Musical TV series have become more prevalent in recent years. The popularity certainly grew with those spunky adolescent misfits churning out sugar-addled covers of either pop hits or theatrical tunes in Ryan Murphy’s Glee. Since then, we’ve had series such as Smash, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, and Galavant. Heck, even regular TV shows such as Scrubs, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Grey’s Anatomy, and more recently, Riverdale. If an emotion can be squeezed into a song, then our small screen heroes are going to belt it out.
Recently added to that long list is Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
Starring Jane Levy, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist revolves around the titular character Zoey – a computer programmer working for company SPRQ Point. Her father Mitch is suffering from progressive supranuclear palsy which has caused him to lose all muscular faculties. Worried that she might one day suffer as well; Zoey gets an MRI scan but a freak earthquake during it causes her to gain a power – she can now hear people’s innermost thoughts expressed through song! As her family and friends begin to spout their secrets, can Zoey help them?
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a warm and joyous experience like any other musical based venture. Performing numbers such as Help!, I Think I Love You, and Mad World, there is a whole array of classic covered – from the upbeat numbers to the more soulful tunes. With the exception of Pitch Perfect’s Skylar Astin and Glee’s Alex Newell, there aren’t many professional singers here but that works in favour for the show. It adds a realistic quality and heightens the emotional concourse that these characters are going through.
That is really the strength of the show. The music is fine and it is a hook, but really the show is about its characters. Creator Austin Winsberg based parts of the show on his own experiences with PSP and losing his father. Grounding the series in this grief gives Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist a beating heart. Using its concept to tackle grief, heartbreak, gender identity, and a whole variety of issues keeps the show genuine and fresh.
There is a great duality with lead actress Jane Levy’s career. On the big screen, she is a horror scream queen in movies such as Don’t Breathe and Evil Dead. On the small screen, with shows such as this and Suburgatory, Levy is a quirky comedy queen. She does both personas wonderfully but she really shines as Zoey. Having to deal with random strangers crooning their deepest desires at you whilst also balancing stress at work, crushes on colleagues, and her dying father, Zoey is a complex lead character. Yet she is charming, funny, and emotive. In one episode, it is Zoey who winds up singing everything and it really showcases Levy’s talent that she can believably portray both sides of the character.
There is a great support all around here. From Mary Steenburgen as her mother to Lauren Graham as Zoey’s boss, Winsberg’s show makes sure that every role is fleshed out with their own make-up. The aforementioned Astin is great as Zoey’s best friend and Newell shines as the rambunctious genderfluid neighbour Mo. John Clarence Stewart is good as love interest Simon but also he has wonderful chemistry with Levy as their characters bond over their experiences.
However, Peter Gallagher particularly shines as her father. Confined to his body and unable to move, only to express his desires in song, there is a deep understanding for the disease as well as how they try to communicate. Gallagher does this superbly.
You’ll be forgiven for mistaking this for a purely gleeful venture. By the end of the Pilot, you will be in tears. It is sweet and tender, raucous and riveting. A definite treat for those who also hear the music in them.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is available to watch on All4