Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist creator on why it's the perfect show to binge in quarantine
Plus, executive producer Austin Winsberg teases Zoey and Max's game-changing moment in episode 7.
In the time of the coronavirus pandemic, when everyone is being urged to stay home and self-quarantine, there's no better time to catch up on TV you've been meaning to watch. And if you're currently debating which show to start, may we suggest Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist?
NBC's emotional-yet-joyous musical drama is only six episodes into its first season, and creator Austin Winsberg says it's the perfect show to binge-watch in this crazy time. "This show is about hope and empathy and love and compassion for people that you might not necessarily would think are going through stuff," he tells EW. "All of those feel like important messages right now. The show is also, for the most part, light and funny and musical and uplifting. It’s a nice, happy escape for everybody from all of the scary that’s going on right now. It’s an easy show to binge right now; it’s something that can make people feel good in this time of uncertainty."
And for those fans who have been watching since the beginning, this week's episode, "Zoey's Extraordinary Confession," features a huge moment for the will-they-won't-they dynamic between Zoey (Jane Levy) and her BFF Max (Skylar Astin), something that has been teased and built up throughout the season.
"The relationship goes to a different level," Winsberg reveals. "In this episode, Max admits to Zoey out loud that he is in love with her, and also in this episode, Zoey confesses to Max that she has this power now. There is a big shift that happens in the episode because their cards are now on the table. Instead of things being unspoken or unclear in this friend zone, he’s now being super-clear in how he feels about her, and she decides to stop keeping it secret from him what she’s going through. Because of that, there are ramifications on both sides."
All season long, Zoey has kept her "superpower" of hearing people's inner thoughts and desires through musical performances a secret from Max. But because of her power, she's known about his feelings for her — and instead of confronting them, she's just pushed him away. Expect all of that to finally come to head in this game-changing hour.
"Something happens with these superhero origin stories where who knows and why do they know [are always a huge plot point]," Winsberg says. "Why can’t she just tell Max? Max is her friend, what’s the harm of him knowing? It did feel like we were hiding something that we didn’t need to hide anymore because if they are good friends, why would she have to keep this from him? At the same time, it felt like this was the great next step in the middle of the season to change dynamics going forward into the second half for them. It was about not just staying in this friend place, especially after he did this heroic thing on the scooter for her and taking her home [in the last episode], it felt like it was building to the next level and we needed to do something to address that."
Winsberg didn't want to underestimate the show's fans by making it a slower burn than it's already been. "Audiences now are so savvy to some of these story turns that they start to feel it like, 'What are you waiting for? Just tell her already!'" he says. "We didn’t want the audience to feel like that on episode 12. It felt like the right time for it to come out and change the dynamic between them. It’s going to change things in ways you may and may not expect."
The manner in which Max and Zoey finally confess their respective secrets plays out in an unexpected way in the episode that features perhaps the season's biggest creative twists so far — of course, through a big musical number.
"We’re always looking for ways to subvert expectations on this show and to do different things as it pertains to Zoey and her powers so the audience can be as surprised as Zoey," Winsberg teases. "Also, my wife is in that number as well. She’s one of the background dancers. I wanted her to be in a number and thought this would be a fun one for her to be in. She flew to Vancouver, and a couple of her friends were supposed to come with her and canceled at the last minute, so she didn’t want to do it. But I was like, 'No, no, you’re doing it!' And she did it and had a great time."
Another musical number Winsberg is excited for fans to see from this week's episode features Alex Newell's Mo and his new romantic interest, Eddie (Patrick Ortiz). "There’s a 'Bailamos' number with Mo and Eddie because we wanted to do a number in a club that going’s full techno music, and yet another number is happening in the middle of that that’s completely a different energy and flavor," he says. "And also we wanted to do a romantic, sexy, positive number for Mo that’s showing a man and a female-representing man in a sexual, romantic moment that felt very good for the character. It feels progressive for network television. I’m really proud of that."
And since the series is based on Winsberg's own life after his father was diagnosed and then passed away from a degenerative neurological disease, progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), this week's episode features a story line ripped from his own experiences. Zoey's mother, Maggie (Mary Steenburgen), decides that after Mitch (Peter Gallagher) fell in last week's episode, the time has come to hire a full-time caregiver.
"It got to a certain point in our house around the time when my dad fell, which is what happened in episode 6, where we realized that we were going to need more help and my mom and my sister couldn’t do all on their own," Winsberg says. "We did bring in a caregiver, and it plays out a little differently on the show, but we had a process of interviewing and going through caregivers. There’s comedy in what that looks like and feels like, people trying to change up the regimen of our house, my mother’s approach vs. a healthcare professional’s, trying to figure out the balance between that."
In the second half of the season, Winsberg teases that "the caregiver who comes in becomes a big part of the story line." But there's one real-life moment that the creator reveals didn't make it into the story that he'll never forget. "We had one caregiver who got high in our house, I smelled the pot and he came in the room and was like touching the wallpaper," Winsberg says with a laugh. "He was super-high and I was like, 'Mom, this guy’s high, he needs to get out of our house.' So as much as we’re dealing with heavy issues sometimes, I still try to approach it with a degree of lightness and comedy because it’s how it happens in life."
Looking ahead to the second half of the season, Winsberg teases that there are even more shakeups coming. "Something happens in episode 8 that changes the trajectory of the season for the last five episodes," he says. "It colors and informs everything that is to come."
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.