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 five episodes of this season!) because spoilers are ahead, darlings!
Uh, Zoey? Are you okay?
Zoey’s been hanging out with the carefree Aiden (Felix Mallard), who is a college graduate who spent some time backpacking through Thailand (or, as he puts it, getting high on a beach in Phukhet). Zoey hears Aiden sing Natasha Bedingfield’s “Unwritten”, which she takes to mean that he’s a live-in-the-moment kind of dude. “I think I need a little of what you’ve got,” she says to Aiden, and to her, that means becoming a rebel.
Her rebellion consists of taking a personal day on a day when, well, a really-bad-for-PR computing glitch occurs at SPRQ Point, but Zoey’s not there and for once, she’s an out-of-sight-out-of-mind kind of gal. Or, she’s trying to be. But more on that later. Anywho, on her personal day, Aiden offers her drugs of unknown origin, and Zoey, feeling rebellious, pops one. Unfortunately right before her “trip” begins, her boss, Danny Michael Davis—who is out of house arrest because rich people are seemingly only ever inconvenienced by the law—calls her and wants to talk business. “I’ll come to you,” he says, and…uhh…awkwaaaard.
Simon also calls around this time, looking for help about the glitch with the Chirp from Zoey, who is his boss, but Zoey brushes him off because of her impending trip. She doesn’t realize it at the moment, but her brush off of Simon has huge implications, and likely consequences, for both her job and her friendship with him.
When Danny Michael Davis arrives at Aiden’s garage (lair? man cave? rehearsal space?), he immediately recognizes that Zoey and Aiden are high as kites, and wants some of the good stuff. This leads to a middle of suburbia musical ensemble number of Nicki Minaj’s “Starships” and, while this is a song that I never expected to make it on a musical dramedy, it oddly enough, totally works for a sequence in which Zoey is trippin balls with her boss and her dude-bro next door neighbor. Also I just really love this song and all I can say is, “f*ck yeah.”
While on their, uh, trip, Zoey, Danny Michael Davis, and to an extent Aiden, bond over their desire to care a little bit less to make their lives easier. For Zoey, caring less might mean she can get over her father’s death. For Danny Michael Davis, caring less might mean he can leave SPRQ Point behind and move onto other projects. And for Aiden, caring less means…absolutely nothing at this point in time because, he’s a bro that has very little responsibility toward other people.
The result of Zoey’s trip is pretty profound, considering it only lasted for about eight hours. SPRQ Point is now in jeopardy, because Danny Michael Davis confesses to Zoey that he’s going to look into selling his stake in the company because he’s “lost his passion” for it. Zoey realizes that her one day of rebellion could mean her job, and the job of everyone else on the fourth floor, if she cannot convince Danny Michael Davis to stay.
She does manage it, but he only promises her a few months. If he still finds that he cannot bring back the passion he once felt for his company, he’s out.
Uh, Zoey…your actions affect everyone else.
Jenna and Maggie
While Zoey’s trip doesn’t have any direct effect on her mom’s and Jenna’s relationship, it does affect the outcome. After turning down Roger’s advances in the previous episode, we quickly see that he is punishing Maggie for rejecting him by constantly questioning the quality of her work. Jenna sees this, says, “No one messes with my girl, Maggie,” and then dumps fertilizer in Roger’s Porsche.
As far as retribution goes, filling an a-hole’s car with sh*t is a pretty creative one, but Maggie finds it a little less than amusing since it puts her professional credibility in jeopardy. After a pretty heated argument, Maggie fires Jenna, and Jenna decides to leave San Francisco. After watching such a beautiful friendship blossom between the two women, it hurts to see them end on such a bad note. Luckily, Zoey thinks so too, and once she comes back from her trip, she reminds Maggie how much she cares about Jenna, and the two make up before Jenna leaves town.
Jenna also leaves a beautiful photo collage in her nephew’s nursery, and while Emily seemed to not be too enthused about Jenna’s appearance at the beginning of the season, I think she will miss her sister, and I hope it isn’t too long before Jenna returns to the show.
Max and Mo
Now that Max and Mo have worked past some of their issues and secured a location for “Maximo’s”, it’s time for them to find a financier for their enterprise. Max’s father (the legendary Chip Zien) is coming to visit, and it’s apparent that Max feels like he can never please his father. He asks Zoey to have breakfast with them, because he believes it will smooth things over since his dad likes Zoey so much.
While his father is in town, Max finds out that he and Mo are out of luck with their hopeful financiers, Tatianna is not able to publish the article on Max—meaning no free publicity—and he has nothing to show his father to impress him. Mo pushes Max to pitch their business enterprise to his father, because he has the means to support Maximo’s.
Zoey’s there when Max and Mo pitch their restaurant to Alan, and, well, since Zoey hears Max sing Linkin Park’s “Numb”, we can assume that it doesn’t go that well. Alan leaves without seeming very impressed, and Zoey’s brilliant trip-inspired advice to Max is to “care less.” Max doesn’t care very much for Zoey’s advice, or for her new rebellious “not-caring” phase. He doesn’t take her words of “wisdom”; in fact, Max tells Zoey that one of the things that he loves most about her is that she does care so much. I think that Max’s words kind of serve as the proverbial slap-in-the-face to Zoey, but Zoey’s short-lived rebellion will likely have profound consequences.
When Max arrives to drive his father to the airport, Alan shocks his son by handing him a check to cover the opening of the restaurant. Max’s excitement is short-lived however, when he realizes that his father doesn’t see Maximo’s as a valuable investment opportunity, rather, he’s handing his son money because he thinks it’s his duty as a father.
Linkin Park’s “Numb” lyrics hit a whole new way when Max turns down his father’s money and strikes his own path, away from his father.
So what was so important at SPRQ Point that Danny Michael Davis dropped everything to find Zoey and Simon called her even though he knew it was her day off?
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has never shied away from the tough topics, and this episode is no exception. The Chirp’s problem is that its algorithm face-recognition technology misrecognizes people of color (which is an actual real problem that the tech industry has and has had repercussions in the criminal justice system). Danny Michael Davis views this issue as a problem that could affect profit margins; Simon views it as symbolic of systemic racism in the tech industry (and, let’s be honest, western culture in general). When Simon calls Zoey, he’s calling not only to inform her of the glitch in the algorithm, but also because she is his boss, and he wants to bring a genuine concern to her about the way SPRQ Point conducts business.
Danny Michael Davis asks Simon to host a press conference to address the glitch and to confirm that it’s being handled; of course, the CEO doesn’t realize (or doesn’t want to) that he’s put Simon in the awkward position of defending and rationalizing an industry that often overlooks or exploits people of color. So what does Zoey have to do with this? Well, she is his boss now, and as a white person in a position of power, it is her job to listen and to learn and to do better, and, most importantly, make sure persons of color are included in every conversation. Since she took the promotion and became in charge of the fourth floor, Zoey now has a seat at the table, and her responsibilities to her employees do not get to take a “personal day.” Unfortunately, her brush-off of Simon when he was trying to explain and confide in her about a very real and very pressing problem, is very typical in today’s society. White people, especially those in positions of power, are taught that they are entitled to personal days where they can ignore all of their responsibilities—and while we all deserve a day off, system racism doesn’t take a vacation. Sexism doesn’t take a vacation. “With great power comes great responsibility”, to quote Spider-man, and if someone like Zoey truly wants to make the world a better place, then she needs to realize that she can’t dial down how much she cares, and she can’t care less about her responsibility to the people she is now responsible for (even if it’s her day off), especially those that have a history of marginalization and oppression.
When Simon steps up to the podium for his press conference, Zoey hears him sing Nina Simone’s “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, a song that is perfect for the moment and for the conflict that exists inside of Simon. So far, Zoey’s interactions with Simon have never centered on or mentioned race, and now the series is stripping away its color blindness and showing that a white leading character cannot ignore a black character’s pleas to be seen and heard. Initially, Simon gives the speech he is supposed to about the coding fix for the Chirp, and then, since he now has the platform to be seen and heard by renowned journalists, he takes the moment to speak his truth, regardless of the consequences to his job at SPRQ Point.
Because of her ‘trip’ to the rebellious side, Zoey wasn’t willing or able to hear Simon, or to help him navigate the conflict that he feels defending a pervasive issue in the tech industry, and the consequence of that means that Simon chooses his own path, and he can only hope that he isn’t misunderstood.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs on NBC on Tuesdays, and is now streaming on Hulu.