Musical TV shows are a controversial corner of TV land.
As an avid lover of the genre, I am on the edge of my seat each time they announce a new one, hoping and praying that it won’t be a corny, hot mess.
Over the years, many musical TV shows have come along, each with varying degrees of success. This year, though, we got one that may be the answer to all of our prayers.
Has Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist perfected the musical TV show? Join us as we discuss why it just might have.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is the new kid on the block, but it came out of the gate swinging. Even after just Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist Season 1 Episode 1, it already seemed to have found just the right mix of everything that makes a musical show effective.
Following the end of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in 2019, there was a major hole left in the world of TV, and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist stepped right in to fill the massive shoes left behind by Rachel Bloom and co.
Similar to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Rebecca, who imagined moments in her life in the form of song and dance, Zoey, the title character of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, is the only one who can see the musical numbers going on around her.
Musical TV shows don’t always acknowledge the reasoning behind the musical numbers. Sometimes the audience is expected just to accept it as a fact. Sometimes there is a concrete, realistic reasoning behind it.
In Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’s case, though, the writers go just far enough out of the realm of reality into zany explanation territory without going off the deep end, that it is easy for the audience to get on board with it.
Following an earthquake that rattled the city while Zoey was having an MRI, Zoey is now able to see people’s innermost thoughts in the form of song.
While it seems that the technological malfunction is the cause of her newfound gift, the audience is left to draw their conclusions about what is going on.
Is it really happening? Is Zoey going crazy? Does Zoey have the same rare neurological disease as her father, and are these hallucinations that are a manifestation of the disease?
The open interpretation allows viewers to buy into the sense of whimsy without much more explanation needed.
Zoey’s gift has both its ups and downsides.
It’s great for her when it comes to moments like the emotionally packed interaction with her nonverbal father, where he breaks into “True Colors” by Cindy Lauper when she needs him the most.
It’s not so great when her coworker who pretends to be supportive of her lashes out with “All I Do Is Win” by DJ Khalid.
Zoey takes all of it in stride, though. In fact, it all ends up empowering her to take a stand for herself and convince her boss to give her a promotion that she rightfully deserves.
Zoey’s handling of the chaos erupting around her endears her to the audience, which is vital to the success of the show.
Musicals are a hot topic among TV fans. People either love them or hate them, and one factor that weighs heavily on that is the likability of the characters.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend was a revolutionary show that took on mental health issues in a way not many shows have been able to in the past and entertained us all.
However, at times audience members found Rebecca to be irredeemable, and it turned some people away from the show.
Glee faced similar issues during its run. While Glee was a beloved show, many viewers had difficulty stomaching Rachel, who was arguably the main character of the show.
Zoey’s likeability only adds to the enjoyment for viewers.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’s ability to evoke strong emotions right out of the gate is a huge asset to the show and speaks volumes to talent of the cast and writers.
It isn’t often that viewers can be brought to tears by the first episode of a show. Most of the time, we need time to get to know the characters and become emotionally invested in them.
But there I was nonetheless, tears streaming down my face, as Peter Gallagher comforted his on-screen daughter with the words of a song we have all heard many times -- but not quite like that.
It was everything from the context of the moment to the performance by Gallagher to Jane Levy as Zoey taking it all in that made the scene, well, extraordinary.
Emotions resurfaced when Skylar Astin’s Max randomly broke out into “I Think I Love You” by the Partridge Family mid-conversation with Zoey.
Twelve years ago, after having “I Think I Love You” stuck in my head for weeks, I used the lyrics of that song to tell my boyfriend I loved him for the first time. Seeing it used similarly brought back all those feelings I had in that moment.
That’s the beauty of using well-known songs. The songs we will hear throughout Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist are already attached to memories and emotions.
That alone can help viewers develop an emotional connection to the material.
Musical shows that utilize original songs instead of established ones don’t get that benefit, and it can sometimes hurt the show.
Smash, for instance, was a show that had a great premise but was targeted to a particular audience of musical theatre lovers. Following the development of a potential Broadway musical, Smash chose to use primarily original songs.
The original songs used on Smash were great, but by not giving the audience music they would know, it alienated non-musical theatre lovers, who wouldn’t be as interested in hearing show tunes.
Glee’s use of hit songs is part of the reason it was such a huge success when it debuted. Viewers tuned in each week to see which of their favorite songs would make an appearance. They bought albums to re-listen to all of their favorite covers.
In the way that Glee’s soundtrack brought in viewers, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist can do the same. Who wouldn’t love to listen to Skylar Astin’s cover of a song on repeat?
The concept of the songs beiing manifestations of people’s inner thoughts is stellar.
After all, music is the soundtrack to our lives. We listen to certain songs when we are in a certain mood. We create whole playlists around their emotional weight.
This is just taking that a step further.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist seems to have learned from both its predecessors’ mistakes and successes and used those to cultivate a show that is heartfelt, entertaining, and the epitome of what a show in this genre should be.
It may still be a baby, but if it continues down its current path, there is no doubt that it can be one of the greatest musical TV shows we have seen.
What do you think about Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist so far?
How does it measure up to your favorite musical TV shows?
Hit the comments section below to share your thoughts!
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Meaghan Frey was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. She retired in September 2020.