Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

This show has heart, a whole big load of it and something we really need right now is a show about empathy, in a big, overblown, musical number kind of way.

Zoey Clarke is a programmer for a tech-firm in San Francisco.  Her father is very ill and she’s concerned it may be inherited so to set her mind at ease goes for an MRI.  She’s nervous so the technician gives her some music to listen to but as soon as she’s in the machine, the city has one of its infamous minor quakes.  One improbable plot device later and Zoey gains the power of ultra-empathy as the innermost thoughts of people around her are performed to her as song and dance numbers.  At first, it’s anyone she comes across but later on it, thankfully, gets more focussed on her nearest and dearest.

The obvious comparison is to ‘Glee’ but it’s got a bit of an ‘Ugly Betty’ in there with the melodrama toned down somewhat.  It’s big on the feel-good factor and I’ve shed more than a few tears at some of the lovely, touching moments.

The message of this show is that you never know what someone else is going through.  You see what they want you to see, or what you choose to see.  People have problems they can’t express because they’re held back by shame or pride and it just takes one person to ask them how they’re feeling to make a difference.

Obviously, as with anyone new to having powers, Zoey is shocked, bemused and overwhelmed but as each episode passes, she learns to deal with it and with some help, she learns that she can help others in a big way through small gestures.

I love a musical and they’re executed superbly here, the choreographer of the show being one Mandy Moore.  Some of the singing has that over-produced Glee quality and I’m not sure if all the actors are singing their parts but given that the show relies heavily on a fantasy element, it doesn’t matter.  There are some genuine laugh out loud moments when a character will suddenly burst into song, and in some of the song choices.

One of the cute touches in this show is that Zoey has terrible musical knowledge, she’s rarely heard of any of the songs being sung to her and she doesn’t have much of a clue of any of the artists’ names.  Maybe this is where it’s also really clever in that she’s properly listening to what the person is saying without having anything filtered out by an emotional attachment to any of the songs.

To help in deciphering some of the messages, and telling her what the actual songs are, is Zoey’s across-the-hall neighbour Mo, who played by Alex Newell is a revelation.  Their first appearance comes right at the start of the show and they just drop straight into the role of fun, witty sidekick but as we later learn, there’s a lot more going on with Mo.

The rest of the regular supporting cast is outstanding, having binge-watched seven seasons of ‘The Gilmore Girls’, as well as the special, I’m always going to have a soft spot for Lauren Graham.  Here she plays Zoey’s’ spikey boss, Joan.

Mary Steenburgen, as always is lovely, and here she’s Zoey’s Mum, Maggie Clark with Peter Gallagher as her Dad, Mitch. He’s battling a degenerative neurological disease, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), so it’s hard for him to communicate but as the show progresses, and with Zoey’s new power, we come to hear him with as much clarity as we do anyone else.   This core of the story is how Zoey and her family deal with Mitch’s declining condition and it’s based on the show’s creator Austin Winsbergs’ experience with his own father.

Everyone else is pretty much unknown (to me) but her office crush Simon, played by John Clarence Stewart and her co-worker/friend, Max (Skylar Astin) play a couple of very sweet, handsome guys.  There’s a fascinating and very complicated interplay between these three characters as Zoey isn’t sure which one she likes more, or does she like both equally, or both equally but in different ways, or…. It gets complicated.

I also really enjoyed the occasional cameo from some recognisable faces: Justin Kirk (Angels in America), Renee Elise Goldsberry (The Good Wife) and the ubiquitously awesome Bernadette Peters.

If I were to try to categorise this show, I would say it was a musical / superhero / comedy / drama.  At the time of writing, this hasn’t yet been renewed for a second season, but needless to say, I hope it is.

NetworkNBC / Netflix
CastJane Levy, as Zoey Clarke
Skylar Astin, as Max
Alex Newell, as Mo
John Clarence Stewart, as Simon
Peter Gallagher, as Mitch Clarke
Mary Steenburgen, as Maggie Clarke
Lauren Graham, as Joan
SeasonS1 (2020): 12 episodes

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Welsh librarian, working in London and living in Brighton.

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