Review: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

So, I already teased my high opinion of this show in my Quarantine Round-Up, but I wanted to give Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist its own review post as well because it deserves it.

The show follows the titular Zoey (Jane Levy) who, after an unsettling experience in an MRI machine, finds herself able to experience the thoughts and feelings of those around her as song and dance numbers—occurrences that she eventually comes to call “heart songs.” With the help of her neighbor, Mo (Alex Newell), Zoey tries to get the hang of living with her new ability and using her insights to help those around her.

The premise, while out there, isn’t entirely groundbreaking, but the direction this show takes it in sets it apart from what’s come before. It goes for the big dance numbers and comedy audiences might expect from a musical show, but it doesn’t shy away from real emotion either, or exploring how we fail to recognize, communicate, or even hide from complicated ones like grief, anger, or love, both in ourselves and those around us. Over the course of the season, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist does a solid job of balancing both the light, dark, and ridiculous moments of life in a way that feels honest and real. Part of this honesty is rooted in the story’s inspiration—one of the major plot lines involves Zoey’s dad, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), and how he and his family deal with his PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy) and declining health, something series creator Austin Winsberg experienced with his own father.

The cast is also a big part of why this show works so well. The show has a strong ensemble with great chemistry, including Skylar Astin, John Clarence Stewart, Mary Steenbergen, Andrew Leeds, and Lauren Graham along with those mentioned above, and even if they aren’t all seasoned singers, they all go for it with gusto and commitment to the moment that sells it. Some of these heart songs will make you cheer, and some will definitely make you cry. And even when they’re not singing, the characters all have nuance and depth that can make you care about even the most obnoxious (Zoey’s “brogrammer” coworkers) or frustrated by your favorite (Zoey in Episode 10).

And last, but certainly not least, the music is worth sticking around for too. The writers do a great job of selecting songs that are both relevant to the moment and recognizable to even the least musically-inclined among us and, honestly for some of them, I prefer the show’s cover to the original version.

So, if you haven’t started watching Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist yet, please do, not only because you will like it, but also because I want NBC to hurry up and greenlight a second season of it!

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