Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Zoey's Extraordinary Return

"You look like a sad Emma Stone Halloween costume."

Zoey (the character) is back after an extended absence, but she's not quite back on her feet yet. Neither, I am sorry to report, is Zoey the show.

Of course, that's not a surprise. Like most season premieres, "Zoey's Extraordinary Return" has the responsibility of establishing a new status quo for the rest of the season, which means that this piece has a lot of piece-moving to do, and fast. This could result in an extremely hamfisted episode with some clunky exposition; fortunately, Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is an extremely unsubtle show to begin with, and thus it doesn't bother me that Mo and Simon and a newly-unemployed Max are suddenly BFFs, for instance. Nor am I particularly bothered that the show skipped over the birth of baby Miles, and that Zoey seems pretty blasé about being an aunt.

That being said, ZEP can get away with weak plotting on the back of its capacity for emotional catharsis, and it's on that front where "Zoey's Extraordinary Return" falters. This is most obvious with the posthumous Mitch A-plot, which has all the ingredients necessary to hit you straight in the feels, but feels like more of a punt. It hurts to watch Mitch rasp out his testimonials, knowing full well these were likely the last words he ever spoke, and yet, his pleas to his family to live their lives to the fullest even after he dies rang a little hollow. Part of this, I suspect, is that the show's musical premise seems almost tailor-made for the Mitch character, and it thus feels odd watching him express his feelings in any form other than a musical number. That, and I think the resolution of their grief just felt a little too tidy.

Speaking of tidy resolutions, Joan is moving on up and out of Zoey's life, as she'll be off managing The Mighty Ducks SPRQpoint's Asia division in a show for a corporate behemoth that can afford an ex-Gilmore Girl's salary Singapore. This is a sad (if unsurprising) development, as Joan's relationships with Zoey and Leif were some of the more compelling ones on the show. Filling the Joan-shaped hole in the workplace scenes is SPRQpoint's latest hire George (played by Harvey Guillen from What We Do in the Shadows). In a wink-and-nod-at-the-audience moment, George describes himself as a "diet Max," but in truth he's more of a diet Josh Gad. I'm not a fan, to be honest - hasn't this show already exceeded its kooky tech bro quota? Who knows, maybe he'll have some hidden depths we've yet to plunge beyond his heart song this episode. For now his character is like the stress puppies wandering the fourth floor of SPRQpoint - a misguided attempt at levity.

Perhaps the best part of this episode is the swift resolution of the Simon/Max/Zoey love triangle. I was very worried going into this season that the show would try to drag this plot out, but thankfully Zoey chooses Max. Which is the right choice, bluntly: Simon may be the hot one with the better voice, but Max is obviously the one she belongs with, and the writers must agree with me given how much screentime he gets in this episode. I'm not saying this just because Skylar Astin and Jane Levy have better chemistry, to be clear, but also on account of healthy relationship dynamics: unless Zoey came clean about her powers, any relationship between her and Simon would be pretty one-sided, emotionally. Then again, she's yet to break the news to Simon - maybe there's still drama to be mined from this scenario.

SOUND CHECK: We've got five, count 'em, five musical numbers this episode.

"Rise Up" by Andra Day - Not a heart song, this one, but a fully diegetic number courtesy of Mo, meant to rouse Zoey out of her lost-a-parent stupor. You may have heard this song before, but couldn't place the name or artist - it's been played to death on TV, used to underscore everything from insipid and exploitative advertisements vaguely alluding to the tolls of COVID-19 to offensively insipid and exploitative coverage of racial justice movements. As a song it's beige faux-gospel caterwauling with all the personality of a stock photo; as an excuse to show off Alex Newell's considerable pipes, I sort of dug it.
"Hello, Dolly" from the musical of the same name - A perfectly cromulent ensemble number welcoming Zoey back to her job in the loudest way possible. That being said, it's sort of a missed opportunity to not give Lauren Graham one last chance to sing before she jets off to Disney Plus The Far East. Also, I could have done without the sight of a dozen tech bros slapping their asses in unison.
"Are You Gonna Be My Girl?" by Jet - This was a fun number with some good rock'n'roll energy, but points off for not having Zoey wear (beat) big - black - boots. (At least they threw a lampshade on the incongruous "long brown hair" lyric.)
"Don't Cry Out Loud" by a whole ton of divas - On the surface, George's big number this episode feels humorously melodramatic, but it's worth noting that Peter Allen wrote "Don't Cry Out Loud" in reference to his father's suicide - perhaps a deliberate bit of subtext on the writers' part? On the other hand, if they knew that much about Allen, they likely also knew that Allen was in the closet for his entire life. On the other other hand, maybe they knew that too, and this is foreshadowing in a... different direction.
"Carry On" by fun. - You know, sometimes it feels like the songs on this show were chosen exclusively for their titles, and the lyrics in the verses feel like afterthoughts, but not here! Emily has "never been through hell like that" - or at least, not to the extent that Maggie has - and David did "[meet] up with some friends at the edge of the night at a bar," as we saw in "Zoey's Extraordinary Failure." That being said, I will admit my biases - I didn't like fun. back when "Some Nights" was inescapable, and I can't say I like them now, so this number didn't quite work for me.

Other notes:
- Hi, I'm Quiara, and I'll be reviewing Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist for Doux Reviews. This was rather unexpectedly one of my favorite shows of the 2020 season, and I'm cautiously excited whether the show can keep its momentum.
- Some shakeups in the opening credits: Leif, Tobin, David, and Emily have all been promoted to cast regulars, which mostly makes me wonder why Leif and Tobin weren't regulars to begin with. They were in every episode, weren't they?
- So is COVID a thing in the universe of this show? I'm assuming not.
- We are repeatedly told that SPRQpoint is in financial freefall, but Leif was able to swap out all the chairs with standing desks and buy a literal puppy for each employee? Uh, ok.
- Howie, a.k.a. the best supporting character, was conspicuously absent here. Okay, maybe not "conspicuously" absent, as he has no reason to hang around after Mitch's death, but I did feel a little sad that he didn't get even a tiny shout-out.
- Mo's sass is sorely appreciated w/r/t Zoey's "champagne problems." Although I wonder which of Zoey's suitors Mo thinks is "the handsomer one." Just kidding, I know it's Simon.
- One of the interesting throughlines of this show is that, by its logic, nearly every problem can be solved if we just got rid of that pesky "privacy" thing. David "saving the day" by watching an extremely personal video meant for his mother is just one example of this.
- What is going on with Mary Steenburgen's eyebrows in this episode? Did she draw them on herself with a Sharpie? I don't remember them looking this fake last season.
- Lots of fun digs at Zoey's questionable fashion choices this episode, my favorite being Joan's not-even-wrong "I like your sweater. It's cute that you shop at Etsy." Speaking of which -
- It's Cute That You Shop At Etsy (AKA, Zoey's Extraordinarily Bad Outfit of the Week): Not content with merely wearing a sweater over a button-up, Zoey shows up to her first day back at work wearing a hot pink blazer over a truly ugly floral wool cardigan over a button-up. Yikes! Her day two outfit is much nicer - the more subtle floral embellishments on her navy sweater almost look chic.
- I almost forgot to mention Max's new business venture, the "restaurant where you can order from other restaurants." I'm not entirely sure how this is going to be within Max's wheelhouse without being "literally Grubhub" - but hey, Max and Mo are a fun couple.

THE VERDICT: The show's wrapped up its loose ends and started some new plots, but I worry they may have closed the book on Mitchell Clarke somewhat prematurely. We'll see where ZEP goes from here. Two out of four handsome love interests.

2 comments:

Billie Doux said...

Welcome to the site, Quiara! I haven't seen the first season of ZEP yet, but I'm definitely giving it a try.

Katie Hart - Pinterest Manager said...

I absolutely loved the first season of ZEP - so glad to see it's being reviewed here now!