I am obsessed with Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. I was hooked from the very first trailer of Zoey Clarke—a young female coder at a San Francisco start-up tech company, SPRQPOINT—who suddenly has the ability to hear the thoughts of the people around her, including her closest friends and family, in the form of musical numbers. What a brilliant concept. Not only can Zoey now hear her best friend Max sing that he is in love with her and her office crush Simon sing about his grief over his father’s death, most amazingly, she can also hear the thoughts of her dad, who is no longer able to speak due to a rare and worsening neurological condition called progressive supranuclear palsy. This show takes you on a whirlwind of emotions, but it will also have you belting out each of the week’s songs that you can conveniently listen to on Spotify and Apple Music.
In every episode, Zoey hears two to five “heart songs,” which are short covers of songs by different characters that capture their feelings in that moment. And since Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is currently on Season 2 (finally breaking the unfortunate curse of NBC’s musical shows, including Rise and Perfect Harmony), there is a solid number of songs on the playlist at this point.
The show offers modern and original twists to a wide range of songs from many different genres, like rock, pop, and jazz, as well as from many different decades, including current hits and 60s and 80s classics. Every major character sings at least once per season, and the actors and actresses have a range of singing abilities. Already known for their stunning voices and my personal favorites, Skylar Astin, who plays Zoey’s best friend Max, and Alex Newell, who plays Zoey’s friend and neighbor Mo, are, by no surprise, the show’s strongest singers. Most of the others are good, but even the weaker singers are so genuine in their performances that it feels true to what hearing a person sing their thoughts might actually be like.
With all that said, if you need a new singing show, that isn’t in the form of a competition, this one is here to stay, and I highly recommend it. And if you need even more convincing, here is my personal ranking of the top 10 songs from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist considering (though not equally) my overall enjoyment of the song, my reaction to the song while watching, and the song’s connection to the character and their storyline. And don’t worry, I’m limiting it to one song per character, otherwise 8 out of the 10 songs would be Skylar Astin and Alex Newell. Yes, they are just that good.
- Max, “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)”
Max (Skylar Astin) is definitely my favorite singer (and character) on the show, and picking only one of his songs was incredibly hard. But I have to go with his rendition of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles),” originally by The Proclaimers (1987), because he adds so much emotion and originality to his version. Anyone who knows the song knows that it is not exactly a song that shows off vocal range and abilities, but Skylar Astin changes that completely. This song captures Max’s feelings about Zoey and had me in tears after I watched it the first time (and every time I listened to it after). Although Max sings many love songs to Zoey throughout the show, this song captures his feelings in a very raw and emotional way. I don’t think there is any other song on the show that completely transforms a song into something so originally beautiful. Even if you don’t watch the show, you have to listen to this song!
And although I picked this song, I would honestly recommend listening to all of Skylar Astin’s songs from this show, especially “Numb” by Linkin Park (2003), “Say Something” by A Great Big World & Christina Aguilera (2014), and “All of Me” by John Legend (2013). Just goosebumps.
This song was in Season 1, Episode 6, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Night Out.”
- Mo, “Too Good at Goodbyes”
Clearly, after reading my introduction to this article, you had to know that Mo (Alex Newell) was always going to be next. One of the things that I enjoy most about Mo’s songs are the way that they each contribute to his overall character development in a deeper way than most of the other characters’ songs. Not only do you learn Mo’s thoughts and feelings from his songs, but you also learn something about him and his story. Also, it helps that he has one of the most powerful and beautiful voices ever. My all-time favorite Mo song is “Too Good at Goodbyes” by Sam Smith (2017) because, first, Sam Smith songs are hard to sing, and Alex Newell slayed this song. It was stellar. But, second, I also think that this song, in particular, introduces the next chapter of Mo’s character on the show in which we see him working with Max to start a new business and develop into a dynamic character that is no longer confined to the role as only Zoey’s neighbor-confidante.
Like Skylar Astin, many of Alex Newell’s songs on the show are incredible, including “The Great Pretender” by The Platters (1956) then by Freddie Mercury (1987), “Issues” by Julia Michaels (2017), and “No More Drama” by Mary J. Blige (2001).
This song was in Season 2, Episode 2, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Distraction.”
- George, “Stronger”
Ok, even though George (Harvey Guillén), one of Zoey’s employees at SPRQPOINT, only sings like two songs total and disappears after four episodes into Season 2, I had to put “Stronger,” originally by Britney Spears (2000), high on this list. I love his version of this song! Even though it doesn’t have much of an impact on the main storylines in the show, George stands up for himself in this song, showing his strength and confidence, and I love an empowerment song. This is one of the only songs that I repeatedly listen to on its own besides Max and Mo songs. It also helps that Harvey Guillén has a great voice.
This song was in Season 2, Episode 4, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Employee.”
- Simon, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”
In the first season, Simon (John Clarence Stewart) was Zoey’s engaged office crush turned friend as we watched them start to bond over the grief of losing a father—Simon’s father had recently died, and Zoey’s dad was dying from his neurological disease. Although Simon was a leading character in the first season and a part of the love triangle between himself, Zoey, and Max, we really see Simon come into his own in Season 2. One of the main storylines that begins in Season 2 is Simon and his fight against the racism and marginalization at SPRQPOINT. This song, “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood,” originally by The Animals (1965) then by Nina Simone (1988), captures his feelings of being ignored, excluded, and “misunderstood” by his company and co-workers. John Clarence Stewart’s emotion and talent really shines through in this song, and I think it is a very powerful moment for the show by making these everyday realities for people of color visible on the screen in a way that challenges us to combat this problem within our own workplaces. Stewart is also a strong singer throughout the show and has many great songs, many of which show his feelings in a refreshing way. His duet with his ex-fiancée Jessica (India de Beaufort) singing “Happier” by Marshmello & Bastille (2018), in Season 1, another one of my favorites from him, also exemplifies this element in Stewart’s singing (and his dancing).
This song was in Season 2, Episode 5, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Trip.”
- Tobin, “The Tracks of My Tears”
Tobin (Kapil Talwalkar), one of Zoey’s co-workers and employees as well as one of the show’s regular characters, is usually the “office jokester,” known for goofing around and cracking jokes and, honestly, putting in minimal effort at times. But I have to say, compared to his best-friend, Leif, who is more condescending and ambitious, Tobin’s songs often reveal a side of him that he hides from the people around him. Thus, the perks of “heart songs” that allow Zoey (and the viewers) to see inside his mind and heart. I appreciate the way his songs challenge the joking and immature attitude that Tobin usually presents to his co-workers. Although Kapil Talwalkar has the fewest songs of all the main characters, his songs always feel impactful to me, and in his performance of “The Track of My Tears” by Smokey Robinson & The Miracles (1965), we see this very clearly. After Simon speaks out against the racism at SPRQPOINT, we are also offered a glimpse into Tobin’s experience, and, together, they are able to go to the CEO and Board of the company to discuss actions that can be taken to increase diversity and inclusivity. It is a very timely discussion, and I think that is captured in Tobin’s song.
This song was in Season 2, Episode 6, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning.”
- Zoey, “Nowhere to Run”
So, Zoey (Jane Levy) is usually the one who is hearing other peoples’ songs, not singing her own. But occasionally, when she is struggling with her own emotions and feeling overwhelmed, she will break out into song, too. In particular, at the beginning of season 2, when Zoey is struggling with the aftermath of the Season 1 finale (no spoilers!), she sings a song about her grief: “Nowhere to Run” by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas (1965). Because this song is so closely connected to Zoey’s family storyline and feels so relatable, it is my favorite song by Jane Levy. She isn’t as strong a singer as the others I ranked above her, but I do think that, like with the rest of the show, her songs suit her character, and I appreciate how this song addresses difficult topics, like the intensity and emotional struggle of grieving.
This song was in Season 2, Episode 3, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Distraction.”
- Cast, “American Pie”
Although there are duets and group songs, which I have deliberately not picked until this point in the list, mainly because I felt like the first six characters’ best songs were their solo songs, “American Pie,” originally by Don McLean (1971), was the first and only song sung by the entire cast: Max, Simon, Mo, and Zoey’s family, including her mother, Maggie (Mary Steenburgen); her brother, David; and his wife, Emily. Because the lines of the song were divided among the cast, it made the song feel more poignant than the original, and it truly felt like the perfect culmination of the first season. Even if it was a heartbreaking song for reasons I won’t go into (again, no spoilers), it really lets each character shine, and it created a moment of support and care that was certainly needed by the season finale. I tend to think that some of the solo songs have more of an impact on me as a listener, but this song had to be included on this list, if only because of its significance on the central storylines in the show.
This song was in Season 1, Episode 12, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Dad.”
- Mitch & Howie, “The Sound of Silence”
The performance of “The Sound of Silence,” originally by Simon & Garfunkel (1964, 1974), is probably the most underrated song on this list. It is a duet, sung by Mitch (Peter Gallagher), Zoey’s dad, and Howie (Zach Orth), his live-in hospice nurse. Since much of Season 1 centers on how Zoey and her family are struggling her father’s terminal disease, it captures Mitch’s pain that comes from being unable to communicate with his family. The emphasis on silence in this song has a double meaning as well, which incorporates a brief but meaningful backstory for Howie (who is also underrated himself on the show). Although many of Mitch’s songs are very touching, this one feels like an embodiment of his character and his journey on the show. Plus, I think it showcases the best parts of Peter Gallagher’s voice.
This song is in Season 1, Episode 9, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Silence.”
- David & Emily, “Just Give Me a Reason”
David (Andrew Leeds), Zoey’s older brother, and Emily (Alice Lee), his wife, have a very interesting relationship. They are expecting a baby, but they also are struggling as a couple, which is a storyline that expands in the second season. This song, “Just Give Me a Reason” by P!nk and Nate Ruess (2012), serves as an introduction to David and Emily’s marriage, and I included it on this list not only because I enjoy listening to their version of this song, but also because I think that it highlights a side of marriage—moments of disconnect and difficulty—that deserves more exploration, even on this show. It is also important that this is the first duet that Zoey hears.
This song is in Season 1, Episode 5, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Failure.”
- Joan, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”
If you have seen Gilmore Girls, then you will absolutely know Lauren Graham, who plays Joan, Zoey’s boss at SPRQPOINT. Now, Joan is a significant character as the female leader of the fourth floor in a predominantly male company. In that role, Joan acts a mentor (though a little too loosely sometimes) to Zoey after promoting her to manager. I do think her character portrays a problematic stereotype of the cold-boss-bitch, often applied to strong women in positions of power, though we do see her break out of this trope a bit throughout the first season. However, her performance of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” by the Rolling Stones (1965), in the women’s restroom, complete with letting her hair blow in hand-dryer air, feels accurate and relatable. Honestly, I think it shows the best side of Joan. And although Lauren Graham isn’t the best singer, you can tell that she is singing her heart out, and I applaud that.
This song is in Season 1, Episode 3, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Boss.”
As Mo says, “Songs are just expressions of our deepest wants and desires; joy, pain, heartbreak, yearning, forgiveness, revenge. Good music can make you feel things you can’t express in words.” And the fact that the show’s creators and cast can capture that in their songs makes this show so amazing and special.
Zoey returns Sunday, March 28th, 2021 at 9 p.m. EST on NBC. Until then, you can catch up by streaming past episodes on Hulu, where you can also watch the newest episode the day after it airs, and you can listen to all the songs from Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on this Spotify playlist.