NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” is the latest show, along with Hulu’s “High Fidelity,” to find a way to incorporate music into the storylines. And it’s far from the worst thing to arrive on network prime time of late — which is to say, I like it some. On the one hand, it runs on corny plots and network rom-com clichés, which is irksome and disappointing. On the other hand, there’s sweet and lively entertainment to be found in the regular musical sequences, which play like pieces of a jukebox musical, the jukebox being filled with pop songs by the likes of Cyndi Lauper and Van Morrison. A character launches into song, and a flash mob forms around him or her, forming a little Spotify stage musical of sorts until it all turns back into a meh network dramedy.
The premise is this: Jane Levy’s Zoey, a tech worker in San Francisco, is having an MRI in the middle of an earthquake. When she emerges from the machine, she has a new kind of ESP, in that she can read other people’s thoughts. Ah, but those thoughts emerge solely in the form of Top 40 hits. When she’s with her best friend and coworker, Max (Skylar Astin), for instance, she sees him perform the Partridge Family’s “I Think I Love You.” That’s right, he has a secret crush on her. Zoey also gets to see her father (played by Peter Gallagher) sing and dance, even though in real life he can’t move at all due to a rare disease. It enables her to know what’s going on in his mind, a plot point that is at times treacly. Mary Steenburgen is a bright spot, as Zoey’s mother.
Only one person knows about Zoey’s new gift. Alex Newell is a show-stealer as Zoey’s highly musical neighbor, Mo, who can barely tolerate Zoey. Like many of the characters here, she is a cliché, but a cliché with a good vibe and strong delivery. Lauren Graham also appears to be having some fun as Zoey’s boss, who is dismissive of Zoey and her neuroses — when she isn’t mentoring her.
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which airs Sundays at 9 p.m., gets its best energy from the cast when they’re singing and dancing. They’re certainly good enough, but they’re not consistently top-notch musical performers — and that’s a big plus.The imperfections save viewers from having to submit to the overly produced musical segments that undermined “Glee,” and it helps give the series the intimacy it requires for the story to work.