Amanda Watches: Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Here I was, watching the latest episode of The Good Place and bemoaning Ohio’s perpetual role as the constant joke, when a targeted ad reminded me for the billionth time about NBC’s new pilot, Zoey’s Incredible Playlist.

I have to admit, the first time I saw the trailer, I thought “Hmm, so they’re taking what they liked about Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and putting a new spin on it? Including Skylar Astin?”

But the second, third, or fourth time (I’ve lost count) I saw the trailer, I decided, what the heck, it’s streaming for free, let’s see what they’ve got.

I just finished watching the pilot, oh, 10 minutes ago? So when I say this post is coming at you as a raw, largely unfiltered reaction, I do mean it.

The basic premise is this: Zoey is one of two women working in a tech startup. She’s in line for a promotion but her tough lady boss wants her to show more confidence. Zoey’s father has a rare neurological condition and lately she’s had some headaches, which makes her worry something might be up with her brain, too. She gets an implausibly visually appealing MRI (her head is not strapped down, which makes zero sense given that she’s having a brain scan–trust me on this one). The tech offers to play some music for her, then there’s an earthquake, some weird sequence occurs, and she can suddenly hear people’s innermost thoughts. In song. For reasons.

It’s a silly premise, to say the least, but one that’s creative and potentially entertaining.

I am cautiously optimistic that I’ve found a new show to watch. With The Mindy Project being long over and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend wrapping up last year, my TV viewing spent most last year replaced by The Great Glass Cannon Podcast binge of 2019. With so very many options out there spread across so many streaming services, it seems like it’s hard for me to hone in on the content out there that’s going to connect with me.

Which is why I’m a little bit happy about targeted advertising. Yes, algorithms know too much, capitalism, etc. But. Occasionally there’s the perk of said algorithms telling me what to do with a Friday night when my best friend and my boyfriend both happen to be out of town.

So, anyway. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. 

Pilot episodes are always kind of awkward, aren’t they? There’s those bits and kinks that haven’t quite worked themselves out. And this one seemed to be trying to do a lot of laying down the premise with not very much time. 43 minutes to explain “earthquake while I was in the MRI machine and now people sing their innermost thoughts at me” is… kind of pushing it when you also have to introduce the main characters, conflicts, and try to get your audience emotionally involved.

I’m the kind of viewer, though, who likes to see the potential in a pilot. Knowing there will likely be some shifts and ironing out when episode 2 comes around in February, I’m intrigued by this show’s wacky premise. It takes two concepts that are, at this point, tried and true: people love a TV musical (hello, Glee) and people love the complications of a protagonist knowing other people’s innermost thoughts (how many movies have we seen with this premise?).

During some pilots (including, alas, the pilot for Rupert Grint’s show Super Clyde) I have been immediately seized by the sense that the premise has a pressing expiration date. With this one, I’m not so sure. Certainly there will need to be some developments in how Zoey interacts with her newfound ability for this concept to have any longevity, but I can’t see an immediate “once x happens, show is over” in view.

So, the good things. The playlist, as it was, seemed well picked. Admittedly, I am far from a music expert, but from what I could tell, there was some range in the selection while still finding songs that fit the mood being evoked. Trying to pigeonhole lyrics into fitting a situation (or a situation into fitting those lyrics) is a potential pitfall here as the show progresses, but I am sure shows like Glee navigated similar challenges.

Zoey’s wardrobe is a ton of fun. Not sure this is a selling point for the show itself, but I definitely found myself wanting her personal stylist to style me for my job, which sadly also requires professionalism and therefore requires more of me than my natural instinct of “jeans and a fandom t-shirt” with maybe a flannel if it’s cold outside.

One of the characters in the show (he probably has a name but I forget) spends a lot of time making pointed jokes about the fact that Zoey and her boss are the only two women in their workplace. This has the potential to develop into something interesting re: the fact that the tech world is a male-dominated field. Although it seems a little weird that it’s just Zoey and her boss, since… wouldn’t her boss be making the hiring decisions? But, I’m reserving judgement until I see where things are headed. After all, the writer’s room in Late Night was male dominated in spite of Katherine Newbury being a woman, and that movie was fantastic.

The cast is also fairly diverse. I wish this was such the norm that I didn’t immediately notice it, but I kept being pleasantly surprised by the variety of characters presented on screen. None of them are all that developed yet at this stage (again, pilots are awkward and can tend to reduce people to “quick, these are the things we want audiences to know about this character!) but I’m cautiously optimistic.

For a pilot, they really grabbed for some emotional depth. In spite of being a show with a fun, musical premise, this pilot suggests the showrunners aren’t afraid to tackle heavy emotions. In episode one, we see a man struggling with his father’s suicide and his partner’s inability to fully comprehend a specific type of loss when she has yet to experience grief (at this point I nodded vigorously). We see our protagonist’s family struggle to navigate her father’s declining health and inability to communicate in conventional ways.

Of course we’re also introduced to a best friend love story because even after all these years, we just can’t quit you, can we?

This has the potential to fill in some of the void that Crazy Ex-Girlfriend left behind, hopefully without jumping the shark quite as much. At the same time, the musical numbers are staged a bit awkwardly at this point, making it a little hard to follow what’s actually happening versus what’s in Zoey’s head, but hopefully that gets ironed out come episode 2.

When the next episode airs, I’ll be watching. Fingers crossed the show continues to go in an interesting direction invites our suspension of disbelief to disarm us as it explores complicated human issues.

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