NBC’s ‘Zoey’ fails to find its tune

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NI Copy Editor and Opinion Writer Taylor Lien reviews the new NBC musical show, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

TAYLOR LIEN, Copy Editor

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” has had an interesting life so far. The pilot aired originally on Jan. 7 as a special presentation to transition the weeks in between the holiday specials and the winter programming schedule. You may also recognize it as the 45-minute ad that NBC tried to sneak past all of us on Twitter and YouTube.

Zoey is a young coder working for a fictional Google-type company in downtown San Francisco. Her life is in turmoil because of a possible promotion at work, as well as dealing with the effects of her father’s progressive neurological disorder. Zoey fears that she may also be developing symptoms of the same disease so she goes to get an MRI. This is when things really go awry since she is in the MRI machine while an earthquake occurs.

After leaving the appointment, Zoey encounters people on the San Francisco streetcar singing “Help” by The Beatles. After witnessing this, Zoey concludes that people are singing their innermost thoughts out loud in song, but only she can hear it and see the accompanying choreography.

Only the first two episodes have aired, so there is a lot of time for the show to make a stronger impression, but so far, I have been overall less than impressed. Much of the cast is supremely talented; Jane Levy is a really great singer and I will never complain about Skylar Astin singing “Sucker” to me. Yet, something about it feels just a little lacking. Some of the song choices are a little baffling, such as the acoustic version of “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” and the following gag about Zoey not knowing the song was a Whitney Houston song. As someone who is likely almost ten years younger than the character, it seemed slightly implausible that she would not know something like that.

That critique feels indicative of my feelings about the entire show. I love the premise and many of the actors involved in the project. Even the music as a whole has been a good mix of more recent radio hits and older classics across genres. Where the show fails, or has failed so far, is in the character choices. This is a show that cannot rely only on the gimmickiness of its premise. If it hopes to sustain viewers and keep their attention the characters and their storylines have to be intriguing enough to stay watching.

One way I wish they were doing this more is by utilizing their main cast to sing their feelings. There have been a number of songs sung by strangers in public places, and while that is an interesting use of the premise, it can slow the story down and make the musical numbers less of a pleasant surprise and more of something to get through or, when streaming, possibly fast-forward through.

Overall, it doesn’t seem as if there is a strong plan going forward with the rest of the season. Five episodes is not a long time to make a good first impression, so I expected there to be more story packed into these episodes. A show that feels very similar in its DNA that executed the musical dramedy very well is “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” It ran on the CW for 4 planned seasons and every episode featured original music that spanned genres. The thing that “Crazy Ex” had that “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” seems to lack is self-awareness or awareness of what it wants to be. Crazy Ex was well known for embracing some musical and romantic comedy tropes and subverting others. “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” seems to lack a commitment to the zaniness of its own premise. Weird or strange TV shows can only succeed if they are willing to commit to their own premise.

There are another 3 episodes planned in this first season for a total of 5 episodes. The condensed season feels like an indication of NBC’s level of confidence in the show. I would love to see a show like this succeed and the big push of ads online seems as if NBC knows that a show like this will much more likely be streamed than watched live on Sunday nights.