“Zoey’s Extraordinary Return” (for a second season)

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was a show that appeared when I needed it the most in 2020. The first season was full of heart, and soul, and the full range of human emotions. If you haven’t watched the first season yet, here’s the briefest summary I can manage: after a freak accident involving an MRI machine, Zoey is able to hear people’s thoughts…in the form of musical numbers.

Now, get. yourself to Hulu and binge the first season because spoilers are ahead, darlings!

Where are we now?

The sophomore season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist picks up six weeks after the first season finale. (Again, there are spoilers here!!! Read on at your own risk!) Mitch’s death has left the family reeling, and Zoey (Jane Levy) in particular seems to struggle to carry on with her life. It’s the morning of Zoey’s first day back at work since her father’s death, and Mo (Alex Newell)—proving once again that he is the best friend Zoey could ask for and the emotional heart of the show—shows up at Maggie’s house, where Zoey has been staying for the past six weeks, to sing “I’ll Rise Up” and get Zoey motivated to return to the office. Really, any excuse for Alex Newell to sing is good enough for me because damn!

From there, we get a series of quick glimpses of how life has carried on without Mitch (even if Zoey hasn’t). Zoey is now an aunt to an adorable baby boy named Miles, Leif (Michael Thomas Grant) has taken over as interim manager in Zoey’s absence, Max’s replacement has been hired (a lovable character named George), and, in perhaps the weirdest twist of all: Simon and Max hang out now???

The world has simultaneously completed changed for Zoey and…not changed at all. At the beginning of the episode, Zoey confesses to Mo that she has not heard any “heart songs” since her father died…only to be greeted with a huge “Hello Dolly!” musical number when she reenters SPRQ point for the first time in almost two months.

There have been some severe budget cuts at the office, and the cereal bar is gone…and Leif has brought in dogs instead to cheer the office up? It’s disconcerting and yet very on brand for the tone of the show.

Even though it’s Zoey’s first day back, her boss, Joan (the incomparable Lauren Graham), reveals that she is leaving San Francisco to head up the Asian branch of the company, and wants Zoey to be her replacement as head of the fourth floor. Things are changing, quickly, and Zoey struggles to stay afloat.

It’s a lot to take in, and not just for Zoey.

Maggie (Mary Steenburgen), Zoey’s mother, struggles to get her husband’s affairs in order and feels guilty about bonding with her new grandson when her husband never had the chance. Emily (Alice Lee), Zoey’s sister-in-law, struggles with being a new mom and, though as yet unconfirmed, the show hints that she may also be struggling with postpartum depression. David (Andrew Leeds), Zoey’s brother, is trying to be a dad while missing his own, and the grief that family feels is palpable.

We learn that both Simon and Max have tried to be in touch with Zoey, and have reached some weird gentleman’s agreement that they aren’t going to force Zoey to choose between them. They’ve also become good friends with Mo, so when Zoey stops by Mo’s after work to drink wine and unwind, she’s a little thrown off by what appears to be a hang out…that didn’t include her. Throw in an impromptu performance of Max (Skylar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) singing “Are You Gonna Be My Girl” and it’s all too much for Zoey to handle. (It’s not, however, too much for me to handle and please give more duets between these two hot gents!)

Even though I’m firmly on Team Max, I gotta say, I don’t know which one Zoey should choose, or if she should choose one of them right now. Technically, she is now Simon’s boss, and even though Max bought her a ring (a shield, because she’s a superhero…honestly the most adorable moment of the episode), and even though there’s THAT moment at the end of the episode, Zoey’s entire world has been upended. Is the time right for her to seek out romance? I’m not sure, but even so, I shrieked when Max and Zoey have THAT moment. (No, I won’t tell you what it is…you need to see it for yourself!)

How do we carry on?

If there is one thing that this episode showed us, it is that there is no roadmap for moving on. You might be angry today and in denial tomorrow. Zoey certainly fluctuates in how she is handling her mourning, one second appearing “fine” and the next snapping at everyone in her workplace.

“Life’s not fair. Nothing makes sense. There’s no meaning to any of it.” -Zoey

It’s tempting, when you’re grieving, to isolate yourself, to hide yourself away and hope that the pain will just disappear. Though others mean well with the constant “Are you okay?” queries, they really can just serve a constant reminder of what you’ve lost.

The most heart wrenching moment of the episode is when Zoey’s family discovers that Mitch left behind testimonials—messages that he recorded before his disease progressed too far. No one in Zoey’s family is ready to watch them, and you know what? That’s okay. There isn’t one “right” way to grieve, and the stages of grief are just that, stages.

Many of us have experienced grief over the past year. We may have lost someone to COVID, or lost a job that we loved. Last week, my mother told me that if I wanted to see my Gran, this was the time. I saw Gran two days ago, and it broke my heart to see that the woman who loved me and sewed for me and helped raise me is no longer able to form a complete sentence or recognize me. So when I watched Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Zoey’s struggle was familiar and relatable. Grief is universal, and we all have to learn how to move on in our own way.

Grief isn’t pretty, and it isn’t fair, but it’s easier to carry on when you have good people who love you by your side. Luckily Zoey has that in spades.

Season 2 of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is now streaming on Hulu.