Tuesday, January 7, 2020

REVIEW: 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' - Zoey Begins Experiencing the World Through Big Musical Numbers in 'Pilot'

NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist - Episode 1.01 "Pilot"

Zoey, an introverted computer programmer living in San Francisco, begins to hear the innermost desires of the people around her through song.

In 2018, there were 495 scripted shows airing amongst the linear channels and streaming services. The way people are consuming content now is so different than it used to be. It happens according to one's own schedule. As such, there is less necessity to provide ample coverage of each specific episode in any given season from a show. Moreover, it is simply impossible to watch everything. As such, this site is making the move to shorter episodic reviews in order to cover as many shows as possible. With all of that being said, here are my thoughts on the series premiere of NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.

"Pilot" was written by Austin Winsberg and directed by Richard Shepard

It is convoluted and silly to get into the precise premise of this show. Zoey is in an MRI machine when an earthquake hits. She walks out with the ability to hear people's inner thoughts through big musical numbers. It's a big swing for a broadcast network show. In fact, the colorful drama should be commended for that ambition. This isn't something formulaic or derivative. It's a bold swing that may work. Or it could fail spectacularly. NBC has the courage to take a risk like this because they believe in its potential value. And yes, the creative team has assembled a terrific cast who get to show off their musical abilities each week. But the narrative itself has to be very careful with the way that it implements these musical moments. In this premiere, those moments are what gives this show value and definition. It's all about creating the situation in which Zoey receives these abilities and her then becoming startled whenever someone breaks out into song. Those moments come across as the show taking the subtext of this world and turning it into the blatantly obvious text. It would be a waste of the show to cast Peter Gallagher as Zoey's near catatonic father. As such, it was inevitable that her new ability would create a way for her to communicate with him once more. Meanwhile, Leif may not present as openly misogynistic as his friend Tobin but he still functions from that same position as a person who needs to aggressively put Zoey in her place. And Max is more than just Zoey's best friend always willing to offer her support throughout the work day. He actually has a crush on her that takes her wildly by surprise when she is confronted with it by the conclusion of this premiere. All of this ensures that things are dramatically upfront and may even present Zoey as someone who doesn't pick up on the obvious clues about the world around her. This ability may be to her actual benefit because it can help her engage with people in a way that rewards her life dramatically. Of course, the show only offers a few fleeting moments where she is the introverted computer coder who lacks the confidence to go after the big promotion at her office. She eventually gains that by the end of this hour because of the way she impresses her boss, Joan. But that too feels like a somewhat strange and distant relationship that doesn't have much depth to it. These characters are best defined through their relationships with Zoey. That's not inherently wrong or unique to this show. If they aren't singing, then the focus really isn't on them. However, these musical moments need to reveal something deeper about what's happening in their lives. The basis for the plot here is Zoey realizing that there is more emotional depth to her office crush, Simon, than what he presents to the world. She just sees him as a guy who is continually happy. Instead, he is really struggling because his father recently died from suicide. He can open up to her about that experience but finds it difficult to form that connection with his fiancé. This is Zoey's grand introduction into how to use these musical numbers only she can see and experience to help people in need. But it still has to be spelled out to her that "Mad World" is one of the most depressing songs out there. Mo seems to exist solely to explain things to Zoey while living a carefree life elsewhere. That's annoying. But again, there is so much bright charm to this concept and the execution here. Yes, some of the musical moments go on too long. Zoey having self-awareness over that can be funny like when she comments on Leif's dance break moment. However, it's only genuinely moving when Zoey's father stands up to sing "True Colors" and be with her for one more moment. That provides a sense of reassurance and emotional depth the show would be wise to explore more deeply instead of going for the easy observations about what's happening in this particular world. But again, that potential is absolutely there because I too want to be challenged and surprised by a show airing on a broadcast network.