Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is one of the new shows from NBC’s 2020 slate. Debuting at the start of the year in the US, here in the UK we’ve been a few weeks behind, with our most recent episode currently streaming on All4, ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Glitch’.
The concept of the show is silly, and the tone of episodes usually just as much. Protagonist Zoey got stuck in an MRI machine during an Earthquake and can now hear people’s inner thoughts, through the power of music. The show is littered with cast members sporadically bursting in to song, betraying their innermost feelings for only Zoey to hear, and it’s up to her to help them work through the issues.
Episode 8 spins this ludicrous premise on it’s head, and after hearing devastating personal news, Zoey no longer hears others sing, but cannot stop herself from spontaneously singing – for everyone to hear.
The majority of the episode sticks to the normal episode format, but it is truly a showcase for Jane Levy in the title role to shine. It’s often the supporting characters who get the solo’s, and Levy’s Zoey can come off as a bit of a naïve bore. The opening number of the episode however is one of the shows biggest numbers, and see’s her belting out Gnarls Barkley’s classic Crazy in a theatrical explosion. The colours, props and choreography are attention grabbing, but it also allows Levy to show the audience why she has lead billing.
There are more songs, romantic plot developments and awkward ‘why are you singing?’ moment in the episode, but the core storyline running throughout episode 8 is Zoey’s inability to process the news given in the opening – her father, who has spent the season suffering with a degenerative disease, is in the final stages. Her inability to process this information, to cope, to discuss, to ask for help and to grieve, these are all the reasons her powers have turned inward. Austin’s Max continuously asks her what is happening in her life that she’s refusing to talk about, her mother continues to call her throughout the day. In the last 10 minutes, Zoey finally admits to Max her father’s condition, and how alien it feels to say it out loud.
The closing scenes of the episode are Zoey returning to her parents house, and finally seeing her father, played by Peter Gallagher, who for the most part is mute and motionless, but portrays so much emotion throughout the season in his eyes. Zoey admits to him that her gut reaction after hearing the news was to run away, to hide from her dying father. Levy then gives a heart-breaking rendition of ‘How Do I Live?’ which leads to her breaking down in his arms.
It’s very twee, and story of the week. But as someone who watched her father slowly deteriorate over the course of 11 months, who received bad news after bad news, I have never related to a TV character more. Her inability to tell anyone in her life what she is going through, to even utter the words out loud, all resonated so much with my own experiences 6 years ago. No-one in my office knew my father was sick until a week before he died. It took me hours to tell my partner about his diagnosis, and on his passing, I hid the news from my partner for 24 hours, to maintain just one last tiny piece of normality before my world changed completely.
Whilst I’m sure Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist will bounce back next week in Episode 9, to more fun love triangles and office hijinks, I’m glad it’s given attention to this slow burning B story. I’ve found it refreshing to see grief be examined more and more in the mainstream media, through shows such as Jane the Virgin, After Life and This Is Us. Maybe through my own personal experiences, I’m more acutely aware of these nuances, but I’m also thankful to the writers for threading them in and out of existing narratives. No more is grief a very special episode trope, but a slow burning, ongoing plot development and character development. Much like it is in real life.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on E4, and you can watch all episodes online at All4.