'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Brings Bright Tunes and Colors in Joyful New NBC Series (Review)

Actors are incredibly talented people, but if the movies will not give them a chance to show their versatility, television will. Every so often, they get to scratch their musical itch thanks to unique show ideas that eventually make it to our small screens. This season, we get NBC's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. Created by Austin Winsberg, a former writer on Gossip Girl, the series gives a stacked cast headed by the charming and charismatic Jane Levy a chance to sing and dance right into our hearts.

zoey's extraordinary playlist nbc
(Photo: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC)

What makes Zoey unique is the rules of its world. Because of an earthquake during an MRI, coder Zoey Clarke (Levy) experiences people's inner thoughts through pop songs and only she can hear them. To everyone else, life is going on normally, but to her, people are singing "Help!" in the middle of San Francisco. One issue for Zoey is that she would rather be listening to podcasts than music, and needs the help of her neighbor, DJ Mo (Glee's Alex Newell) to decipher what the songs mean.

Once the ground rules are set for Zoey, the show quickly shows its hand when it comes to the format. Zoey learns she needs to use her power to help others get their lives on track, acting as their personal Jiminy Cricket in each episode. Aside from this and the show-stopping musical numbers, the show lives on a foundation of familiar sitcom ticks.

There's Zoey's awkward relationships with male co-workers Max (Pitch Perfect's Skylar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) and constant pressure from her overworked boss Joan (Lauren Graham). She also has an array of annoying bro co-workers to provide funny workplace comedy moments.

However, the real heart of the show is Zoey's family. Her parents Maggie and Mitch are played to perfection by Mary Steenbergen and Peter Gallagher, and Andrew Leeds plays her brother David. Mitch is suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, making it almost impossible for him to truly communicate. This will be a thread throughout the show, as Zoey is the only one who can hear his thoughts through the songs Gallagher gets to perform.

Some of the song choices are a little too on-the-nose, like Gallagher singing "True Colors" or "Mad World" popping up when a character is really sad to really get the waterworks going, but the choreography and performances make each set-piece charming. Plus the running joke that Zoey is unfamiliar with these ubiquitous songs is hilarious.

The pilot could stand alone as a nice little special, but once the show is done establishing its characters and rules, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist really gets into high-gear. The pilot leans into the musical numbers too much, as if Winsberg had a lot of ideas he wanted to get out of the way in the first hour. Once the show is done with that though, the songs are held back for specific moments and the characters get to add a little more meat to their backgrounds.

It will be hard for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist to appeal to anyone who has had enough with musicals, but it provides a colorful break from the dreary grey cop procedurals and dramas. The infectious fun leaping from the screen, mixed with tear-jerking family moments will hopefully help Zoey survive more than one season.


NBC strangely aired the pilot back on Jan. 7 and is re-airing it on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET. Episode two will follow in the show's usual timeslot, Sundays at 9 p.m. ET.

Photo credit: Sergei Bachlakov/NBC