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Series / Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist

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"Look, songs are all just an expression of our deepest wants and desires: joy, pain, heartbreak, yearning, forgiveness, revenge. Good music can make you feel things you can't express in words."

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is a live-action comedy series that premiered on January 7, 2020 on NBC. The story focuses on Zoey (Jane Levy), a young coder working at a tech firm and up for a promotion in the near future. Several months ago Zoey's father was diagnosed with a brain disorder, leaving him in a partially paralyzed state. In fear that she might one day suffer the same, Zoey goes to have an MRI. While in the machine there is an earthquake which causes a Freak Lab Accident.

From then on, at seemingly random moments, people around her, stranger, friend and family alike, suddenly seem to burst into song and dance for no apparent reason while everyone else cannot see or hear anything of the sort. However, the songs and dance routines that she experiences all have to do with the most powerful emotions of the people performing them. Using this new gift, she, with the help of her neighbor Mo (Alex Newell), has to think of the best way to harness what she can do in order to help others with their personal problems.

The series also stars Skylar Astin as Zoey's best friend and coworker Max, Peter Gallagher and Mary Steenburgen as Zoey's parents, Lauren Graham as Zoey's boss Joan, and John Clarence Stewart as Zoey's coworker Simon.

The second season premiered on January 5, 2021. In June 2021, NBC cancelled the series, with Lionsgate Television shopping it elsewhere following a rejection by Peacock. On December 1, 2021, the Roku Channel (which carries past seasons of the series) released the film-length Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas, which also serves as a Grand Finale for the series.

Now has a Character Sheet and recap page.

This series provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: In "Zoey's Extraordinary Session," Danny Michael Davis performs a rendition of "Pure Imagination." Prior to his role as Danny, Noah Weisberg played Willy Wonka in the first national tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
  • All Love Is Unrequited: Max is in love with Zoey, but Zoey is in love with Simon, who has a fiancée.
  • Amicable Exes: Zoey and Max for a while in Season 2. They finally get back together in the season finale.
  • Betty and Veronica:
    • The contrast between Zoey's two love interests: Simon, whom she doesn't know at first is initially brooding, distant (although he warms up quickly to Zoey), and engaged; Max is her best friend and has a guy-next-door vibe. Lampshaded repeatedly by Mo in "Zoey's Extraordinary Boss" when she comments on their moments with Zoey.
    • Simon himself, between Zoey and Jessica. Jessica is his fiancée, but she's also glamorous, extremely focused on their wedding, and they have not been connecting emotionally. Meanwhile, he is developing a new connection with the very Betty-like Zoey, who is more casual and awkward.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In Zoey's Extraordinary Silence, Fight Song by Rachel Platten is "sung" in American Sign Language. Without subtitles.
  • Bonding over Missing Parents:
    • Variation: Zoey's father isn't dead yet but his rare disease is slowly killing him and makes him unable to communicate with those around him, and she knows she doesn't have much time with him left. She is able to bond with Simon over this, since his father committed suicide.
    • Zoey and Joan have strongly bonded by the time this conversation happens, but in the penultimate episode of season 1, Joan admits that she's cutting Zoey a lot of slack with her dying father because back when Joan was in a similar position as Zoey, she prioritized work over her dying mother and came to deeply regret it.
  • Can't Have Sex, Ever: Played with when Zoey and Max try to hook up. As you might imagine, sex is a very emotional experience for most people so Max pretty much immediately bursts into song and dance when things start getting hot and heavy. They eventually succeed, though.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: Invoked by Joan when Zoey accidentally sings "Pressure" during an important presentation for a new product, complete with dancing on the meeting table. Fortunately, Max joined in with her and told Joan it was Refuge in Audacity on Zoey's part to sell her idea, which seemed to be confirmed when the CEO decided to go forward with the development. In reality, it was not at all part of Zoey's plan and she physically could not stop herself from singing. She has to play it off with a Sure, Let's Go with That.
  • Cringe Comedy: All of "Zoey's Extraordinary Glitch," where Zoey's superpower goes haywire and causes her to start singing her own feelings... out loud. And while she can hear background music and see choreography, the rest of the characters can't, and the episode is frequently in their viewpoint. The scene where she awkwardly bursts into "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" in front of Leif and Joan (whom she secretly knows are having an affair) might drive some viewers to bury their head under their arms until it's over, but it's also pretty damn funny.
  • Curse Cut Short: Every episode has Zoey (or occasionally another character) about to cuss before being covered up by the title card.
    • Subverted in "Zoey's Extraordinary Mystery", in which Zoe says "fu... nky" instead.
    • The songs that are covered with curse words will have them either end before the curse word is said or skip over it entirely, like with "Starships".
  • Did I Just Say That Out Loud?: In the 8th episode, Zoey herself becomes a lead in a big musical number. Initially thinking it is just a side effect of her ability, she realizes after finishing that it was actually her singing out loud, and that the backup singers/dancers and music were all in her head. For the rest of the episode all of the musical numbers are sung by Zoey and she cannot stop singing when a song comes on, no matter how hard she tries.
  • Dirty Mind-Reading: Subverted in episode 2, where Zoey mistakes her father singing "Moondance" to her mother as a reference to their sex life. Turns out it was a way of saying “I love you.” Later played straight when Emily’s rendition of "Buttons" makes it very clear why she wants alone time with David.
  • Downer Beginning: It's revealed in the first episode that Zoey's father has an incurable, terminal illness.
  • Downer Ending: The first season ends with Mitch's funeral.
  • Dramatic Irony: The point of one of the flashback subplots of "Zoey's Extraordinary Session". Recovering from a mild heart attack, Maggie tells a healthy Mitch that it would be okay if he moved on if she died, and he softly says he can't imagine living without her...neither aware that their roles will end up being reversed.
  • Dramedy: Despite having the filming style / esthetics of a Sitcom, it's actually a bit darker than a typical comedy show would be. In tone, it's closer to some High Concept dramas of the 2010s than a traditional sitcom.
  • The Empath: What Zoey's new abilities make her. The musical numbers she sees are all happening in her head, but what the people are saying through the songs and dances are all an accurate depiction of how they're actually feeling.
  • Forgotten First Meeting: "Zoey's Extraordinary Session" reveals Mo was a cab driver giving Zoey a ride to the hospital years before. It's indicated that while Zoey may remember it (thanks to Mo's bragging about his job dreams, not to mention his rendition of "Shut Up and Drive"), Mo has no idea his neighbor was once a customer.
  • Freak Lab Accident: An incident with an MRI, an Apple Music playlist and an earthquake is what gives Zoey her gifts.
  • "Freaky Friday" Flip: "Zoey’s Extraordinary Mystery" features a variant, using the trope namer as a clue. The people Zoey runs into begin swapping songs instead of bodies, and in order to help them she has to figure out who is singing for whom. She's especially determined to find out the true owner of the heartbreaking song sung by Max at the beginning of the episode. Turns out it was Zoey's sister-in-law Emily, who was suffering from postpartum depression, and the songs started switching in order to get Zoey's attention because she hadn't stuck around Emily long enough to listen to her.
  • Grand Romantic Gesture: What Max tried to do at the start of episode 7, with organizing a flash mob for Zoey in the mall. Zoey assumed it was another heart song and didn't realize Max and the others were really singing until he responded to her normally in the middle of it.
  • Happily Married: Zoey's parents, Mitch and Maggie, have had a long, happy, and fruitful marriage. They were partners in their landscape and garden design business, Good Parents to their two children, and the whole family remains very close.
  • Hidden Depths: Basically, Zoey can see people's depths, expressed through song. She is often surprised by the revelation that people she dismissed as shallow or uncaring are just disguising their own intense emotions.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Zoey's parents chose to to raise her and her brother without religion, believing it to be important that they find their own spiritual path. Even still, Zoey demonstrates a level of cluelessness about organized religion that's often hard to accept.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Every episode after the pilot is titled "Zoey's Extraordinary..."
  • I'll Take Two Beers Too: The eponymous evening of "Zoey's Extraordinary Night Out" begins with Joan bringing Zoey to a bar and ordering two martinis and two shots. Zoey, surprised, reluctantly agrees to do a shot with her boss, and Joan amends her order to four shots.
  • Irony: Zoey is the first to note that she's a music illiterate who barely knows the difference between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and has never heard of half the songs she hears as heart songs. So the idea that she of all people gets to witness these magical musical numbers is equal parts annoying and amusing.
    Mo: This gift is wasted on you!
  • Jukebox Musical: The soundtrack primarily consists of covers of popular songs as sung by the cast.
  • Left It In: Zoey blowing bubbles in her wine was something Jane Levy did after the director called cut but before the camera stopped rolling. The editor decided to leave it in.
  • The Man in the Mirror Talks Back: The first season finale opens with Zoey's reflection singing "Bad Moon Rising", which she takes as a possible omen. She's right; Mitch dies later that day.
  • Musical World Hypotheses: Mixed. Most of it is "All In Their Heads": The "heart songs", where characters dance and sing their thoughts, are established to not occur in reality and only Zoey can see them happening. However, the songs are established to not be from her head, rather they come from inside another person. When her father sings "Moondance" she doesn't know it and has to look up the lyrics in order to figure out what it means. However, some numbers also take place diegetically, like Mo's choir performance and Max's flashmob, and all the songs in "Zoey's Extraordinary Session" (which is largely a flashback to Zoey's first day at work, well before she got her powers).
  • No Antagonist: There isn't a Big Bad or even a Villainy-Free Villain causing the conflict here, the conflict in each episode is driven more by emotional forces, poor communication, or Zoey's dad's illness than anything malicious or even evil. Still, the world is no Sugar Bowl despite the colorful publicity and Dramedy setting.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Danny Michael Davis is very clearly based on Mark Zuckerberg.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Lack of communication causes many of the problems Zoey and the people around her face. Zoey is able to help by simply approaching them and offering to listen.
  • Real After All:
    • The opening of episode 7 has Zoey at a food court with Max when everyone breaks out into a performance of "If I Can't Have You". Zoey is brushing it off with her usual sarcastic lines when it hits her that Max can hear and answer her (whereas people singing heart songs are usually oblivious to anything she says about it while the number is ongoing). When the number ends, Zoey realizes this was a huge flash mob and "this is actual life."
    • Happens to the audience in "Zoey's Extraordinary Session" as Danny Michael Davis is shown singing "Pure Imagination" from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory at the welcoming session for new programmers...but then it's reminded that this is before Zoey's accident so Danny really was singing the song as an opener.
      • This plays into the rest of the episode as whatever songs are sung are all the programmers (and Mo) actually singing, including a sing-off between Max and Lief while working on solving a puzzle, with Zoey outright annoyed (especially as she doesn't know any of these songs).
  • Reality Is Unrealistic: There really is commercially-released 72-year-old Scotch like Joan has hidden in her credenza. It costs $60,000 a bottle.
  • Running Gag:
  • Sleeping with the Boss: Leif and Joan in season 1.
    • Simon and Zoey in Season 2.
  • Spontaneous Choreography: Other characters' emotions are portrayed through spontaneous song and dance numbers. Zoey's occasionally are as well.
  • Tech Bro: The tech company Zoey works at, SPRQ Point, is in San Francisco and employs a lot of self-named "brogrammers": douchey, well-dressed West Coast millennials who code. The two who get the most focus are Tobin and Leif, best friends who enjoy partying and antagonizing Zoey. It is noted that the company is male-dominated, and their supervisor Joan tries to mentor Zoey as a fellow woman in tech.
  • Wacky Startup Workplace: Zoey's trendy San Francisco tech office is very visually striking: it's open-concept, has lots of glass windows, colorful furniture, work pods, and a fancy snack bar with continually changing snack themes.
  • Very Special Episode: "Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning", which discusses systemic racism in the tech industry.
  • Wham Episode: "Zoey's Extraordinary Goodbye": At the end of the episode, Max can suddenly see/hear Zoey's heart songs, after a season of the fact that she always knew what he was feeling but not vice versa causing problems for their relationship. It's ambiguous whether he can hear anyone else's, too, until Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas confirms that he can (and that Zoey still has her own powers).
  • Wham Line: In "Zoey's Extraordinary Goodbye", Zoey confesses her feelings to Max.
    Zoey: I wanna be with you. And somehow, we will find a way to make it work.
    Max: Uh, Zoey...I think you just sang a heart song to me.
  • Whole Episode Flashback: "Zoey's Extraordinary Session" has Zoey telling her therapist about her first day at her job, including meeting Max and Mo, while also showing how David and Emily reconnected.


Video Example(s):


Zoey's Christmas

Zoey can't help but hear everyone else's holiday cheer. (That rhymed!)

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / ChristmasEpisode

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