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 (and the first three episodes of this season!) because spoilers are ahead, darlings!
What’s up with Zoey’s dreams?
The episode lights up on Zoey’s nightmare. She’s trapped in her parents’ house (which is monochromatic and devoid of the “life” of a family home), singing “Nowhere To Run.” She can’t escape. It’s psychologically terrifying, and, unsurprisingly, Zoey’s not getting a lot of sleep these days (and not because of sexy times with Max, unfortunately).
When Zoey and Max discuss her nightmares, they both surmise that it may be because Zoey is still living at her mom’s house. That is, after all, the setting of her dream, so it’s a natural conclusion. They decide that it may be best for Zoey to go back to her apartment, but when Zoey hears her mom’s heartsong, “Someone You Loved”, Zoey realizes her mom is still deep in grief, and she decides to stay a while longer.
How is Zoey going to take care of herself and her mom at the same time?
Maggie is going back to work on her first project since Mitch’s death, but she’s struggling to find her creativity again. Her first pitch doesn’t go well, and Zoey quickly realizes that Maggie needs to find inspiration from another creative person, in this case, Emily’s sister, Jenna. Maggie and Jenna are an unlikely team, but as it turns out, they are an effective. So effective, in fact, that Maggie asks Jenna to stick around to help her with the entire project, much to the dismay of Emily and David, who are more than ready for Jenna to head back to her home.
At SPRQ Point, it’s apparent that Zoey’s starting to fall apart; she is falling asleep at work—and having nightmares at her desk—so she reaches out to Simon for help. (Simon, who, is surprisingly cool about Zoey and Max being together.) Her sleep deprivation is definitely affecting her work performance, something that Simon can relate to. He suggests that she delegate some of the workload to make it easier, and, while at first that seems to help, it quickly backfires when the “brogrammers” come up with slightly less-than-appropriate jerseys for the office softball team. Tired beyond belief and very frustrated, Zoey snaps at her team.
We’ve never seen Zoey like this before, and it may take a while before she can restore her positive working relationships with the “brogrammers.” She’s definitely struggling on learning to be the boss while also learning how to live without her father.
Meanwhile, Mo is having problems of his own. He and Max are touring possible restaurant locations, but he’s distracted by his relationship problems with Eddie. Eventually we realize that Mo and Eddie have broken up, and Mo cannot focus on business while he’s in emotional turmoil, but instead keeps suggesting increasingly ridiculous ideas for the business plan (an…octopus aquarium???)
When Max tries to tell Zoey about his business problems with Mo, Zoey zones out. It’s a strange moment, especially when Zoey reveals that Max sang to her, but we (the audience) didn’t hear it. After this fight with Max, Zoey decides to move back to her place. Maggie, it seems, now realizes that she can find a path through life without her husband, but it’s appearing that Zoey has yet to find her way.
On Zoey’s first night back in her apartment, Max sings to her again, and this time, we hear it. It’s a heartbreaking rendition of “Say Something”, and though it’s sung beautifully by Skylar Astin, all I wanted to do was cry through the entire song. Have a listen, if you need a fresh dose of Max/Zoey feels:
Where do we go when there’s nowhere to run from grief?
“The more you can do for yourself right now, the better.” -Simon
In Zoey’s dreams, she’s trapped with herself. And, when she is able to leave the house, she is confronted by herself, wearing the same outfit we saw her in when she had her last dance with Mitch in season one. In this case, she’s in denial, trying to hide from her grief in an extended “grief vacation”, and denial only works for so long. She cannot run forever, and now, as her heartsong says, there’s “nowhere to run.” She needs to really process her father’s death and what it means for her future before she can move forward.
One of the reasons this show is so powerful is not only because it shows us the full spectrum of human emotions, but it is showing us Zoey’s emotional development throughout each episode. Zoey is frustratingly and gut-wrenchingly human, and trying to avoid grief is a very human response to the loss of a loved one. We distract ourselves, and maybe put ourselves back out in the world too soon, because we don’t want to hurt. Zoey’s not allowing herself to feel, really feel, the pain of Mitch’s loss, so her subconscious does it for her when she sleeps. And that coping method, as we can see, is costing her a lot.
As predicted, it was way too soon for a Max/Zoey relationship. The fact she chose to ignore Max’s heartsongs in order to avoid the inevitable breakup is proof of that. We do not know a lot about Zoey’s powers, but we do know that she can’t ignore the heartsongs forever, just like she cannot ignore her grief. Putting her relationship on “pause” for now is the right decision, even though it really sucks.
Zoey doesn’t have a distraction now, and she has left the “safety bubble” of her parents’ home, so what comes next? How will she handle the increased responsibility at work while learning to handle her grief? I’m no psychic, but I think we’re going to see a lot more of Simon in coming episodes, which I’m excited for because I think he and Zoey have a lot to learn from each other, and maybe, Simon can help her the way Zoey helped him in season one.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on NBC on Tuesdays, and is now streaming on Hulu.