Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 1x01 Review: “Pilot” (Music is All Around) [Contributor: Jenn]

Original Airdate: January 7, 2020

I’m a sucker for musicals. I loved Glee(’s first season) and Smash(’s first episode) and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend(’s entire four seasons). The easiest way for a network on television to hook me is by marketing something as a musical comedy. And when that musical comedy stars Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Lauren Graham, and Mary Steenburgen, that doesn’t hurt either.

You’ve guessed it: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist made it onto my radar as soon as the show’s concept was announced. And since I’ll be reviewing it all season, let’s kick things off with a plot recap: Zoey Clarke (Levy) is a computer coder at SPQRPoint who’s going out for a promotion along with all of her other coworkers because her strong-willed boss (Graham) is forcing them to. Zoey’s family life is sad and challenging. Her father (played by Peter Gallagher) has a rare neurological disease and is slowly losing motor functions. Because Zoey’s been getting headaches and slightly blurred vision, she’s worried she might have what her dad does. Under her mother’s (Steenburgen) advice, Zoey gets an MRI done. While in the MRI machine, the technician plays music to keep Zoey calm. And everything is fine until an earthquake hits.

Now, Zoey’s begun to hear everyone’s thoughts as pop songs. And the only person she’s told is her neighbor, Mo (Alex Newell).

Now onto the fun stuff: my thoughts about the episode!


The idea that an entire show would be based around people singing their thoughts has a certain quirky, zany quality about it. So imagine my surprise when the show, right off the bat, used the concept to communicate the deep ideas of grief and depression. “Mad World” is the most powerful son in the episode to me. Zoey hears an extremely upbeat, outgoing coworker’s inner thoughts as the song and begins to cry at how raw it is.

Zoey and her coworker, Simon, go out for cheesecake and he opens up to her: he carries around a photo of his dad, who recently committed suicide. Simon isn’t really doing well with that grief and loss. He hasn’t talked to anyone about it either, but Zoey encourages him to open up to someone about what’s going on inside of his head.

“I’ve become a real expert on bottling my shame and pain and hiding it from the world,” Simon says. He does end up opening up to Zoey... and then Simon also opens up to his fiance, Jessica (much to the surprise of Zoey and the audience).

Near the end of the episode, we also get something else super powerful and emotional: Zoey’s dad’s thoughts in song form. Zoey and her family wonder what Mitch is thinking. He’s lost his ability to speak, can barely eat, and needs constant help with medications and normal tasks. For Zoey, it’s an incredibly frustrating and sad thing to witness — her father’s slow decline, a wasting away of who he used to be.

But then, when Zoey really needs advice from her dad, she suddenly hears him begin to sing “True Colors” to her and she immediately begins weeping with joy. This could be what she’s been searching for: hope. Her father is still there, and he can communicate with her. And that’s something Zoey desperately needed that this new “gift” provides her with.


The concept for Zoey’s Extarodinary Playlist is a fun one, but it’s also providing some inner conflict and character development. “I almost felt embarrassed listening to it,” Zoey tells Mo about hearing her coworker’s deep, dark inner thoughts.

And that’s going to provide such an interesting source of conflict moving forward. Because Zoey hears Simon’s thoughts, she reaches out to him for help. He, of course, has no idea and calls it a miracle that they found each other. But while Zoey’s “gift” might come with perks and benefits like helping a friend through a rough time or knowing her dad’s mind is still functioning, it’s also going to come with some drawbacks as we see in previews for the season. Zoey’s found out her best friend Max (Astin) is in love with her, and she’s going to need to figure out how to deal with that. In the pilot, she learns that the “supportive” guy in her office is really out to destroy her.

Is knowing someone’s private thoughts and then acting on that knowledge a good thing or a bad thing? Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is toying with the idea of what would happen if we knew what people were thinking and where the boundaries of what we do with that knowledge stop and start. Zoey even confesses what she did (minus the music part) to her mom, acknowledging that she crossed a line to form an emotional connection with a coworker. So what does she do with the knowledge she shouldn’t know? Will that be a question that comes up throughout the season?

Perhaps, but ultimately while the show explores some deeper concepts, I think it’s primary aim is to communicate something that Mo says in the pilot: “Good music makes you feel things you can’t express in words.”

And it’s true. Good music and great lyrics can put thoughts to words when you didn’t even know there were words for how you were feeling. The idea that everyone has a musical happening in their minds (via streams of thoughts) is such a fun one, and I’m excited to see how the show continues to explore this idea in the rest of the season.

Additional things:
  • Each week I’m going to rank the songs in the episode. Here are the pilot rankings from favorite performance to least favorite: “Mad World/True Colors,” (it’s a tie), “All I Do is Win,” “All By Myself/What A Man/Help.”
  • “Almost as if they were all singing what they were thinking. Out loud. Collectively. As a people.”
  • I, too, use Slack at work. I’m a millennial. I get it.
  • I absolutely love that we get Jane Levy in a leading role again! RIP, Suburgatory.
  • “Oh, good. A dance break.”
I’ll be back when Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist officially debuts on February 16 on NBC! Until then, folks!

1 comment:

  1. As someone who watched Eli Stone and, despite despising most musicals, loved it, I am looking forward to this!