Categories: Interviews

Interview: ‘Girls5Eva’ Creator Meredith Scardino on Staying Funny and How Music is an Integral Part of the Show’s Voice

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“It’s gonna get sexy, so watch out, Joe Pesci,” is a lyric that wouldn’t make sense to many people outside of the Girls5Eva fan base. Across the three seasons that have come out – the first two seasons were on Peacock until the show moved to Netflix for the most recent season in March – there have been many lyrics with the same impactfulness. Silly, hilarious, and working within the context of the series and its approach to comedy, each song of the show offers an insight into the characters the audience loves rooting for. 

At the center of the show is Meredith Scardino, creator and showrunner, who has worked in television for two decades. Scardino has worked on different comedy series including Best Week Ever, The Colbert Report, At Home with Amy Sedaris, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, and worked on material for the 2021 Golden Globes. She helps create the music for Girls5Eva, a seemingly difficult task when looking at the previous two seasons and their excellent soundtracks. Even with the show receiving a slightly shorter season order at Netflix with only six episodes compared to the eight that seasons one and two both had, the series is a triumph that never fails to offer hilarious commentary on pop culture and crafting some of the catchiest tunes heard on television since Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

I sat down with Scardino to discuss the show, her craft as a showrunner moving into a show’s third season, writing in different areas of comedy, and if she keeps songs secret before the world gets to hear them. 

Tyler Doster: What comforts are you afforded as a creator and showrunner for a series going into its third season?

Meredith Scardino: Well, the thing that is nice is like, you know your actors. By the third season, you really know your actors well, and you know what their strengths are. And you also get to get into a little bit more nuance with the storytelling, and this season we got to delve into Wickie’s backstory a little bit more and meet her parents and stuff.

And also you know the crew, you know the crew’s rhythms, you just build up a good foundation. And sometimes, there were moments where I was like, “I’m so used to things being hard.” As a showrunner, you’re just used to fire. There’s always so many challenges with any production that anybody’s involved in. It’s always just part of the job. But even just working with Kimmy Gatewood who directed all six [episodes], our entire season, we block shot the whole thing. And I had worked with her in season one and season two, so we have such a rhythm together that there’s a shorthand there and it’s really nice. And at times, it feels like some of the speed bumps are removed and you’re just like, “Oh no, is this easy? This shouldn’t be… It’s not easy, but it’s like, you’re just a little bit suspicious that things are running smoothly. You know what I mean? That’s nice going into season three, feeling that way. When I went into season one with a cast, I didn’t know them very well. I had only met Sara Bareilles and Renée Elise Goldsberry over Zoom. And Paula [Pell], I cornered in the bathroom once after a Golden Globes after I wrote on [it] and told her she was one of my heroes. That was the extent of our relationship.

And Busy [Philips], I had met just a few times through the Kimmy Schmidt world. She guested on it and stuff. And also, Tina [Fey] produced her late night show. I was such a stranger to them. They were getting to know me as much as I was getting to know them, and also covered in PPE and face masks and shields. Season three was the first season we actually didn’t have masks required for every shoot. That was also just nice, being able to look people in the eye, just seeing their whole face, and it felt nice going into season three that way.

TD: Would you say there’s more comfort or pressure that comes with a series on its third season?

MS: There’s, I think, a healthy mix of both, but I think if you’re ever too comfortable, it’s not a great thing. The pressure is like you’re trying to tell the next chapter of the story. We’re also trying, we’re doing it with a slightly shorter order, so we did it with six episodes this season, so you adhere a little bit closer to your season arc. That felt like a fun puzzle to put together, still having fun with all the comedy and the character development, but also knowing that there’s this engine where they’re getting to six and they’re getting back to New York and playing Radio City.

Yeah, there’s always, I think, a good … There’s always pressure that you feel a little bit, but it’s fun pressure. It’s pressure that comes from the breakneck deadlines and doing the table reads, we’ll see. You never know. You’re always like, “Is this working?” You hope it’s working, and then you’re like, oh, you’re really in the pocket there. We need to tweak that. I don’t think it’s ever 100% easy. Then it’ll probably be a bad show.

TD: How closely have you held to the plan you created for this series at its inception? Has there been anything major that has been a shift from the original vision?

MS: Not really. Pretty close. I’ve always had rough ideas of how each season would go, without getting too prescriptive and in the weeds of the exact telling of the story. Because I just think that you really need to be open to discovery when you’re in the room. And also, just watching the characters evolve, and where do they want to take you? Isn’t it George Saunders that said, “Let your characters tell you where they’re going next?” I try to be loose enough that I’m not like, “On episode two of season five, this happens.” It’s like, no, it is alive. It’s its own living document like the Constitution that evolves. Hopefully evolves. The pilot I first left behind at pitch meetings in the fall of 2019 was very close to the pilot that aired when we debuted in 2020. The season pitch-out was pretty close. The same with subsequent seasons. But again, I just don’t like to get too tied to anything, because I just think you need to be able to be loose to invite in the fun. The example I always think of is that Property Brothers fight from season two where Paula and Drew Scott get into basically a barroom brawl in a home renovation kitchen, a newly renovated kitchen on an HGTV show.

That came to us only because we learned that the Property Brothers had this massive martial arts background. Drew Scott sent me a clip of him attacking a stunt man in a backyard. All the writers and I were so excited. “Can we just license this thing? Can we license this and just air it and then build off that?” You just want to be able to be nimble at any moment. And same with shooting. When you’re shooting season one, I always felt like our call sheets were suggestions because you just never knew when something was going to blow up, or if you would lose a location, or if an actor tested positive or whatever. There’s so many unpredictable things, and you only have so much time and so much money, so you have to make it work. I think being nimble and problem solving is the whole name of the game.

TD: When you’re writing, when coming up with the songs and the lyrics, what comes first? The empathetic core of the song or getting to a joke?

MS: Sometimes I’ll think about the kinds of songs. Especially with the past, you’re like, “oh, there was always that kind of song in there.” A guy was behaving horribly, but only the woman, the other woman is the bad guy. The guy gets off scot-free. So you’re like, all right, how do I make a little snippet of a song? How do we do that? They’re usually born out of the concept. And then the lyrics, although “B.P.E. (Big Pussy Energy),” I just had that thought. I was like, “Oh, they need to write a song named B.P.E..” I just had it in my head.

But it’s like, I don’t know when. I had that idea in season one. And then, season two when they’re creating their own music, we did it. Ava Coleman, one of our writers, wrote a lot of those lyrics and they’re fantastic. She used to be a music manager. But everything is different, but it’s always connected to the story. It can’t feel like some kind of indulgent cutaway or an indulgent moment of watching them sing. When you’re coming up with their old stuff, you’re doing a lot of satire, I would say. You’re looking back at culture around the turn of the century, Y2K era, and that is a little closer to, you’re satirizing it. And I think what Jeff Richmond does is so genius, he’s very good at making something from that time feel a part of that time without feeling like just a ripoff of something else from that time. Do you know what I mean? It feels like it lived in that time, which I think is such a magic trick.

And then, when you’re thinking about the new music, it skews a little more earnest or a little bit more like, oh, they’re doing things to get attention. They’re trying to do shortcuts. So that’s how that “Tap Into Your (Fort) Worth” song that kicks off season three came about. Because we’re like, “Oh, what’s the biggest city or the biggest population that doesn’t have his song about it originally?” and then do the math on Fort Worth, Texas, and then just look up a bunch of shit on Wikipedia and write a song that fills the Fort Worthian’s hearts with inspiration.

So you’re attacking it from a million different angles. And then yeah, sometimes you’ll have a quick lyric in your head, and other times, the concept comes first and you don’t know how it’s going to sound or what it is yet. It’s very collaborative with the music team. It’s great.

TD: Speaking of Fort Worth, Wickie referring to it as “FoWo” is one of my favorite things in the whole show.

MS: We actually had to put in an ADR line just a little bit earlier in that scene to make someone say, “Fort Worth,” because we were slightly untethered to the town when she said “FoWo,” where it was like, “What is she talking about?” We had to have Lutz’s character Percy say like, “Fort Worth mayor.” So if you look back, you’ll notice Fort Worth is off camera when he says it.

TD: Is it difficult for you to not” Big Pussy Energy” in daily life, when you’re walking around? How did you keep the song secret during filming? Because I sing it all the time.

MS: You do? Oh, I’m so happy.

TD: It’s on a Spotify playlist.

MS: Oh, I’m honored. This is wonderful news. Well, first of all, the world is big. You can be doing your own thing and shouting it all the time and no one would notice. So I wasn’t keeping it in a safe or something, I was happily singing it. I was happy to see that we did  a remix. I love when the songs have the evolution too, where there’s a loose version around a piano and then there’s a studio version and there’s a remix. It’s just great.

TD: I love the remix.

MS: The remix is great, yeah.

TD: How did writing for Best Week Ever, Late Show with David Letterman, and Colbert Report influence your approach to comedic narrative storytelling?

MS: To narrative? Here’s how it has influenced me. I think all comedy writers are very observant. They notice everything. Whether you’re taking in the news or your family or whatever, you’re just taking in your surroundings. And in late night, it’s news driven. And Best Week Ever, pop culture. So you’re always taking in the news and behaviors and just pointing out what’s interesting about it or funny about it or hypocritical about it, whatever, and making something out of it. In terms of how it’s affected the narrative, that’s always a little bit of the harder learning curve is late night writers and sketch writers then learning how to tell longer stories, narrative stories, things that are a little bit less tethered. Having character development at all in late night sketch [comedy], you’re just pointing out the absurd thing. That is a great training ground to be really good at observing, taking things in, spitting out sketches, jokes, whatever, it’s not necessarily the best training ground or how to tell an episodic story.

That’s why a lot of … It always feels like the muscle that’s mostly been … It’s just not developed yet, so then when you go over it, I learned all of that, those moves once I was hired by Tina and Robert [Carlock] for Kimmy Schmidt. And then, I understood how you write the story and how you want to see your character change, but maybe not change so much you don’t recognize them because maybe the thing that’s funny about them is … For Kimmy Schmidt, it’s this wide-eyed innocence, and you want to see her keep some of that even as the world educates her and she catches up. You’re always trying to have people move and grow, but maybe just preserve the thing you love about them. And I think now, in television the way the storytelling is now, as seasons go, I think characters do change a lot more than they used to on a sitcom that ran for 22 episodes seasons, 10 years, those characters don’t change as much as more of a limited or a shorter series on a streamer or something. It’s more like, it gets to the ending of the movie bit faster than it would on networks.

But yeah, I don’t know. I think I use everything I’ve ever learned from everywhere all the time. But writing for The Colbert Report was great because he was this high status idiot, a blow hard conservative. So you’re writing jokes based on the news, but you’re also, you’re always filtering it through a character. And I found that incredibly helpful. It was a bridge to move me into narrative. Because you’re like, oh yeah, I’ve been writing for characters for six years.

TD: Are there any pop culture references or celebrity jokes that you find particularly funny that have made the final cut of the show?

MS: I’m trying to think. They’re all children of Girls5Eva, each joke. What’s yours?

TD: My personal favorite is how quickly  Jon Hamm posts a selfie after a celebrity death. 

MS: (laughs) That was really fun to work on. That was a great joke because we’ve all seen that. Jon Hamm exhibits none of that behavior, but we’ve all seen celebrities – or anyone, it’s not even a celebrity behavior. It’s like, there’s a photo immediately that rides the line, but it doesn’t feel as much of a tribute as it is, “I met this person in an airport. I want to show you the photo again.”

TD: What excites you the most about telling a story that incorporates music as a narrative device like this one? 

MS: Well, the music element is definitely very exciting. And it’s not a full musical, so it’s not like … It’s these little snippets. And then, what’s been delightful is the end of the season,  we’ve then made three albums. It’s so fun. But I think what I love working on this show is being able to write for four women in their 40s that are all different. It’s not like one woman in her 40s representing all women in their 40s. It’s just fun to write super fun, messy, aspirational, underdog ladies.

And I feel like there’s so much to mine. It’s also very relatable to everyone. So many men love the show as well. Everybody. I feel like if you love comedy, you’re going to like it. That’s the major question: do you love comedy? All right, you’ll like it.. And also, one thing I find really surprising a little bit in the course of doing a show and writing, trying to find something that represents my voice, it’s like, sometimes when you write something that you wonder if it’s relatable because it’s weird and bizarre, and then you find out it was very relatable is the most satisfying thing ever. It’s wonderful. People say that a lot, to write something that reaches a lot of people. Make it specific. I found that to be true. Just writing stuff about my kid. “New York Lonely Boy” is very much about my son. And obviously, there’s a million jokes from the writer’s room in that, but I love that we can all bring things that are happening in our lives and filter them through these characters.

What I love about this show is that it’s got this candy coated core, candy coated exterior of music and all that fun and the performances and music, and we’re also saying stuff about how women are treated. There’s just a lot there that comes to mind. And then, you’re also able to do very relatable stories that are affecting… I put stuff in about having a hard time getting my husband to be the point person at my kid’s school. You’re just putting real life in too, that’s a little bit away from the limelight. Writing for women is amazing. I love it. I just feel like it’s really nimble, because you can also look at pop culture. Even just like that scene in episode six where Wickie is pitching a documentary and the networks keep consolidating and changing in the room. You’re taking in what’s going on in the business and you get to write stuff like that. And then, you also get to write … It just feels very nimble and I love that about the show. I feel like there’s a lot we can do and play with that sky’s the limit like this, and with this group of actors. They’re incredible.

I also just think that, and the cast has talked about this too, the show’s a good reminder to go for shit. Renée says she just loves that those characters dream and are trying to be pop stars at that stage in life. And she’s writing a pop album. It is a reminder to not just get comfortable and just say, okay, this is my life. To take yourself out of your comfort zone. And I just think that the group really, the one hit wonder of it all where they were proud of something and it all fell apart, they all internalized it in completely different ways. And now, through the group, they all kind of need it, and they are helping each other break out of their old patterns or just get out of their comfort zones in it. I think it’s a good reminder for everybody: push yourself.

TD: What could audiences expect from a fourth season of Girls5Eva?

MS: Definitely funniness. They’ve been clawing their way into relevancy for three seasons. And we tease at the end of season three that Wickie’s old song “Yesternights” is in the finale of The Crown, so she’s going to just get a little footing back at this business. I would like to see them navigate a version of success and see how they do it.

Meredith Scardino is Emmy eligible in the categories of Outstanding Comedy Series for Girls5Eva and Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series for the episode “Orlando” of Girls5Eva.

Tyler Doster

Tyler is the TV Awards Editor for AwardsWatch and from Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He’s been obsessed with movies and the oscars since he was about 14. He enjoys reading, but even more, talking about Amy Adams more and will, at any given moment, bring up her Oscar snub for Arrival. The only thing he spends more time on than watching TV is sitting on Twitter. If you ever want to discuss the movie Carol at length, he’s your guy. You can find Tyler at @wordswithtyler

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