Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist s1 ep 12

At the time of writing, there’s no word on whether Zoey’s is going to be renewed. But it finished its first and, quite possibly, only season with a properly stunning episode: starting with Zoey singing ‘Bad Moon Rising’, which she correctly interprets as a portent of something bad happening, running through to the death of her beloved father Mitch, and including a swift makeout session with best friend Max along the way. (Although Max formed part of a supposed love triangle, I was always on Team Simon: both he and Max were fairly needy, but I thought Simon to be a little more… well, adult.)

The bravura final scene – an unbroken six-or-seven minute single shot to which the whole cast contributed – didn’t quite do it for me, unfortunately, because it was set to ‘American Pie’, a song which I regard as having been written for the sole purpose of annoying me to hell. But the rest of the world loves it, so that’s on me. By then, though, I had already been undone by Mitch singing ‘Lullabye’ to his unborn grandchild; Maggie singing ‘Dream A Little Dream Of Me’ to Mitch; and, most of all, the brief sequence, just before Mitch’s death, of Zoey and her father dancing – and, notably, conversing – to a string version of ‘True Colors’, a callback to an impossibly emotional scene in an earlier episode, and a song I find impossible to resist even if it just turns up on the radio when I’m driving. 

I started out liking this show, and I ended up loving it. The writers, of course, deserve huge credit, and on top of that it was very well-served by an excellent cast. Singling individuals out is unfair, but here goes anyway: Peter Gallagher, one of the best TV actors around, did a vast amount with the incredibly challenging role of Mitch, mostly confined to his couch by a life-limiting illness; but occasionally able, in Zoey’s fantasies, to soar. As far as Mary Steenburgen, who played Maggie, Zoey’s mother, is concerned, all I really need to say is: how good was she?! 

And of course the remarkable Jane Levy, as Zoey, convincingly blended genuine charm with both resolve and vulnerability, which meant that the viewer’s disbelief in Zoey’s “heart songs” could be pleasurably suspended. I’ve said this sort of thing before – about Madam Secretary, for example – but in the days when network TV shows hoovered up awards, Levy would have been on all the shortlists going. Her performance emphasised the way in which the musical numbers illustrated the various ways in which the show’s characters – and, for that matter, all of us – aren’t always willing or able to articulate what we want to say, even if it’s important. I hope it won’t sound unduly affected if I were to suggest that the show’s underlying theme was the way in which people, even if they love each other, often don’t communicate effectively enough; particularly given that Zoey’s was also entirely capable of being a light-hearted dramedy with a couple of ships and some excellent song-and-dance numbers.

The tribute in the credits to Richard Winsburg, the father of show creator Austin Winsburg, who died of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), as did Mitch, was a fitting end to Austin’s Extraordinary Show, which – if I may say so, with respect – did his father proud, and I really hope we get to see more of it.

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