Warning: SPOILERS for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
NBC’s newest comedy-drama Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist offers a clever and quirky reimagining of the musical genre. After an earthquake disrupts her MRI, computer coder Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) gains the ability to perceive the thoughts and feelings of those around her. Instead of just hearing what people are thinking, however, Zoey sees these people reveal their secret selves through elaborate song and dance numbers that only she can see and hear. Now essentially trapped in a musical, Zoey must figure out how to live with her new gift.
It sounds ridiculous – but show creator Austin Winsberg know how to approach the bizarre premise from an angle that offers plenty of laughs and more than a few tears. While most of the musical numbers are upbeat and hilarious (seeing Zoey’s co-workers faun over a legendary tech genius by serenading him with a rendition of “Jesus Christ Superstar” is particularly funny) the show makes time for quiet, emotional moments as well.
Musical numbers are meant to evoke strong feelings, after all, and after only three episodes, the show already contains plenty of tear-jerking scenes to get the audience emotionally invested in its tuneful cast. Here are the most heartwarming scenes (to date) from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
Max Chats with Zoey’s Paralyzed Father (Episode 2)
Despite the show’s musical premise, not all the emotional scenes require the actors to sing. In the pilot episode, Zoey discovers her co-worker and best friend Max (Skylar Astin) is secretly in love with her. Uncomfortable with this revelation, Zoey starts avoiding him but has to deal with Max when he shows up unexpectedly at her parents’ house one night.
Max surprises Zoey, however, when he reveals he didn’t come to see her but drop off some food for her father. Mitch Clarke (Peter Gallagher) is dying from a neurological disease that’s left him paralyzed and unable to speak. However, Max still remembers Mitch’s kindness, something he never got from his own father. Touched, Zoey invites him in and sees Max chat with Mitch, who’s unable to reply but glad for the company. It’s a heartwarming scene – and there’s a look Zoey gives Max that indicates she might be seeing her friend in a new light.
Zoey’s Office Crush Reveals He’s Depressed (Episode 1)
While Zoey initially viewed the spontaneous musical numbers around her as an annoyance, she realizes how perceptive her gift can make her one night when she sees her office crush Simon (John Clarence Stewart) break into song. Although Simon always puts on a happy face for his co-workers, his musical number – Tears for Fears’ “Mad World” – reveals he’s actually in a lot of emotional pain.
Concerned, Zoey approaches him and discovers Simon’s dad recently killed himself. The two bond over their shared tragic experiences with their fathers, although Zoey also learns Simon is engaged, complicating her feelings for him.
Mitch Sings to Zoey (Episode 1)
By far the most talked-about scene in the pilot episode of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist occurs when Zoey, unable to cope with the changes in her life, turns to her father for help. Heartbroken that Mitch can’t talk to her, and not sure if he even knows that she’s there, Zoey turns away – only for Mitch to suddenly stand up and sing Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors” to her. It’s an amazing moment that shows Zoey that her father is still with her, he loves her, and her previously unwanted gift allows them to communicate.
Mitch Reaches Out to His Family (Episode 1)
While Zoey’s newfound ability to connect with her father through song is touching, what happens next is arguably more powerful. After learning her father is aware of his surroundings, Zoey convinces her family to take him sailing. Everyone is apprehensive about taking Mitch outside, but once on the boat, Zoey’s mother Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) admits being on the water brings back a lot of good memories. To everyone’s amazement, Mitch makes a supreme effort and manages to take Maggie’s hand in his to show he feels the same way.
For a show that’s regularly fast paced and over-the-top, the scene is remarkably quiet and gentle – focusing simply on the family’s expressions as Mitch reveals he’s still there. It’s a moment that manages to connect with any audience member who’s had to deal with an aging parent or family crisis.
Zoey Helps Her Mother Deal with Her Frustration (Episode 3)
The first two episodes dealt primarily with Mitch’s frustrations with his condition. However, the third episode flips this by examining how his illness affects those around him – particularly his wife. When Zoey sees her mother sing a heartbreaking rendition of Al Green’s “How Can You Mend A Broken Heart” she realizes how stressed her mother is from having to constantly take care of her husband.
This leads to a heartfelt intervention by Zoey and her brother who offer to spend more time taking care of Mitch so Maggie can take care of herself. “I love your smile,” Zoey tells her mother. “But only if it’s real.” Mitch himself chimes in by typing his wife a short message: YOU’RE AMAZING. LET THEM HELP. on his laptop. It’s a remarkable display of love and support that shows how important the Clarke family dynamic is to the show.
Zoey Motivates Her Boss (Episode 3)
One excellent aspect of the show is its ability to take cliché characters and showcase their hidden depths through song. Zoey’s boss Joan (Lauren Graham) comes across as a typical hard-nosed, ball busting career woman in the pilot. And on many shows, that’s exactly how she’d remain. However, in the third episode, Zoey discovers Joan is in a toxic relationship with her husband, a narcissistic tech genius who uses his star power to gain leverage over Joan’s company.
While Zoey tries to maintain a professional distance from her boss, thanks to her musical power, she’s constantly reminded of Joan’s pain. Ultimately giving her boss a chance to vent her problems, Zoey finds herself unexpectedly bonding with Joan and motivates her to take charge of her own life. When Joan finally leaves her husband and decides to promote her company on her own – breaking into her version of Katy Perry’s “Roar” – the audience is firmly on the side of this previously unlikeable woman.
Fans of musical theatre know that the song and dance numbers are more than just eye and ear candy. They give characters a chance to be almost painfully exposed on stage as they belt out their greatest hopes, fears, and insecurities. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlisttakes full advantage of this by allowing Zoey and the viewers to see the cast at its most vulnerable – and relatable. It’s an approach that promises plenty of emotional drama as the series explores how far it can take its musical premise.