One of the best things to come out of this crazy time is the ability to try something new. Of course, everyone can try something new at any time–no need for a global pandemic as an excuse to get started. That is factually correct. However, this stay-at-home to flatten the curve life we now lead has created, at least in me, a heightened sense of finding the new. And “finding the new” lead my family to Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which, for of its highs and lows, was 12 hours of entertainment that made me laugh out loud multiple times, made me cry, and made me choose between Team Max or Team Simon. The best part is it allowed my wife and I to binge-watch something other than old episodes of Law and Order: SVU (“Yo! Are you telling me this guy gets off on little girls with pigtails?”!).
It was awesome.
I was tangentially aware there was a new show with a musical-type thing happening starring that one guy from Pitch Perfect and, I think, someone who used to be on Glee. I had never seen the lead actress before and had generally dismissed the show as one of the many I would never watch.
When my wife said casually, “Wanna try that Zoey show?” I agreed. I was a bit fuzzy on the high concept of the show and was completely blindsided by how delightful, funny, witty, and heart-felt the show was. The first episode caught me completely off guard, and I was hooked.
Basically, the premise is after a freak accident, Zoey can hear people’s thoughts and feelings manifested usually has an elaborate song-and-dance that only she can see. With this newfound power that she conveniently has little control over and with ill-defined rules, she is compelled to help her friends while navigating a sitcom-style love triangle, new responsibilities at her job, and her family’s dying father.
In most of the episodes, Zoey hears someone sing a song that hints at their troubles or lends insight into their character. Sometimes it’s a whole city singing to her “Help” by the Beatles. Sometimes it’s a co-worker revealing that he’s angling for the same promotion by singing, “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khaled. Of course, her friend-zoned male friend has a secret crush on her, and it’s revealed with him singing “I Think I Love You” by David Cassidy. All of this happens because of her new “power.” The singing and the dance routines are pretty great, and the song choices made me laugh as they fit into each storyline.
It would have been easy for the show to go full sitcom with occasional touches upon more serious issues, but ZEP is a dramedy and as the name implies walks a thin line between drama and comedy.
The first time Zoey sees her father’s feelings in song comes with the caveat that he’s afflicted with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy. The disease has mostly silenced him and keeps him catatonic, but when he breaks into a song, it is both magical and heartbreaking. Played by Peter Gallagher, his songs let us see Zoey’s father as she remembers him and makes the return to his current state ever more difficult.
The show could have been made without the drama part and been successful. However, adding in more profound issues such as dealing with the suicide of a parent or what it means to be gender-fluid and sing in the church choir, ZEP transcends the superficiality of its high concept. The balance is not perfect, but creator Austin Winsberg made a sharp 12 episodes of television. The show, which has not yet been picked up for a second season, stands on its own as a perfect microcosm.
I’m reminded of the first season of Dawson’s Creek. The show’s creator, Kevin Williamson, had no idea if it was going to be picked up for a second season, and just like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist created a perfect season with a beginning, middle, and an end that could be the last we see of these characters.
There are a million directions the show could go after this season, but part of me wishes it stays preserved in amber just like this.