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Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist: Zoey's Extraordinary Distraction

"I am gonna ride you so hard!..."

To use a baseball metaphor, this episode hits a home run when it comes to the Max/Zoey material, but when it comes to gender politics in the workplace, it's falling way below the Mendoza Line.

Up until this point Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has sort of touched on the difficulties facing women in STEM, largely in the form of glib jokes from Joan. (Hashtag girlboss.) "...Distraction" has decided to build an entire B-plot around these issues, which in theory is great! Problem is, without Joan or Max in the office as moderating influences, apparently SPRQpoint has devolved into a frathouse. Are we supposed to believe that without Joan's draconian oversight reining them in, all of Zoey's allegedly competent colleagues have metamorphosed into a bunch of brainless jabronis overnight?

This is most gratuitous in the case of poor Tobin. Poor, poor Tobin. Remember him? Back in season one Tobin was a mildly obnoxious but basically good-hearted goof defined largely by his bromance with Leif; a tech bro through and through, but a broadly likable one. But in this episode, he goes from brogrammer to unhinged psychopath. Would the Tobin we came to know and begrudgingly tolerate in the first season suggest getting ahead of bad PR by launching a smear campaign against the poster of a viral video, and then making deepfakes of people being physically harmed by products manufactured by SPRQpoint's competitors? Running a "Nut Punch" tournament is arguably the high point for him morally in this episode, for christ's sake.

Luckily, Zoey resolves this problem by reassigning a trio of female programmers from the fifth floor to work on the fourth floor with her crew. A victory for feminism! Except, doesn't Zoey's dialogue with the three women in the elevator sort of imply that they're the only programmers on their respective floors, meaning that now the fifth floor is going to turn into a frathouse? Also, didn't the "Hello, Dolly" number from the season premiere make it clear that Zoey has at least six female colleagues on the fourth floor (not counting the receptionist)? Also also, why do the new girls dress like extras from the film Hackers? (Not a plot hole per se, just a sartorial observation.)

Speaking of bringing women into a space, the Clarke household has a new arrival in the form of Emily's sister Jenna. She's... adequate? I've often struggled to get a handle on David and Emily's characters beyond the vague ideas of "older brother" and "sister-in-law," and I want to say I feel slightly more bullish on Jenna, but I can't quite tell if her personality is more distinct, or if it's just louder. She's fun, if nothing else, and her plot gives Maggie something to do, which is always appreciated.

You know what's also fun? Watching Max and Zoey get nasty. Or try and fail to get nasty, for most of the episode, what with Zoey's attempts at scheduling sex getting waylaid at every turn - by drama at work, by Mo's angst, by Albert Von Tilzer, whatever. Their "sex scene" in the back half of the episode is a highlight for sure - a sort of mini-play that's funny, a little sexy, and surprisingly intimate. Perhaps they're moving a little fast, but hey, if it means we get to wallow in awkward baseball singalongs rather than drawn-out love triangles, that's fine with me.

Max's material with Zoey this episode fares quite well; I wish I could say the same about his subplot with Mo, who suddenly has cold feet about signing a legally binding contract with Max regarding their business. Gee, why would Zoey's transgendered neighbor feel awkward about signing a contract which the viewers can clearly see lists him as Arthur (which I assume is what the kids would call Mo's "deadname")? When I put it that way it sounds really obvious, especially when we consider that Mo wards off his contract-induced anxiety by scheduling a day to get his hair and nails done. But the joke's on me for assuming that the writers might work Mo's gender identity into the story in any meaningful way, because he's actually upset because... he squeezed a friend out of a business venture once and is worried he will live to squeeze another day? Uh, okay... but if that's the case, wouldn't he be chomping at the bit to sign a legally binding contract stipulating 50-50 co-ownership of the business with Max? I like my plot better. Whiff.

SOUND CHECK: Despite my misgivings about the B- and C-plots this episode, "...Distraction" was not lacking in the musical numbers department.

"Poison" by Bell Biv DeVoe - No matter how many times I hear it, that opening slab of snares never fails to command my attention. Alice Lee's voice is maybe a little pretty for a "hard-edged" song like this, but the choreography here is on point.
"Too Good at Goodbyes" by Sam Smith - Hey, did you know the "Stay With Me" guy had other songs? And that some of these other songs have one billion views on YouTube, despite me never having heard of them in my life? Anyway, as previously mentioned this Mo plot did not ring true, but it's hard to deny Alex Newell is a phenomenal singer, particularly when given primo diva fodder like this one. Writers, please have Newell heart-sing "Unbreak My Heart" sometime this season.
"Baby Did a Bad, Bad Thing" by Chris Isaak - Bit of a deep cut here (I didn't realize the "Wicked Game" guy had other hits), but it was a genius decision on the writer's part - Michael Thomas Grant completely nailed this number - how does he manage to fill his voice with such regret and rock so hard at the same time?? I'm glad that his "musical profile" has solidified into this sort of twangy rockabilly vibe - it's very distinct from "Everybody Hurts" and "I Put a Spell on You" and yet feels like a logical evolution of his character. The choreography with the chairs here, taking advantage of the open workspace at SPRQpoint, is a hell of a lot of fun.
"Take Me Out to the Ballgame" by who cares, it's public domain! / "I'll Make Love to You" by Boyz II Men / "A Moment Like This" by Kelly Clarkson - What a great medley - it starts out as a great showcase for Skylar Astin, who is nailing the whiplash between two different modes of comedy (deliberately stilted self-repression and wildly over-the-top romantic bombast), before turning into a very sweet duet. It's a nice touch that the instrumental cuts out when Zoey sings (after all, Max isn't hearing anything), which hits a rare note of intimacy: it's rare to see her deliberately let her guard down like this. One of the strongest arguments for this show's premise.

Other Notes:
- I'm pretty sure the Spark... Watch... screw it, let's just call a spade a spade, OK? The "overheating Fitbit" plot is a ripped-from-the-headlines deal, riffing on a scandal from a few years back where the lithium-ion battery in the Samsung Galaxy would spontaneously combust. I'm pretty sure that this is a hardware problem rather than something that could be caused by a system update, but what do I know?
- Some other games invented by Tobin et al include "Cranberry Leif" and "Snowy on Zoey." Does SPRQpoint just not have an HR department?
- David and Emily weigh in on the Zoey/Max/Simon love triangle this episode - Emily is pro-Simon, but David thinks Max is the one, because "he's put in so much more time."
- A nice little moment: Maggie gets exasperated by the obviously incompatible wants of a couple on House Hunters.
- "I Don't Care That You Look Like Rafiki" (AKA Zoey's Extraordinary Wardrobe) - Any other week, I would dissect the outfits worn by the Cool Gamer Girl Trio, or savage Zoey for wearing what appear to be pajamas under a blazer to work. But of course, we are instead going to feast our eyes on Zoey's "sexy" look, which is truly something else. Don't get me wrong, her glammed-up look is still a crime against humanity, but it's a whole different kind of crime against humanity.

THE VERDICT: Some of these undercooked subplots rankle, but the strong musical numbers make up for it, if you ask me. A weak three out of four punches to the nuts.

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