Skylar Astin reacts to Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist cancellation: 'We're holding on to a little hope'
Plus, the actor tells EW what could have happened for Max and Zoey in a third season.
After NBC didn't pick up the heartwarming musical drama for a third season and a deal to move the show to Peacock fell through, EW spoke with series star Skylar Astin about his upcoming debut single, "Without You," and he admitted the news about Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist has been "weird to digest."
"I guess we're holding on to a little hope," Astin says about the potential for another streaming service to save the day. "But the fan outpouring has been just really nice to know that everyone was surprised by it. It just doesn't feel like it was the end at all."
In addition to the fan support, the critical love for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist plus the awards recognition Jane Levy has seen over the past two seasons made the cancellation feel "like a breakup," Astin adds with a laugh. "It's like, was it something I said? What actually happened? We have a vague idea obviously of NBC going in a different direction with their certain slate, but we were definitely told that it was looking very likely that we were moving to Peacock."
While fans got the bad news in early June, Astin reveals that the cast had known for about a month that NBC had passed on season 3. "But the Peacock play was looking very optimistic, and down to details of what it would look like and shoot like and how it would be transitioned," he says. "It was actually a very exciting notion, which probably made it harder because that carrot was dangled in front of our face and then the rug was completely pulled, kind of at the last minute. So that's why it feels more surreal."
While Astin worries how the cancellation will affect Levy's "deserving" chances at an Emmy nomination - "Once a show's canceled, I don't think the network that cancels it continues to campaign for the award recognition," he quips - what he's most disappointed about is not getting to continue Zoey and Max's story on screen after the way season 2 ended. Not only did the fan-favorite couple finally choose to be with each other in a grand romantic climax, but the twist that Max now had Zoey's power to hear people's inner thoughts and desires through song opened up a world of possibilities for the show.
"There was so much story left to tell," he says. "I feel like Pandora's box was opened when Max got the power. It quite literally opens up the story to mash-ups, having Max and Zoey both have the power, they can hear two songs at once, it can do so much to music and that power to music metaphor would have just taken off. I also have a vague idea of where the series was going, so it really feels like unfinished business for me. People talk about how we left them on a cliffhanger, I feel like I've been left on a cliffhanger as an actor."
Astin says season 3 would have gone "further into [Max's] family life, most likely meet his mother." But what excited him most is how "Zoey and Max were going to be a couple, like a couple. Like, it's decided. It's no more triangle." Watching them navigate their powers and their lives "with equal balance" would have been thrilling on multiple levels.
"Would Max have regretted what he had always wished for? Maybe there's things he doesn't want to know," Astin teases. "This is something that I even wanted to see more of in season 2, which is them together, because it says a lot about relationships, and the relationship to this power. It's so meta, the metaphors combine exponentially. I thought it was a really cool storytelling method. And I really love working with Jane and anytime her and I get to do these sequences that are musicals, like in episode 2 of season 2, or in the finale with the John Legend and Pitbull thing, I know we were in for more of that theater, and that as a performer sucks because I was definitely looking forward to that."
But he's also satisfied with the work he was able to do in seasons 1 and 2. "Believe me, if and when it is the end, I am prepared to go out with grace because I am so grateful that I got to play this job," Astin says. "I don't want to sound like a whiny actor or anything, and it sounds very corny, but I'm most disappointed for the fans because I don't like to leave people like that. It just doesn't feel complete."
Even now as he looks forward in his career, Astin still finds himself "lamenting the show" in other interviews and conversations. "At this point I just feel like I'm talking because I haven't honestly been talking about it because we're still waiting on certain streaming services to respond," he says. "But we're also prepared for the fact that while it has happened before for shows like Lucifer, One Day at a Time, you know, a lot of shows try this when their show gets canceled and unfortunately it's not enough."
And while he's keeping the hope alive for Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist to be saved elsewhere, he knows at this point he's done all he can. "The truth is the people that run these services are going to either want to invest in it or not, and it needs to be what they're looking for," Astin says. "We love these shows, but at the end of the day it's about what the network wants to do and if we fit what they want to do. So I totally see why we would work out on another streaming service, but it's such a boring reality that that's the case. Either blank-blank at blank service is going to say yay or nay. That guy's a huge fan of the show or that guy's never heard of the show."
He continues, "I will say that everyone has their heart in it, and all the people at Lionsgate and Tannenbaum Company and [creator] Austin [Winsberg] and the fans, and that's honestly the biggest thing. Do people care? And people have shown that they care, people continue to show that, and if anything is right in the world, that should matter. That's what we're doing it for. Literally I have taken such pride in doing Zoey's Playlist because of the relationship to the fans. The escapism that we were providing was so incredibly rewarding. It sucks that that was ripped from them. Hopefully for everyone it can have a life beyond NBC."
Now that would be the happy ending that Zoey and Max (and all the fans) deserve.