By Emma D., Arts Department Co-Editor
Photo courtesy of NBC.
If your life were a musical, it might look something like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. The NBC dramedy created by showrunner Austin Winsberg (The Sound of Music Live!) recently finished its second season and has a dedicated fan base who are hoping it will be renewed for a third one.
The multitalented Jane Levy (ABC’s Suburgatory) plays the title character, a San Francisco coder who can usually be seen wearing one of her signature collared sweaters. After an earthquake magically uploads all the music of the world into her brain during an MRI scan, Zoey develops the capacity to hear the thoughts of other people through, you guessed it, song and dance. Zoey’s newfound powers allow her to be a witness to the inner emotions of those around her, and in turn, she grows her heart on her sleeve. The most tear-jerking moments occur when Zoey communicates through music with her dad Mitch (Peter Gallagher), who is actively weakening from his struggle with a brain disorder. Be ready to get those tissues out when you watch their father-daughter dances.
The series is not without its laughs, however. Most notably, it is a lot of fun to watch Zoey navigate her relationship with her bosses at tech company SPRQ Point. Joan (Lauren Graham of Gilmore Girls) can be strict while belting out musical numbers, such as Katy Perry’s “Roar.” At the same time, Danny Michael Davis (Noah Weisberg) loves to show off his programming prowess, but his social skills could definitely use some work.
Skylar Astin, best known for his roles in Broadway’s Spring Awakening and the Pitch Perfect franchise, plays Max, Zoey’s best friend and main love interest, with plenty of warmth and charm. Throughout the series, Max explores the ups and downs of both his work and personal life while supporting Zoey along the way.
Newcomer John Clarence Stewart plays Simon, who is part of the communications team at SPRQ Point. The suicide of Simon’s father is what causes him to bond with Zoey over shared grief. Stewart’s subtle acting work perfectly captures the essence of Simon, most especially in his standout performance of “Mad World” by Tears for Fears.
One of the best performances in the show comes from Alex Newell, a musical theatre veteran of Broadway’s Once on This Island and Glee. He plays the comedically timed Mo, who assists Zoey with interpreting all the songs she hears. Through his character, Newell displays his amazing pipes and serves as a role model for those in the LGBTQIA+ community who can relate to the ebb and flow of discovering who they are.
The series is the epitome of what the combination of singing and acting should look like, meshing the two together in a way that makes breaking into song a natural part of the story. For example, when Broadway’s Bernadette Peters, who makes a guest appearance, sings “Feeling Good,” the lyrics take center stage, and the emotional quality of the music is elevated.
But what makes the show truly extraordinary is its ability to confront complex topics with grace and wit. Emily (Alice Lee), the wife of Zoey’s brother, learns how to manage her postpartum depression when Zoey answers her call for help. The Black Lives Matter movement plays a starring role when Zoey is exposed to the issue of race in the workplace, and she also helps her mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) come to terms with loss.
At its heart, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist plays in the key of life, and that is something everyone can sing along to.