Singing, dancing, sweaters, and a lot of tears. NBC's new show Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has it all. Starring Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Peter Gallagher, Mary Steenburgen, and LAUREN EFFING GRAHAM, Zoey is the musical/emotional-devastation show we needed in our lives.
We're Courtney Enlow and Carly Lane and we're recapping the show all season. Because we've got the music in we.
Warning: Spoilers within for the first two episodes of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.
Carly: I’ll be honest, Courtney, this show had me only a little bitty-bit curious from the beginning, but that was solely on the basis of “wacky musical fun!” and NOT “by the way, you’re going to have your heart gently and slowly ripped out of your chest cavity via the power of music every week.”
Courtney: Carly, I sobbed. Multiple times. And got full-on chills even more. And I don’t know if it’s Jane Levy’s hopeful eyes or serious sweater game, but even the tears were such powerful-in-a-good-way moments. So let’s break down the plot for our friends here.
Carly: When we first meet Zoey Clarke (played with every ounce of charm and believability by Levy), she’s a little subdued, a little in her own head most of the time, listens to boring podcasts on her commute, is definitely not assertive and confident in her abilities. She’s up for a promotion at work and doesn’t know what her strengths and qualifications are when her boss Joan (absolute queen Lauren Graham) asks her to list them off! You know what would absolutely change that? Being in an MRI machine during an earthquake that causes the computer system to go on the fritz and then leads to… her being able to hear people’s inner thoughts voiced through song?
Courtney: This is why I don’t have that many Spotify playlists. They will download into my brain like the Intersect from Chuck and people will dance sadly at me to Whitney Houston.
Carly: It’s as wacky a conceit as it sounds, but what really grounded this series for me from the very first episode isn’t just the hilarity of it, like the fact that people are expressing subconscious emotions like attraction and horniness (although that happens too, because c’mon). This show, ultimately, is a reminder that all of us, at some point in our lives, are hiding hurts that we don’t always allow others to see — and what would you do if you had the power to see those hurts expressed right in front of you, even if the other person wasn’t aware it was happening? Would you just turn around walk away, or would you — as Zoey does — try to help her friends and family acknowledge what they’re feeling? Sure, it’s a fun plot device, and you and I are never going to say no to a spontaneous musical number in any fictional situation, but I was surprised by how quickly this show went to a feels place for me and the same thread carried over into this week’s episode too.
Courtney: It’s nice in a show like this to have two people she shares her secret with — neighbor Mo (played to glorious perfection by Alex Newell, a gender-nonconforming singer/actor [who uses he/him pronouns] playing a gender-fluid character — IMAGINE THAT), and her father Mitch (Peter Gallagher, breaking our hearts and making us cry-text each other throughout both episodes). This show fills a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend-shaped hole in our hearts nicely, but Rebecca Bunch’s inner fantasy life was a secret until the series finale. Zoey has two people she can confide in, even if one can’t confide back in a conventional way. On that note...
Carly: So I had a feeling I was going to be Having Emotions as soon as I realized that Zoey’s parents are played by the incomparable Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher because that’s just a duo designed to hook me right from the start. But there’s a complicated layer to Zoey’s family life and we see it right from the first episode; her father, Mitch, is suffering from a rare neurological disease known as PSP (or progressive supranuclear palsy), a degenerative condition that affects the brain and essentially leaves him with the inability to speak, swallow easily, or move very well on his own power. But let me tell you, when I deduced that Zoey’s newfound power (ability?) would potentially enable her to hear what her father was thinking, I was just waiting for that moment to unfold on-screen.
Courtney: I’ve actually had two friends lose parents to PSP and the way Gallagher plays this role is devastatingly spot-on. And his performance in those moments makes him getting up and jazzing about to “Moondance” all the more spectacular. In both iterations, we can feel his connection to his children and his wife in subtle, heartstring-pulling ways that other shows might make more overwrought. Guh. Carly, guh.
Carly: First of all, Peter Gallagher singing is a personal attack on me, no doubts whatsoever, but beyond it being a powerfully touching moment brought to life by both Levy and Gallagher on-screen, it was an important scene in the context of the show because it allows for Zoey to advocate for her father in a way no one else in her family can, on the basis that she can hear his thoughts and understands his wishes — even if she has to interpret them through song lyrics. Anyway, the point is I’m going to have a lot of emotions about this storyline, I can just tell already.
Courtney: We will be more Kleenex than people, trust.
Carly: So confession: every time I see the name of Zoey’s company, SPRQ Point (pronounced “spark point”), my brain reads it as SPQR Point. Where my Roman history buffs at?
Courtney: I keep calling it Spork Point. Where my combination cutterly buffs at?
Carly: Not only that, but I’m having a major flashback to the last place I worked in Manhattan thanks to that open office floor plan. Anyway, there are lots of things to love about where Zoey works, including her no-nonsense boss Joan (seriously, Lauren Graham is a GIFT and we should all be blessed to have her back on our televisions), but enviable cereal bar aside, apparently our lead isn’t allowed to have a job in tech without some casual misogyny lobbed at her by her co-workers!
Courtney: That was infuriatingly relatable. Especially #ally Leif (Michael Thomas Grant) who feigns performative wokeness while really wanting to crush her under his hands that go UP…
And they stay there. At least Tobin (Kapil Talwalkar) is honest about his lady hate.
Carly: A lot of this is bundled into the fact that (spoiler alert) Zoey’s the one who gets the promotion to manager, and she’s also the only woman now in charge of a department essentially made up of all dudes, some of whom are salty they didn’t get the promotion — and she knows this because they pretend to be supportive to her face while also secretly singing… to her face? It feels like most of her work struggs are going to be wrapped up in the fact that she has to prove herself in a leadership position, which feels realistic but also uh way too timely? She says, laughing bitterly while reaching for her wine.
Zoey and Simon vs. Zoey and... Max?
Carly: Is this a love triangle, necessarily, or is somewhere closer to a… love string of unrequited emotions on all sides? Look, Courtney, you know that my brain will find a way to ship just about anyone and everyone together, but I’m having a hard time getting on board either of the pairings this show seems to be teasing at us already. Don’t get me wrong; both Simon and Max are complete and total cutie-pies, but I feel like there hasn’t been enough emotional foundation laid in to justify Zoey pursuing romances with either of them — and that’s only in part due to the fact that Simon has a fiancee who he’s already implying he doesn’t “connect” with on the same wavelength. S I G H.
Courtney: Seriously, I don’t want there to be a “will he choose his fiancee or Zoey” storyline, I can’t stand those. We don’t need to Baxter-ize India de Beaufort who is perfectly lovely and women don’t need to compete for the affections of men. LET THE PEOPLE BE FRIENDS. I like the dynamic she and Simon have as partners-in-grief and as workplace advocates for one another.
Carly: And then there’s Max, who Zoey frankly seemed oblivious to until he busted out into secret love song at the end of the first episode. Of course, it’s also been established that they’ve been best friends for a long time given that he knows her family and has a close relationship with her dad, but I’m also like… GIRL. You were hanging around Skylar Astin for that long and weren’t even the least little bit tempted to make something happen? And now that she knows the truth about his love feelings, it seems like her only intention moving forward is to keep him securely friendzoned.
Courtney: And she didn’t even have to exist with the knowledge that he used to be Santino Fontana and therefore have her ship slightly weakened by the swap. She got pure, fresh Astin action right out the tap!
Carly: The part of me that lives in tropes suspects that he will find a way to break down her walls and carefully lead her towards the potential for a relationship, but in terms of current ships, I’m shipping Zoey/herself at this point. This girl’s got enough on her plate already without having to worry about juggling a guy somewhere in that mix, too.
Courtney: CHOOSE YOURSELF ZOEY. JUST LIKE REBECCA BUNCH. Have I mentioned I miss Crazy Ex-Girlfriend? I miss Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Carly: To tell you the truth, I have no expectations for what’s coming. There seems to be a part where Zoey’s neighbor is motivated to help her find out how she wound up with her musical ability (power?), but I’m not even sure I necessarily need that to be solved right away because I’m just along for the ride as it is. Don’t fix her too early, show! Give me more with Peter Gallagher singing! Give me a Lauren Graham musical number! The fact that smooches are optional at this point shocks even me, but this story has got its hooks in me already and for once, I’m enjoying having no idea whatsoever about the future. HIT ME WITH YOUR BEST SHOT, SHOW.
Courtney: I love that in the second episode she says there might not be a fix, and that’s OK. Just like her dad will die, she can enjoy what she has while she has it. And we can, too.