Poor Zoey Clarke’s life is derailed when an earthquake interrupts an MRI scan she is undergoing.
But it’s all a clever device by writer Austin Winsberg, to veer new US dramedy Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist into a musical genre.
Not long after her scan she is walking down a street in San Francisco when she passes a pedestrian singing Eric Carmen’s ‘All By Myself.’ Except the stranger isn’t actually singing the song out loud, but in her head.
Zoey (Jane Levy) has acquired the rare talent of hearing people’s thoughts in song. Random.
“It’s almost as if they were singing what they were thinking out loud, collectively!” she explains to a friend.
This leads to all kinds of flash-mob musical moments on the street, in cafes, at work and then some. Standby for lots of shots of a bemused young Zoey in the middle of spontaneous dance numbers.
Advancing this offbeat tale is Zoey’s family: mom (Mary Steenburgen) who is caring for her father (Peter Gallagher) who is paralysed by a rare neurological disease; there’s her boss Jane (Lauren Graham) who wants Zoey to step up at her IT company; colleague Simon (John Clarence Stewart) whom Zoey develops feelings for; and gender-fluid neighbour Mo (Alex Newell) who is full of streetwise advice.
Several will break into song in the opening episode, including Help, Mad World and True Colours. The fact most of the cast are non-singers makes this all the more effective. Unlike Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, these tunes are more pop than Broadway in style and it’s everybody except the lead who breaks into song….
While Zoey is juggling guilt over eavesdropping on people’s feelings, her special powers open up all kinds of solutions to her current problems: men, work, family and more.
Visually this is bright and airy, from the open-plan play-centre workspace (which has everything from a cereal bar to swings) to colourful cityscapes in San Fran.
The net effect of the story and its breezy execution is refreshing and Jane Levy is certainly endearing in the title role.
While the musical fan inside me wants this to succeed, the critic in me wonders if the device is sustainable over a series and whether suspension-of-disbelief will wear thin. And should this be a half hour show instead of 44 minutes? Perhaps…
Nevertheless Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is playing in a space that is so rarely attempted on television and it totally hits the spot.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is now screening on Stan.