the 2000s but has since been shoved aside. Decades after disbanding, these now middle-aged women reunite to take another shot at becoming pop stars. Pell portrays Gloria, the group member who used to be closeted and who spends most of Season 3 sleeping with her various fans while touring on the road.

Between hiding her sexuality, struggling with perfectionism and going through a messy divorce with Caroline (played by Pell’s real-life wife, Janine Brito), Gloria could easily come off as a tragic figure. But in the Emmy winner’s capable hands—and through her surprising stunt work—Gloria shines as one of the funniest parts of this joke-a-minute comedy.

TheWrap: There’s a lot of heart to “Girls5Eva,” but it never sacrifices comedy.

Paula Pell: This is not a diss at all on any of the brilliant shows that are out there, but I feel the word “comedy” has changed so much of how you define a show. There’s room for all of it. But I really think that our world desperately needs white-hot comedy. I’m 60, and I grew up with “All in the Family” and these incredible shows in the ‘70s —”The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” all of those. They were such grounded characters that felt real but they also were ridiculous, and the jokes were hilarious. I mean, “The Golden Girls” is the pinnacle of perfect jokes. As a writer, I just look at [this’ show, and I’m like, “Yes, yes, yes. This is what our consumers need.”

Busy Philipps as Summer, Sara Bareilles as Dawn, Paula Pell as Gloria and Renée Elise Goldsberry as Wickie in Episode 302 of GIRLS5EVA (Photo Credit: Emily V. Aragones/Netflix)

You were writing on “SNL” throughout the time period “Girls5Eva” mocks. What has it been like to witness the evolution of comedy and make fun of the 2000s now that you’re on the other side of it?

It’s funny and weird. I used to write a parody of a boy group on the show called Seven Degrees Celsius. It was Chris Kattan, Jimmy Fallon, Chris Parnell and Horatio Sanz, and Will Ferrell was their producer but he was a total creep that
had to stay 300 feet away from them at all times. NSYNC  was the music guest, and Justin [Timberlake] was a baby. I wrote them into the sketch and wrote a fake song for them where they wore McDonald’s uniforms and sang “Hold the Pickle.” I was absolutely in heaven, watching them make fun of themselves because all these girl and boy groups, so many of them were so manufactured. Now we know there was some really messed up stuff that they had to go through.

Gloria’s arc confronts the homophobia that was very prevalent in the 2000s. What was it like in those days for you?

I was so closeted, even the first five years at “SNL,” at least. So many people were closeted, but they were also closeted to themselves. They used to say to people about coming out, “I just worry for you. I hate all the pain that’s brought by being gay.” The pain is not brought by being gay. The pain is by people rejecting you because you’re gay. I am just who I am. I was happily a gay person, but I knew society was telling me you will lose people, so you have to be something else. You just keep it quiet. I had a friend that came out to their parents, and they said something that I think has been said so many times by parents when their kids come out. They said, “We knew you were gay, but why do you have to say it?” You get to live openly, but I don’t? How is that fair?

This season has a moment I love, and I believe it originated from something that my wife experienced as a standup. She would do standup across the country, and she’d be somewhere where she’s like, “There’s no lesbian ladies at this one.” And then there’d be a whole row of ladies like, “We drove two hours!” I found that so touching. Meredith and I were in tears when we were shooting [a scene in Season 3 based on this story]. It’s that feeling of I’m not alone. It was a really heartwarming thing.

I also think [the show] does a great job at acknowledging the toxic shit and being really pissed off about it, and then also going, “I want to live differently, loudly and completely differently. That’s my real best revenge.”

A version of this story first ran in the Comedy Series issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the issue here.

Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews
Larry David photographed by Mary Ellen Matthews

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