I Turned On Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and I’m Never Turning It Off
A Series That Lives Up To Its Name
How often, even in the world of Peak TV, do you come across a series that truly, remarkably different? Last year, I watched the Pilot for NBC’s tremendous musical comedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. To say I was swept away would be an understatement. The series dealt with a coder at a Silicon Valley startup called SPRQIST. She seemed to be an ordinary woman. Then she went into an MRI and was listening to Muzak when there was an earthquake. From this point on, she’s been able to read other people’s innermost thoughts. Except they express them through elaborate and delightful musical numbers. In the Pilot, Zoey befriended a man named Simon, whose dark song revealed that he was severely depressed, even suicidal. She learned that her father, who was in the latter stages of ALS, still had spirit in him. And that her long time best friend, Max, was in love with her. It was one of the most daring and original pilots I’ve ever seen, with an exceptional cast from Jane Levy in the title role to Mary Steenburgen as her mother. And because of it being on Sunday night against the final season of Homeland, I basically chose to walk away from it.
Miracle of miracles, it has made it into a second season, and I’m determined not to make the same mistake I did before. So when Season 2 premiered last Tuesday. And like so many other great series, even if you missed the first season, you can very quickly become absorbed. Zoey has been going through a tough time personally. Her father passed away at the end of Season 1. (Though due to flashbacks, I think we’ll be seeing Peter Gallagher again.) She stayed away from the office for six weeks, and it seemed like her ‘problem’ had disappeared. Then she returned to the office. Cue the ‘Hello, Dolly’ number.
In addition, Zoey has found out that she has received a promotion to run the ‘fourth floor’ that she worked at the entire first season. She spent much of the second season premiere denying that responsibility, but finally she decided to accept it. And given how well she seemed to finally handle the frat boys operation along with adding three new female coders is a subtle plug at #MeToo that this show is good at. She’s also been dealing with the fact that her sister-in-law has given birth and that the entire family is trying to slowly move away from her father’s long illness. Indeed, her mother Maggie has spent so much time dealing with it that she suddenly doesn’t know what to do with herself. And after a year of going back and forth, she and Max finally hooked up last night in one of the most wonderful romantic scenes I’ve seen in a far long time. Apart from dealing with a cliché of them finding a time and place to have sex, when they finally found the time and place, it was lovely and fulfilling and, dare I say, funny in a way I haven’t seen on any platform in years, maybe decades. It wasn’t just that Max tried to stop spoiling the mood in one of the funniest moments I’ve seen; it’s that when his inner feelings came out in song, Zoey did something remarkable and did a duet. This was sweet and really seemed to solidify things in a way that so many other shows can’t. Oh, and the fact that it took place in her childhood bedroom. Hilarious.
Now there are many who might say the musical show was dead after Glee. But Zoey’s works, because the numbers aren’t there just for performance (although let it be said right that everybody on this show from Alex Newell’s busting out with blues to Alice Lee’s number of Poison can sing and dance with the best of them). The numbers are there for a point. Zoey may not like her gift, but this insight into people’s souls explains things in a way that a thirty second monologue wouldn’t. They’re funny and moving and entertaining. This is a method that has not really been tried before and while Zoey finds it awkward, it’s hard not to be entertained when a bunch of coders go into a rousing chorus of “They Did a Bad, Bad Thing.”
I don’t know how a show this original, daring and above all, entertaining managed to end up getting greenlit, much less on a broadcast channel. But Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is one of those series that people like me delight in for the true wonder of the medium. And in an era of darkness everywhere, it is exactly the kind of show we need right now. I hope there’s some way that Lauren Graham ends up returning to it quickly, but apart from that, I have not a single criticism. Wherever this show lands and whatever happens to Zoey, I will follow it. Because it’s not just her playlist that is extraordinary.
My score: 5 stars.