Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 1x04 Review: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Neighbor” (Signposts) [Contributor: Jenn]

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Neighbor”
Original Airdate: March 1, 2020

Faith is hard. As someone who’s had faith a part of her life for as long as she can remember, there are times when things get plain difficult. People we love get sick and die. Unexpected and unexplained events happen. Bad things happen to good people. But one of the most difficult parts, I’ve discovered, about faith is accepting that people are imperfect. Sometimes it’s faith in God that’s easy, but faith in the people who also believe in him that’s hard.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was a bit quieter this week, but in the best way. It was introspective, thoughtful, emotional, and earned. “Zoey’s Extraordinary Neighbor” focuses a lot on Mo and his struggle with being his authentic self in church. Elsewhere, Zoey’s family is also dealing with a lot as her brother David and his wife decide whether or not to find out the sex of their baby, and Mitch becomes incredibly emotional when David asks for advice. Zoey’s boss, Joan, is struggling with her impending divorce and Zoey also tries to make friends with an agoraphobic tenant in her building named Bonnie.


Zoey’s an incredibly empathetic, kind, and sometimes overeager person. But she’s never been a person who’s been interested in faith. When she discovers that Mo might not be as secure as he appears (he sings “The Great Pretender”) throughout the episode, Zoey is determined to figure out what’s really wrong with Mo. When she follows him to a church, she is shocked to see him perform in the choir wearing men’s clothing.

Mo confronts her about this, and it strikes up a divide between the two throughout the rest of the episode. But what’s really interesting is that her disagreement with Mo prompts her to think about and research faith. Zoey was raised by Mitch and Maggie, the former of whom was Catholic once and the latter describing herself as a “seeker.” Zoey, interestingly enough, turned out to be a person who never really thought about what she believed. She’s someone who’s all about data and proof, and — later on in the episode — Mo’s minister actually encourages her in this. I really liked that small conversation, honestly. So often when faith is discussed on television, it’s presented as something elusive and indescribable: the opposite of seeing things. And while there are so many aspects of faith that rely on trusting what you can’t see, that’s not all it is. The minister mentions the fact that faith is all about seeing signposts. Not big, grand, Moses-parting-the-Red-Sea-type miracles; faith is about seeing the little things and recognizing them as signs that guide your journey. Zoey, someone who understands testing theories and proving data, latches onto this idea.

Earlier in the episode, Zoey is not just struck by Mo’s song, but by the song Bonnie — an agoraphobic resident of her building — is singing. She longs for a tropical getaway, but fear is preventing her from leaving her home. So Zoey comes up with a plan to help her, and keeps persisting in the aforementioned plan until Bonnie feels courageous enough to walk a few dozen feet to Mo’s door and hand him her rent check.

Mo, meanwhile, spends this episode reflecting on his struggle to be authentically himself and present as a woman in church. He tells Zoey, heartbreakingly, about how much of a hypocrite he feels like when in church. He hates wearing men’s clothes because he doesn’t feel like himself. But he doesn’t want to don a dress and a wig because then he’s worried he won’t be accepted and loved for who he is by the congregation. As Mo’s minister says, he’s already supportive; there’s just no guarantee his congregation will feel the same way. And the reason that Mo feels this way is because it IS something he experienced as a child. While some people accepted a little boy singing with women as a soprano, some did not. And they were loud and vocal about it, telling him he was wrong in God’s eyes. This drove Mo and his mother to leave the church, and Mo can’t put himself through that again.

Alex Newell talked about how Mo’s experiences are based on his own real-life struggles. And it was a beautiful, powerful performance by Newell not just to share Mo’s vulnerability but to be able to connect it so closely to his own journey. I love that Mo is the one being helped in this episode — the one being encouraged and pushed to be who he authentically is everywhere in his life. He tells Zoey that he feels like a fraud because he’s one way with her and in the rest of his life, and one way at church. And I think we can all relate to those feelings of hypocrisy. How we pretend to have it all together when we don’t. How we act one way at work, and one way with our friends. How we hide parts of ourselves from people we worry will judge us. The feeling of vulnerability is powerful but it’s also scary as all get out. And I love that Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist used the vehicles of church and faith to talk about how important it is to be real with ourselves and the people around us.

And the fact that the story of Bonnie was in this episode is important too. Mo and Bonnie were both in prisons of their own making. Fear kept them locked away. But the moment Bonnie took the first step outside of her door, she reclaimed her power; fear lost some of its power. Mo calling Bonnie walking upstairs a miracle was true. It’s something that seems ordinary but is truly extraordinary.


Elsewhere in this episode, Joan is struggling with her divorce. Just because it’s something she knew was right for her and she wanted doesn’t mean it’s easy to accept. Zoey initially doesn’t get it, but as she watches Mo and Bonnie’s stories unravel, I think she understands that something that seems easy to her doesn’t come easily for others. So she sends Joan a cake and it’s adorable.

But Zoey’s family is also struggling. Mitch has a breakdown because David plays his wedding video. Not so long ago, Mitch was able to stand and talk and joke, provide sage advice about marriage and children. Now he’s imprisoned in his body and doesn’t know if he’ll ever see his grandchild. David doesn’t recognize the magnitude of that until he processes it with his wife. And then they decide to forgo their original plan of waiting until the baby is born to find out if it’s a boy or a girl. David wants to give his father as many big, magical moments as he can. David and his wife celebrate... and find out they’re having a boy! Mitch cries tears of joy because this is one moment he’ll be able to hold onto forever.

Life is made up of signposts and memories; big moments and little victories. It’s easy often to forget that, but I’m glad we had “Zoey’s Extraordinary Neighbor” to remind us.

Additional things:
  • And now, my ranking of favorite to least favorite songs: “This Little Light of Mine,” “The Great Pretender,” “Wrecking Ball,” “Time to Say Goodbye (Con te partirò),” and “Margaritaville/Kokomo”
  • “This is just innocent fun.” “Said no innocent person ever.”
  • This was a minor plot point, but Zoey is rethinking how close she is to Simon after getting some advice from her mom. Even though he’s engaged, she still has feelings for him. And harmless inside jokes aren’t harmless to her. We’ll see how this shapes up.
  • I’ve been to a lot of gender reveal parties but none that bought TWO cakes. 
What did you enjoy most about this episode? Sound off in the comments below!


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