Monday, May 11, 2020

A Truly Extraordinary Playlist

If you haven't seen Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, you're missing out on something, well, extraordinary. Yes, the music is fun, the acting is spot on, and the choreography is something like you've probably never seen on TV unless you watch a lot of So You Think You Can Dance. But moreover, the story is compelling, the emotions are real, and the message is clear: Zoey is on a journey (see here for more about that journey). Just like the button-down shirts Zoey wears under her cardigans, there is so much more beneath the surface. You can focus on the meticulously chosen music (as I do below), but when you get down to it, there is a real beating heart of emotion subtly hidden beneath the fun and the comedy (which I also subtly hide within my review below). So without further ado, here are the top 11 songs from Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist (and some subtly disguised emotional realizations because, hey, that's what we do!)...

Minor spoilers below if you haven't watched the series ... SO GO WATCH IT FIRST!!

11) "The Boy Is Mine"
Hearing Joan and Ava fight over Max was a treat. The dancing was fun, the singing was impeccable (who doesn't want to hear Angelica Schuyler sing a Brandy & Monica song with Lorelai Gilmore?), and the production was perfect. But underneath, two women fighting over Max mirrored Zoey's own emotional fight over being Team Max or Team Whatshisface. (Uh, duh. Team Max all the way!)

10) "Great Pretender"
I mean, Mo has an amazing voice. He has several great songs I could have chosen ("Bailamos", "Issues", "I Will Follow Him") but I really liked this raw version where we get to see inside the heart of a truly intriguing character. Mo's genderfluidity is a minor plot point, but really we just love Mo for Mo. And isn't that what it's all about, great pretending aside?

9) "Pressure"
If you weren't Team Max by this point, are you even watching the show? The entire "Glitch" episode was cringey and wonderful, much like most musical television shows. But watching Max pretend like Zoey's outlandish performance was supposed to be a thing all along? How can you not love Max?! Zoey sings, "Don't ask for help / You're all alone", but she realizes she's simply not all alone. And it makes her "I'm Yours" ode to Max so much sweeter.

8) "Everybody Hurts"
Oh, Leif. We love you and we hate you. I mean, "All I Do Is Win" was an absurdly funny and sad look into Leif's mindset. But "Everybody Hurts" really acted as a bookend to his ridiculousness when he realized that people could see right through him. Plus this is the song that my first girlfriend played on her answering machine after I broke up with her in high school, so it hits a little close to home.

7) "How Do I Live?"
At the end of a ridiculously glitchy episode ("I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus"? Hilarious, and painful, and silly), Zoey sings this heartbreaking rendition of LeAnn Rimes's song. But really, underneath the raw emotion, we learn the simple truth that the best way to fix stress in your life is to face your problems head on. Zoey faces her father's deteriorating health, and that snaps her doubly glitchy glitch back to just a singly glitchy glitch. 

6) "Roar"
Lauren Graham is not the best singer, and that's one of the charms of the show -- that extraordinary singers (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Bernadette Peters, Skylar Astin) can sing alongside mediocre singers (Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham, Zak Orth). In this scene, Joan gives a speech, but "Roar" takes us on such a different journey that lets us see into Joan's heart -- so much so that it was almost like the speech didn't matter. Which is good, because we never heard the speech!

5) “I'm Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
Again, why are you not Team Max? I could have chosen so many of his love songs ("I Think I Love You", "Sucker", the hilarious "All of Me"), but "I'm Gonna Be" is just the tops. No song showed how true Max's love for Zoey is, or to what lengths he would go to help her, more than this song by The Pretenders. And if you don't think of Team Max every time you hear this song now, you might need to see a doctor, because what in the world is wrong with you?! (Go Team Max!)

4) "Mad World"
The first version when he's sitting at his desk, thank you very much. The second version was good, but that first version when Simon is singing to himself? And Zoey's expressions as she is listening in on this extremely personal heart song? Ho. Lee. Cow. It's perfect. And again, not only are we seeing into Simon's heart, but we are also seeing into Zoey's new world of whatever this power is. Telepathy? Legilimency? Eavesdropping?

3) "True Colors"
Quite simply, this song captures Mitch's relationship with Zoey so accurately. Coupled with his "Lullaby (Goodnight My Angel)" in the season finale sung to David, I've decided that Mitch is the best dad on television, which is really saying something for a guy with progressive supranuclear palsy who doesn't "actually" say a word the entire season. And Peter Gallagher might be the best actor on the series. Just sayin'. 

2) "Fight Song"
I run to this song regularly. But after hearing (seeing?) the version performed in American Sign Language, while an independent daughter is expressing her desire to be able to grow up and experience life? Well that version is now emblazoned on my soul as my own heart song. What an amazing moment. Just watch the video and be moved.

1) "American Pie"
Okay, this was just perfect. Nobody really knows what all the meanings are in Don McLean's beautiful folk rock poem, and that just allows so much more interpretation to be layered on this song, as each character (except Mitch, RIP) sings their part. But oh my goodness, it's so much more than that. It's the conclusion to a season with a roller coaster of emotions. It's a fitting ode to great music. It's a masterclass in retrofitting lyrics to fit a story. It's a perfect use of a terrific ensemble cast. It's a showcase of technical wizardry as the camera doesn't stop for seven minutes. It's a meticulously planned and choreographed sequence. And maybe most importantly, it's a cathartic release of emotions that mirrors an ideal way of viewing death. It happens, it's sad, but it doesn't mean that everybody else's life has to stop fully. My friend TJ and I dreaded the season finale because we knew Mitch was going to die, and we just didn't want to become emotional wrecks as the characters we have grown to love mourn this wonderful man. But "American Pie" allowed us to feel sad and shed some tears and mourn, without feeling crushed and depressed and broken. And isn't that an extraordinary way to view life?

Also, go Team Max!

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