I often don’t understand NBC’s promotion strategies. For a month or so, the network has been airing brief teaser promos for the netowork’s new comedy/drama/musical series, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist where a young red-haired women starts to hear other people’s thoughts through song. Instead of clever, they seem cheesy and I wouldn’t blame you if you just rolled your eyes while viewing them and never gave the show another thought. But you should.
Despite NBC’s weak attempt of showing why you should tune in to watch this new show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is amazing. Every part of it. Well, at least the pilot is. I’m not sure how long a show can go on with this concept, but I think it will take a while to run dry.
The show is created by Austin Winsberg who wrote the book for the Broadway musical, First Date. I got a chance to see an early version of that show when it was being workshopped in Seattle a couple of years ago. It really stood out to me as clever and different compared to other modern musicals. That story featured a couple on their first date which was played straight, but then the audience was let in on how the characters were really feeling about this date. What they shared was often the opposite of what they were saying to their date.
Winsberg’s new show is told in a similar vein to First Date and exposes how people tend to pretend to be happy when they are actually miserable inside.
Set in San Francisco, Zoey (Jane Levy) is a computer programmer working for a mythical giant tech company. Unlike her noisy and colorful neighbor Mo (Alex Newell) who is constantly singing on top of their lungs at all hours, Zoe tends to see the world as black and white and prefers to listen to podcasts about technology. She’s hoping to get a promotion at work, but her boss Joan (Lauren Graham) isn’t sure that Zoey has what it takes to become a leader. Her doubt is reasonable. Zoey has a lot going on in her head.
Zoe’s father Mitch (Peter Gallagher) suffers from a rare neurological disease called Progressive Supranuclear Palsy which makes him unable to speak, move and even communicate with his loved ones. Her mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) is upbeat despite this. It might have to do with their forty years of marriage.
After a bizarre event, Zoe finds that she is able to hear the thoughts of complete strangers who being to sing and perform intricate dance numbers in front of her telling Zoe exactly how they feel. The pilot’s best number is one where it seems everyone in the downtown San Francisco appear to be pleading with Zoey for singing the lyrics to The Beatles’ “Help.” It’s strange and hilarious. Then, during a late night at work Zoey gets the rare chance to hear the innermost thoughts of a coworker (John Clarence Stewart) grieving about the loss of his father. Is this a gift or a curse? Mo thinks that it is the former and is providing a way for Zoey to connect and really help those around her.
While this all sounds outlandish and silly, this show is actually very touching and dramatic and the storylines are not drowned out by the music. And another thing, the show is inspired by Winsberg’s real-life events.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Winsberg tells about how his father suffered with Mitch’s same disease before he passed away and how he was becoming a new father just like Zoe’s brother David (Andrew Leeds) is in the show and so on.
I can’t think of a better actress to play Zoey than Levy whose facial expressions are priceless when others around her begin to sing. She is delightful in every scene and of course, she shares the screen with some great talent as well. The one scene featuring Zoe hearing her father’s thoughts about how he sees her “True Colors” is incredibly touching and actually gives a positive perspective on what is a rather difficult situation for any family to deal with.
Zoey is surprisingly touching, witty, clever and funny. It is thoroughly enjoyable and is a must-see. Don’t be surprised if find yourself getting choked up.
You can watch the pilot of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on NBC.com or watch it when the show premieres on Sunday, February 16 at 8 p.m. followed by a new episode at its regular time slot, 9 p.m.
I write about arts and entertainment in the greater Seattle area.