Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
Jane Levy in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.
Jane Levy in Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.
Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC


Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist




4/5 Stars


Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) is a computer programmer who, after an MRI goes wrong, is able to hear people's innermost thoughts as songs.


You know that song you have stuck in your head? The one that seems to perfectly depict how you are feeling? Imagine if someone could see you performing it as you walk down the street? That's precisely the story behind Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.

Zoey is a timid but hardworking coder, who is vying for a promotion even though her boss (Lauren Graham) can be a bit hard on her staff. At the same time, Zoey is dealing with a crush on her co-worker Simon (John Clarence Stewart), her best friend Max (Skylar Astin) who might be in love with her and her father who is suffering from PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy), which prevents him from being able to communicate with his loved ones. This is more than enough for one person to have to deal with. But add to this gaining a "superpower" which allows her to see the thoughts and feelings of others played out in musical numbers.

The entire premise of this series would make it too ludicrous to be watchable if not for the charming Jane Levy. I have been a fan of Levy since she led the teen sitcom Suburgatory, and she brings a lot of that quick-witted and adorable charm to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. She is like a less-mainstream Anna Kendrick. Levy plays the role with such humility and nuance that you can't help but feel compassion for the character and root for her, even when she is taking advantage of her friend or flirting with a man who is engaged to someone else.

But in essence, this is an ensemble show. We have industry heavyweights such as Peter Gallagher and Mary Steenburgen as Zoey's parents and Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham as her boss, Joan. Newcomers like Alex Newell (as Zoey's neighbour Mo) and John Clarence Stewart hold their own and knit themselves easily into this cast. But the best cast is Skylar Astin as Max. The Pitch Perfect and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star has the talent and musical abilities to make his performances some of my favourite ones of the first season. I have been replaying his version of Sucker by the Jonas Brothers over and over again since watching the series.

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist straddles the line between comedy and drama, reminding me more of Glee than Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Every episode Zoey is introduced to a new problem (through song, of course) which she attempts to solve within the space of the episode. It seems very much like a sitcom, even though the episodes are longer. However, there are some heavier problems that she deals with – like Mo hiding the fact that they are genderfluid from their church choir, Zoey's brother and his wife's marital problems, Joan's divorce, Simon dealing with his father's death and the entire family going through their father's illness. It seems unbelievable at times that Zoey is able to "solve" some of these problems by the end of the episode. The show sometimes makes things which we, as the audience, know would be bigger issues a little too simple.

The portrayal of Zoey's father's illness can seem a bit emotionally manipulative at times (I'm looking at you, This Is Us) but it's heartwarming to know that it was based on the creator of the show Austin Winsberg's real-life experience with his father, who was diagnosed with PSP. Zoey's superpower allows her to communicate with her father and lets him express what he is feeling in song. I cannot help but wonder if this was birthed from Winsberg wishing there was a similar way he could have communicated with his father. Gallagher is a very strong performer and I felt the emotion in all of his scenes, especially the romantic ones with Steenburgen, and of course every scene with Jane Levy. I don't want to spoil the songs he sings, but let me tell you I cried real tears during his scenes.

As I mentioned before, the songs are so catchy. The performances are not as polished as Glee or other similar series with professional singers in lead roles. A few of the actors have Broadway credits like Peter Gallagher, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell (Newell was also in Glee) and Lauren Graham, but the fact that the songs aren't studio-level perfect makes it seem more believable that people are just singing what they are feeling. Some songs are emotional, some are fun, but you will search for the playlist after watching it. Some highlights include the cast singing American Pie, Graham singing Wrecking Ball, Astin singing If I Can't Have You and Stewart singing Jealous.

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is a feel-good watch. Even the deeply emotional scenes don't make you feel devastated. There is a sense of hope surrounding it. This is the perfect show to watch during the pandemic. It cheers you up while still allowing you to understand the gravity of the times we are living in.


We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24