Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist stars on pulling off musical series: 'Nobody had done this before'
Many musical TV series came before Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, and many will come after. But in its first season, NBC's musical dramedy managed to achieve something totally new for the genre.
By choreographing and filming each song and dance as if it was performed live rather than through a heavily edited music-video style, the series managed to capture the magical feeling normally reserved for, well, actually seeing a live performance. And while that meant longer hours on set for the actors and crew, that hard work paid off: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist attracted the love of critics and fans alike and has been renewed for a second season.
But as series stars Jane Levy, Lauren Graham, and Mary Steenburgen revealed during a virtual 92nd Street Y panel discussion with EW, pulling off this show was challenging from the very start. "Nobody had done this before," Graham said. "To take on what this challenge was, half of it was just figuring it out how many hours we need to do certain things. Jane would get this look in her eyes by hour 14 and I was like, 'No, conserve, conserve. You're going to fly off the rails if you keep working this hard!'"
"You guys are making me sweat," Levy added, fanning her face and laughing. "I'm like profusely sweating hearing you talk about me, but thank you."
One of Levy's most challenging but rewarding moments of season 1 came during episode 8, "Zoey's Extraordinary Glitch," when she had to perform every single musical number herself. The episode required her to do a combination of recording songs in advance and singing them live during filming. "It was the source of a nervous breakdown," she said. "I was really terrified that it wasn't going to be possible. Not only is it a big undertaking, [but] I had to prep for that emotionally and physically and technically while shooting 80-hour weeks."
Steenburgen suggested that in a way, the airing of season 1 felt timely due to the coronavirus pandemic and people sheltering in place. "It was sort of meant to be because it came out at a moment in time where everybody has lost something," she said. "Either people have lost somebody because of COVID or you've lost your freedom or you've lost your normalcy or you've lost the school that you were going to go to in September, whatever it is. There was something about all of us mourning this person and trying to deal with it in our own way that really touched people."
That's why Levy is happy the show is returning for a second season — whenever they're able to film again. "It's really amazing to have something to look forward to because the future has been so empty for so many months," she said. "Knowing that there's actually a future ahead was really comforting. And then most importantly I get to work with Lauren and Mary and the rest of the cast and [creator] Austin [Winsberg] and [choreographer] Mandy [Moore] again. It's a really good group of people. Everyone's so talented. I'm really excited to see what season 2 has in store because season 1, we're getting to know this world, but I'm excited for us to go deeper into each character's world in season 2."
As for what songs might be heard in season 2, Levy wants to sing some country. "I have been listening to a lot of country in the past couple months," she said. "I was thinking, how shocking that we didn't have country music in season 1, because if there's any song that is a heart song, it's country music! I don't know how we're going to justify Zoey singing again in season 2, but if that happens, I would love to sing… 'Why Not Me,' by The Judds, or I love Lucinda Williams and Dolly Parton. Why hasn't anyone sang that? Maybe Moe [Alex Newell] should sing Dolly Parton."
While Steenburgen is happy to sing whatever Winsberg throws at her, Graham is lobbying for her character, Joan, to sing the Hamilton track "You'll Be Back" next season. "I feel like it's such a Joan song to be like, 'You think you can do this without me and you can't,'" she said. "And I just love that musical. That's the one I keep asking him, he's like, 'You told me that already, what else?' And I'm like, 'Just that!'"
But something all three actors are ready for is a three-part duet between their characters. Winsberg, are you listening?!
Check out the video of the full panel above to see Levy, Graham, and Steenburgen pick their favorite musical numbers from season 1, reveal the scene that had Graham laughing so hard she couldn't say her lines (and which scene had her feeling like "everything was a stripper pole"), what it was like knowing they would have to say goodbye to costar Peter Gallagher after season 1, and more.