REVIEW: “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” Season Two

The first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was one of the biggest surprises of 2020 and easily ranked among my favorite shows of the year. It was filled with so much heart, joy, and emotion that it was infectious to watch. I love a good dramedy and I love a good musical show that knows how to utilize its musical numbers in unique, creative, and emotional ways. Everything about the first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was—pun intended—extraordinary, and I couldn’t have been more excited when a second season was confirmed. However, one big question lingered: could a second season maintain the energy, heart, and originality of the first without feeling stale? Well, having season the first three episodes of season two, I can safely say that the answer is a resounding yes! Season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a perfect continuation of the first season. It pushes the story and characters into new exciting and emotional directions while maintaining the show’s heart, joy, and emotional introspection. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)

(NOTE: This review will be as spoiler-free as possible. However, your mileage may vary; read at your own risk.)

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist – Season Two
In its second season, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” continues to explore the feelings we keep buried on the inside, the human impulse for connection and the undeniable healing power of music and dance. Following a tragedy, Zoey (Jane Levy) and the Clarke family begin to recalibrate and navigate their new normal. As she finds herself in a new dynamic at work and in her love life, Zoey’s musical powers will continue to both awkwardly complicate and inform her worldview as she attempts to rediscover joy and connect with those around her.

The second season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist begins several weeks after season one’s finale. Zoey’s (Jane Levy) temporarily moved back home to be with her family after her father, Mitch’s (Peter Gallagher), death. She’s basically put her life on hold to cope with her grief—but, as we all learn, life goes on. David (Andrew Leeds), Zoey’s brother, and his wife, Emily (Alice Lee), have had their first child and are coping with life as the parents of a newborn; Max (Skylar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) have struck a friendship with Mo (Alex Newell) so the three of them can keep tabs on Zoey; Joan (Lauren Graham) is preparing to fully take on her role as SPRQpoint’s CEO, leaving an executive agency to be filled; and, most troubling, Zoey hasn’t heard a heart song since her dad died. All of this is merely the setup and the season quickly pushes on work, forcing Zoe to confront her grief and learn to cope with it—though, don’t expect her to achieve this particularly quickly.

Much of season two’s first three episodes are spent examining how grief impacts people. Maggie (Mary Steenburgen), Zoey’s mother, is left to wrap up Mitch’s financial affairs while trying to reignite her passion for the landscape design business she and Mitch ran. Zoey, who quickly regains her ability to hear Heart songs in the first episode, finds herself struggling to deal with all of life’s pressures as she seeks a return to normalcy. The heart songs quickly overwhelm her, her new workplace responsibilities weigh down on her shoulder, and she impulsively throws herself into a relationship—with whom, I shan’t say for fear of spoiling it—that brings her some level of joy while also exacerbating many of her troubles. The show’s depiction of grief, and how it can infect every aspect of your life, has always been stellar. Grief can feel like an anvil positioned on your chest, making it hard to breathe, and hard to move, and hard to live. Season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist explores this idea with all of the care and nuance you’d hope for. The range of emotions Levy displays as Zoey moves through the stages of grief are genuinely moving. So much of the heart of these episodes is found in seeing Steenburgen and Levy share a scene, and both are utterly incredible here. If season one was about the pain of losing a family member to a terminal illness, then season two is about the long road towards putting yourself back together after a loss. 

But, lest you think the show is all doom and gloom, worry not. Everything you loved about season one is carried over into season two. The show exudes joy, from its bright visuals to its fast-paced storytelling and quick-witted dialogue. There’s so much here to enjoy, and these episodes feel like a warm return to a friend you’ve missed. While Zoey’s plotline is a mixture of sadness and comedy (Jane Levy still excels at having hilarious reactions to the heart songs), many of the other plotlines are sheer fun. Max and Mo end up deciding to start a business together—an idea which, on the surface, is pretty comedic, but ends up going to some surprisingly emotional places. Skylar Astin and Alex Newell are an iconic comedy duo and their subplot is a highlight every time the show circles back to it. Lief (Michael Thomas Grant) and Tobin (Kapil Talwalkar) have (accidentally?) transformed the workspace into a bit of a frat house—an idea that, while ultimately kind of grating, is lots of fun, particularly because of the new hire, George (played by recurring guest star, Harvey Guillen). The three of them, similarly, are such an endless delight to see interact with each other. I will never understand how Tobin and Lief managed to worm their way into my heart, but Michael Thomas Grant and Kapil Talwalkar are perfectly cast. I can’t go into much detail about how any of these plotlines play out, but rest assured that Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is still a dramedy at heart—balancing loads of comedy and genuinely emotional moments. 

What’s most impressive, though, is how little has changed between seasons. Season two feels identical to season one—in the best way. This season was among the first group of scripted shows filmed with Hollywood’s COVID procedures in place, yet those behind Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist have managed to keep that from showing onscreen. There aren’t suddenly a bunch of masked extras dancing in the background, nor is the show preoccupied with explaining how it’s functioning in a COVID world. Everyone involved in making the show has clearly strived to maintain that magical escapist fantasy feeling that filled the first season. The musical numbers, which one might think might be the first things to get trimmed in a COVID-world, are exactly as wonderful as they were last season. There is still a mixture of big bombastic and exciting group numbers alongside the quieter, more reflective solos and duets. The group numbers shine with creative and well-executed choreography, making use of the show’s stable of excellent supporting actors. The quieter moments hit just as hard as they always have, whether they’re comedic ones or emotional ones. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a musical fantasy, after all, and I’m so happy this season so perfectly maintains that feeling. 

Honestly, I’m just so happy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is back. The first season was one of the biggest surprises of 2020 and the second season is a worthy follow-up to it. If you like the first season, you’re going to like the second. The cast remains at the top of their game, the writing continues to be sharp and witty, and the show’s emotional center still hits home and warms the soul. This is exactly what you want from a second season—something that feels like the show you love but pushes things forward. I’ve adored what I’ve seen so far and I can’t wait to see more.

4.5 out of 5 wands.

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