Since the coining of the term in the late 1980s, the TV “dramedy” has made its way onto our screens and into our hearts. From the witty remarks and constant life troubles of the “Gilmore Girls” to the tragic hilarity of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” combining elements of the comedic and dramatic genres has proven to be a successful way of appealing to viewers of varying interests. One of Netflix’s newest releases has done just that.
Netflix’s new show “The Girls at the Back” tells the story of five school friends, now in their mid-thirties, who each shave their heads and embark on a trip filled with bucket list activities after learning the unimaginable: One of them has been diagnosed with cancer. The series follows Alma (Monica Miranda, “Dos Vidas”), Olga (Godeliv Van den Brandt, “Sky Rojo”), Leo (Mariona Teres, “Wrong Side of the Tracks”), Carol (Maria Rodriguez Soto, “The Paramedic”) and Sara (Itsano Arana, “Reyes de la noche”), five friends dealing with the heavy impact of the “c-word” on the group’s dynamic, as well as their own personal struggles that need confronting.
While plenty of dramedies have dealt with the difficult topic of life-threatening illness in the past, such as Chuck Lorre’s “The Kominsky Method” or Sarah Watson’s “The Bold Type,” “The Girls at the Back” takes a perspective that is rare in these types of storylines — one that refuses to make cancer a main character. Illness may contribute to the series’ main plot line, but the group’s constant banter and joking yet touching reflections on their shared past contributes to the more humorous side of the series, balancing the show’s comedic and dramatic elements. Throughout its duration, “The Girls at the Back” refuses to allow cancer to overshadow what is truly at the heart of the show: Lifelong friends enjoying each other’s company and lovingly mocking one another all the while.
While it is revealed from the beginning that one of the five friends has been diagnosed with cancer, the audience is not let in on one key detail until the show’s final episode: which friend has been diagnosed. Yes, the underlying presence of the disease leaves a dark cloud over the series. However, the creator’s decision to keep the audience in the dark about which woman has received the diagnosis helps to distract from the more somber aspects of the show and direct more focus onto its comedic elements and the personal journeys of each individual character.
The purpose of the bucket list activities may be directly related to the cancer-centric plot line, but the fact that these tasks are completed solo allows opportunities for the audience to observe each character’s individual growth. Be it Leo’s unspoken but obvious alcoholism, Olga’s fear of romantic commitment, Carol’s failing marriage or Alma and Sara’s struggles to suppress their feelings for one another, the show’s individual plot lines provide another layer of depth to the show. Instead of allowing the idea of the “friend group” to overshadow each character’s individuality, “The Girls at the Back” chooses to differentiate its characters with strong personalities and separate storylines. However, the show simultaneously uses the women’s matching shaved heads to signify a constant sense of unity within the group and remind the viewer that the show is, first and foremost, a story of friendship and solidarity.
While the first few episodes of “The Girls at the Back” are told from a relatively linear perspective, the later episodes often use more abstract modes of storytelling, such as non-chronological timelines or characters speaking to people who are not physically present (instead, figments of their imagination, or people they are speaking to over the phone). Although the intention of creativity is present, these more abstract elements do not positively contribute to the effect of the show as much as they make plot lines seem messier and more difficult to follow.
At its core, “The Girls at the Back” is a touching story of strong community and female friendship, rooted in its complex characters and upheld by a loyalty to the dramedy genre. The show’s ability to discuss serious topics without overshadowing its other attributes or sacrificing key comedic elements helps the series prove itself as a true comedy-drama and appeal to viewers who value complexity in a television series. Whether you’re looking for a new dramedy to obsess over, a late-night Netflix binge or a simple reminder that “this too shall pass,” “The Girls at the Back” may be just the series you’re looking for.
Daily Arts Contributor Olivia Tarling can be reached at email@example.com.