The following article contains spoilers for season one, episode two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Best Friend.”
It’s hard to believe it’s been a whole month since we last spent time with Zoey Clarke–the computer programmer/ manager who was endowed with the ability to hear people’s thoughts in the form of complicated song and dance numbers. It’s been so long that the episode opened with a dream sequence/ musical number that served as a kind of “remember us?” for the entire cast followed by monologue-as-recap delivered by Zoey to best friend, Mo.
Debuting Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on January 7, 2020 and making us wait until February 16 for a follow-up is the kind of thing that makes people think networks actively sabotage their shows. If, for some reason, you can’t air more episodes for five weeks, then just wait and debut it later. Not to mention, the show debuted on a Saturday (for one episode) before being off the air for five weeks and moving to Sunday. What the hell, NBC?
This week, Zoey is in full manager mode after having received a major promotion last week–er–five weeks ago. Her department teams up with Simon’s (Zoey’s crush) department to design a digital scavenger hunt that will serve as promotion for the company, SPRQPoint. The SPRQPoint side of the storyline boils down to Zoey’s overbearing management style and her team not responding to that brand of leadership.
Meanwhile, Zoey’s best friend, Max, is still in love with her. He asks her out to some super pretentious-sounding, farm-to-table restaurant, but she pawns him off on the lonely barista at the coffee shop everyone frequents. When Max confronts her, she blames it on her new position at work.
At her parents’ house, things are improving (as much as they can be expected to). Zoey’s father is showing more face and hand movement, and he’s started communicating with a buzzer.
Finally, Zoey’s neighbor-turned-friend, Mo, has made it her sworn duty to figure out how to control Zoey’s pesky powers, offering suggestions ranging from the understandable (noise-canceling headphones) to the experimental (putting Zoey in a room full of mimes).
My complaints about this series are still (and will probably forever remain) conceptual. The idea is so fresh and interesting, and the cast is so charming and talented. I just actually really hate the way the song sequences are executed.
This episode, admittedly, does a little work to alleviate this hatred. One sequence in the coffee shop–where the barista leads several other patrons in a sad bastard version of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” by Whitney Houston–tries to answer some of these questions. This is the first time Zoey is with someone who knows about her ability when the ability actually kicks in. Mo asks all of the expected questions, and from Mo’s perspective, we just see people in a coffee shop. From Zoey’s perspective, we see a fully choreographed dance number.
My problem here is the implication that Zoey and Mo are experiencing two completely different realities. Zoey sees exclusively dancing while Mo sees exclusively ordinary behavior. If what Zoey sees is “extra” (or extraordinary, I guess), then she should be seeing the dancing and hearing the singing in addition to seeing the ordinary behavior. I think visual cues–a ghost or spirit or something coming out of the physical bodies to dance and sing–could help this tremendously.
Other recent television shows from the musical genre–I’m looking at you, Glee and My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend–were very good at building the music into the narrative action as performance or dream sequence. Zoey’s got better at explaining the phenomenon this week, mostly through conversations with her extraordinary best friend, Mo, who is increasingly assuming the role of audience surrogate. More of these conversations need to happen for the concept to work.
Still, what really works about Zoey’s is the heart. The will-they/ won’t-they developing between Zoey and Max is trending in a nice direction, especially with this week’s reveal that Max loves Zoey’s sick father and brought him some farm-to-table pudding since he knows he can’t eat solid food anymore.
Speaking of the family, Zoey’s is at its best when it’s exploring the drama of a loving family cut off from communicating with one of its members due to a neurological disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (we got a name this week).
It has been documented that showrunner Austin Winsberg mined his own family’s experience with the disease to create Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Winsbger’s father died from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy several years ago, and he wanted to take the pain and grief from that experience and transform it into something beautiful and optimistic. You can read his full interview with Entertainment Weekly here.
I worry, from a story perspective, that returning to that well and using the family drama as a source of emotional punch too often will cheapen those moments. We’ve gotten musical numbers featuring Zoey’s father, Mitch, both weeks. It was incredible and emotionally impactful in episode one, but I worry about this story beat becoming too much of a crutch.
Overall, I really want to like this show, and I mostly like it very much. There are just some moments in the more elaborate song and dance numbers that take me all the way out of the story. I think it’s distracting to me because the show is spending so much time trying to figure out how to deal with it. I almost wish the whole thing was just a musical and could play by stage musical rules. But alas, we have a girl endowed with magical powers by a medical scan gone wrong.
Are we even sure that Zoey is still alive?
I will be recapping and offering some sort of too-critical-of-execution analysis each week of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist‘s inaugural season. If you’re watching, what do you think so far?
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