‘Zoey’s Playlist’ occasionally delightful but falls short of extraordinary
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” has a lot going for it. It’s built on a fun, interesting concept. The show is well-cast, solidly-written and has a good balance of heart and humor. Yet, as good as “Playlist” is, it feels like it’s reaching for something it can’t quite attain.
It stars Jane Levy as Zoey, a coder at a tech firm who’s trying to handle the load life’s throwing at her. She’s trying to get a promotion at work and hold her family together as her (Peter Gallagher) father is dying from a neurological condition. After an incident in an MRI machine, she discovers she can hear peoples’ inner thoughts expresses through popular songs. She uses her ability to help those around her, complicating her life in comedic ways.
This show does so much right. Levy is perfectly cast in the lead role. She’s clever, resourceful and extremely likable. Her reactions to her now ability are funny and relatable.
Levy has a great supporting cast, several members of which frequently shine. Alex Newell brings the funny as Zoey’s neighbor, Mo. Lauren Graham impresses as Joan, Zoey’s icy yet surprising vulnerable boss. Mary Steenburgen shows toughness while breaking your heart as Zoey’s mother, a woman who is just trying to find the silver linings as she cares for her dying husband.
Good acting means the relationships between the characters are another strength for the show. The two that work the best are Zoey’s relationship with her dad and with Joan. We see Zoey earn Joan’s trust and breaks through her boss’s all-business veneer to the more vulnerable woman inside. With her dad, Zoey struggles with the reality of his condition but is enlivened when she discovers she can know what he’s thinking even though he can’t physically talk.
“Playlist” also boasts a good amount of humor to keep things from getting too heavy. Mo is especially funny, getting a laugh just about every time she appears on screen. The idea that everybody you meet has a version of themselves who can really sing is amusing, especially considering the fact that 75 percent of people can’t carry a tune in a 50-gallon oil barrel.
Then again, it’s the musical numbers where “Playlist” starts to fall down. The singing is for the most part pretty good, and the choreography is fine. It’s just that the scale of the numbers seems off, not quite as operatic as befitting the expression of the characters’ innermost desires.
That’s not the only stumble “Playlist” makes. The relationship between Zoey and her best-friend-who-wants-something-more, Max (Skylar Astin), isn’t especially compelling and to be honest, Astin’s performance doesn’t elevate the character of Max, either. But he’s cute, and I guess that’s what’s really important.
But the biggest stumble that “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” makes is that the show always seems to be reaching for something that just barely escapes its grasp. It wants to be a funny comedy while being a heart-warming family drama AND a musical. While it’s pretty good at all three, it’s not masterful at any of them. The musical numbers want to be grander than they are, Zoey’s emotional journey is less affecting than it needs to be, and the show swings and misses when it shoots for being romantic.
Thanks to Levy’s presence, “Playlist” is often delightful. But it wants to be much more and doesn’t quite get there.