Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Channel 4
- Deborah Chu
- 3 March 2020
Saccharine musical series about a mind-reading coder veers off-key
TV musicals are a tricky beast. The growing trend of inexplicable one-off musical episodes (Riverdale, Grey's Anatomy) and shows with music as a core element (Empire, Nashville) aside, few have the gumption to fully lean into the conventions of musical theatre. Even in a post-Hamilton world, this remains a broadly divisive genre. But there have been successes, including the cheerful razzle-dazzle-'em of Glee and the more sardonically played Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, which used the musical's best instincts to poke fun at its stereotypes and say something meaningful about mental health.
Then there's Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, which reads like an Apple commercial in its bright gloss and espousal of trite nonsense about human connection. The show follows socially-awkward coder Zoey Clarke (portrayed gamely by Jane Levy) who develops the ability to read people's thoughts and feelings in the form of song-and-dance numbers after an earthquake hits while she's getting an MRI.
A line-up of familiar showbiz faces are enlisted to carry this premise, with Pitch Perfect alum Skylar Astin playing best friend Max, and Gilmore Girls' Lauren Graham in fine form as her strident boss, Joan. But despite the best efforts of these talented actors, who are all clearly singing and dancing their hearts out, there is unfortunately very little substance to be salvaged here. First and perhaps most fatally, all the Katy Perry bops in the world cannot resuscitate clunking dialogue or stand in as lazy shorthand for genuine character development. Indeed, Zoey's neighbour-turned-confidante Mo (played by Alex Newell) might be considered yet another offensive iteration of the sassy black best friend archetype, if all the other characters were not equally two-dimensional.
While the show does hit the odd high note – such as when Zoey's powers allows her a sweet moment with her father (Peter Gallagher), who suffers from a debilitating neurological disease – it by-and-large displays all the emotional subtlety of a runaway train. Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist attempts to make a grandiose statement about music's ability to connect us with something universal, but instead only serves to reinforce that old adage: silence is golden.
Episodes watched: 3 of 12
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist starts on E4, Wednesday 4 March, 10pm