Jane Levy breaks down Zoey's 'impulsive' romantic choice on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist
When it comes to Team Max vs. Team Simon on Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, it may seem as if Zoey has finally made a decision about where her love life is heading. But star Jane Levy warns that although the season 2 premiere ended with her title character kissing Max (Skylar Astin), there's so much more to the story.
"There's a lot of talk about the love triangle, and I'm so glad that people feel connected with these characters and some people have 'teams,' and it makes me feel good that people are invested in the story," Levy tells EW. "I guess I don't necessarily think of it as there's these two choices and she has to make a decision. To me, that's a little puritanical and also not very 2021 in terms of like, I don't know, feminism." She quickly adds, "I'm not saying that our show is not feminist! I'm just saying me as Jane doesn't really view it as: 'Let's make sure Zoey makes the choice and I hope it's the right one forever.' That's just not really my style."
It's only been about two months since Zoey lost her father, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), and there's a lot of change happening in her life as she continues to grieve. Levy explains that Zoey choosing to pursue a relationship with Max stems from everything she's going through, and unfortunately that doesn't make for a strong foundation.
"This is a woman who is obviously going through a really hard time, but I also think that she's pretty awkward when it comes to relationships," she says. "She's friends with Max and she becomes friends with Mo [Alex Newell] in season 1, but where are all her other friends? Zoey is socially awkward!" Levy laughs as she points out how Zoey lucked out in attracting two handsome, understanding, loving men at the same time in spit of her socially awkward tendencies. "When I was playing the scene in episode 1 where they're both singing to her, I was like, 'Damn, I don't think I've ever had two guys pining for me. Zoey is one lucky lady!'"
What ultimately inspired Zoey to choose between Max and Simon (John Clarence Stewart) was hearing her family sing "Carry On" as a heart song after watching old video footage of Mitch telling them to move on after his death. "She realizes that life is going to move on, and she is either going to move with it or not," Levy says. "But the decision with Max is impulsive. I don't think she was sitting there writing in her journal, 'I'm going to pick Max today!' He came over at the right moment and he's so sincere and loving that she thought, 'What the hell am I doing? I love this person.' In episode 2, when she's kissing Max, it feels so goddamn good that she's like, 'Damn, I've got to hold onto this longer.' She talks about it as a 'grief vacation.'"
Below, Levy talks more about Zoey's grief vacation with Max, how she'll handle her new promotion at work, and a possible new aspect of Zoey's powers that's coming her way soon.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Zoey's referring to her new relationship with Max as a grief vacation, but vacations ultimately end. Does she realize that this decision to start a relationship with him will have a real lasting impact on her life?
JANE LEVY: No. What we're going to see a lot of, especially in the first half of season 2, is that Zoey doesn't feel good. She's in grief and she's in pain and her heart is broken. But she's a coder and she is someone who thinks that sometimes she can problem-solve by fixing anything as if it's a math problem. And then she's shown time and time again, by the universe-slash-her-powers, that you can't solve certain things. Some things you just have to experience, like music. So she is not being super… well, I don't want to use the word responsible. But I just don't think that she's thinking, "Of course at one point this is going to end," I think she's just living in how good it feels.
Yeah she's not being irresponsible, because there's no right or wrong way to grieve. That's something that this season is already doing a great job in portraying just one episode in: Everyone's path to healing is so different.
Yeah, that's a really good point. Grief can be expressed in many different ways, and everybody handles and lives with their grief in absolutely different ways. You have to be very compassionate when it comes to other people's experiences with it.
Going into this season, you knew Zoey would be grieving Mitch's death. But what did you think when you read the premiere script and saw she was making this decision to be with Max so soon after losing her dad?
You know, fingers crossed our show goes on for many years. That's what's fun about making a TV show, it's not a story told within an hour and a half and there's beginning and middle and end that's always so set in stone. You get to have that middle area sometimes for two years, sometimes for four years. And so for me, I'm like, great! Let's explore all options. Life is messy, and we will make decisions and we will go back on them and then we will go back on them again. And I was excited that we also get to see Zoey feel good because I don't want to see her wallowing for long. But that's a horrible word because she just lost somebody! I just think it's enjoyable as an audience to be able to experience pleasure with Zoey as well as pain.
Speaking of that pleasure, Zoey and Max are really going for it in this episode! What was it like filming your scenes with Skylar, especially when Zoey and Max are trying to sleep together for the first time?
That was really fun. We shot it for a whole day and a half, and we don't usually get that much time to shoot musical numbers. It was a blast. It took a lot of, like, obvious literal and figurative choreography on [choreographer] Mandy [Moore] and [creator] Austin [Winsberg]'s part and Skylar, but for me, you know, I just get to play somebody who really wants to have sex and can't because of this comical issue where she can hear people's thoughts.
And as if Zoey didn't have enough to deal with already, how is she going to handle her first day as the boss of the fourth floor at SPRQ Point?
Zoey has inherited this job of the head of the fourth floor from Joan [Lauren Graham]. And SPRQ Point is in disarray. Zoey has a lot of work cut out for her, and she has to do these things that she didn't have to do before, like make really tough decisions about firing people or moving people to different departments or having to be critical of others. A lot of that is ripe for comedy, and I'm very happy about it. That's one of my favorite aspects of playing Zoey, is screwball, falling on your face, slipping on a banana peel comedy, and Austin does a good job of setting her up to fail.
Even when she fails, it's amazing to see Zoey take on more of a leadership role at work, since she's one of just a few women shown at the company in a male-dominated field.
What's cool about Zoey and the way that we tell the story is she is just good at her job. It doesn't have to be that big of a deal that she is a woman and she's good at her job. She's actually just really good and the best one on that floor and the most deserving of the promotion, and she happens to be a woman. I think that that's really rad and it makes me think about Joan and losing her as this mentor [after the season 2 premiere], which was really valuable in season 1. As mental and off-kilter that Joan is, she did help Zoey and show Zoey how it's done. And it's really cool that Zoey's mentor was also a woman, I love that about our show.
How is Zoey doing without Joan? Is she going to take on a new mentor, or has she grown past needing one?
I think that's a really good question, and it's something that we haven't fully explored yet halfway through the season. She loses her father and her mentor. Throughout this year maybe we'll see Zoey realize that she's not a kid, even though some of the ways she behaves sometimes is a little immature, especially in terms of like love and relationships. She is a grown woman, she turns 30 in episode 8. A lot of this year is going to be a learning curve and very hard, which is something I relate to as also a 30-year-old — actually I'm 31, Jesus Christ! [Laughs] But you have to become your own mentor. And I think that's an interesting theme to explore. Zoey is there for Zoey now.
What can you tease about how Zoey is going to discover a new kind of glitch in her powers in the next episode?
Episode 3 is exciting because it's our first complete solo. Whenever other people sing, I'm always there, but this is an instance where it's just Zoey completely alone. And I really loved that. Our subconscious, our dreams often can tell us things, and in this episode Zoey is really trying to problem-solve her way out of grief, and her dream is there to remind her that you can't do that. You can't outrun your grief. And this is where she starts to connect with Simon again, in that he really understands this process that she's going through in a way that people who haven't lost a parent can't. And she really needs that connection at this time. It's cool. I didn't think of it as a glitch because I don't know if she's actually singing in her dream, but in this instance we get to see how her power can teach her things about her experience, and that's that she cannot outrun her grief.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist season 2 airs Tuesdays on NBC.
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