NBC’s Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist uses an absurdist concept – the titular character hears music in other people’s heads thanks to a freak MRI accident – to explore interpersonal relations. There’s never been a better time for a show like this actually. Now that so many flee real human interaction in favor of an anonymous life online, Zoey’s offers connectivity through music as a way of bringing us closer together. For that reason alone, it’s the most powerful new series on television this year.
It’s a musical that probably wouldn’t appeal to those who don’t like musical. In fact, it doubles down on the very “let’s put on a show!” sensation that turns so many away. For me, the conceit works far better than it should, thanks to strong direction and a brilliant, go-for-broke cast led by the amazing Jane Levy. NBC aired its pilot episode in early January during the heat of awards season and followed up with regular programming in February. It’s a testament to Zoey’s staying power that it managed to retain a large portion of that audience – and expand upon it – with a month off the air. I think that’s largely because, like a great song, the show sticks in your head.
Levy plays the titular Zoey with an outward enthusiasm that masks her more complex internal emotions. She effortlessly shines in every scene, making such a significant impression that I feel like I’m seeing the actress for the very first time. She’s supported by a talented cast that includes Skylar Astin, Peter Gallagher, Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham and more. But she’s a star here. You can’t take your eyes off her, and as she navigates the series’ free-flowing emotional currents, you fall in love with her each and every scene.
If you’re willing to look beyond its ebullient theatricality, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist proves a charming, fun, and emotionally engaging series. And honestly, I can’t think of a better way to explore interpersonal relationships than through pop music, the soundtrack of our lives. There are far too many series that explore the dark and terrifying aspects of humanity. Let’s celebrate a series that so enthusiastically celebrates emotions – joy, love, sadness, fear, anxiety – through music we already love.
What could be better than that?