SPOILER ALERT: Do not read if you have not yet watched “Zoey’s Extraordinary Goodbye,” the second season finale of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.”
The events of the first season finale of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” — specifically that the titular Zoey (Jane Levy) lost her father Mitch (Peter Gallagher) to progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP) — resulted in her temporarily losing her superpower of hearing people’s innermost feelings sung to her through pop tunes. But the second season finale resulted in an even more life-changing, and seemingly permanent, power development when Max (Skylar Astin) developed the ability to hear Zoey’s heart song.
“At some point in a superhero story you always find someone else who has a power and it eventually becomes a super team. I don’t want to go quite that far but we always liked the idea of giving somebody else the power at some point,” creator and showrunner Austin Winsberg tells Variety. “The idea [is] that now him getting the power lets him see what’s going on in her head, and I think that for people to be true in relationships with each other, there needs to be a degree of equality and partnership. By him getting to experience what she experiences, after two seasons of him saying, ‘It’s not fair for you to know what’s going on with me when I don’t know what’s going on with you,’ now he can experience what’s going on with her, and maybe that’s the universe trying to help them in their relationship.”
Because, oh yes, that was another big bomb dropped in the NBC series second-season finale: Max and Zoey got back together.
The friends and former co-workers attempted a romantic relationship at the beginning of the season but it fizzled quickly. Zoey then was briefly pursued by her neighbor (Felix Mallard) before starting to date Simon (John Clarence Stewart). Max was the only one of these men — and one of very few people, period — in whom she confided about her newfound abilities, and her inability to do so with Simon is part of the “lot of misses between the two of them that ultimately brought her back to Max,” Winsberg notes.
“When we set out to figure out what the arc of Season 2 should be, I felt like it would be frustrating and not interesting to people — and also not evolving, story-wise — for Zoey to be vacillating between the two guys all season and not making any decisions. So very early on in the season I decided that Zoey does need to make a choice, and she makes an active choice at the end of Episode 1 to try and work things out with Max,” Winsberg says. “When my wife and I were dating, before we were ready to get married, we took a break and we dated other people during that time. And I did feel like before Max and Zoey could fully be together, Zoey needed to really explore what it meant to be with Simon. I did feel there was a chemistry and a connection there that needed to be answered and she couldn’t fully be with Max until she played that out.”
But, Winsberg continues, it was “always intended from the beginning of the season” that Zoey and Max would get back together. In this case, it happened when Max decided not to follow Rose (Katie Findlay) to New York because he was still in love with Zoey. He found Zoey sitting on a bench, playing with the ring he gave her that they joked would give her other superpowers, confessed his love and heard her heart song (“I Melt With You”) in return.
The moment he realizes he can hear that, Winsberg says, he wanted both characters to be “confused and baffled and not quite knowing what that means and why.”
It was long thought that Zoey’s ability was tied to the intense emotions she was feeling due to her father’s diagnosis. He has been top of mind for her since his passing, as well, and in the season finale he finally popped up in one of her dreams.
“Mitch has always been the guiding force in Zoey’s life and the one that helps her come to answers about things, so I felt having him be the one to help her get the clarity she needs in the season finale would be a really impactful thing,” Winsberg says. “We did have a whole scene in the season finale where Maggie and David are talking about how Mitch is visiting them in dreams and Zoey is upset he hasn’t come to her yet, but we had to cut it for time.” But now that Mitch is no longer physically present, “if you talk about Mitch and the universe and why [Max] gets this power, that’s stuff we would explore in Season 3,” Winsberg says.
To date NBC has not yet renewed this fan-favorite musical comedy, but everything Winsberg designed in this finale was done with the eye on the future.
When it comes to Max, Winsberg says that the power provides “insight not only into Zoey but also others through this,” and the “benefits and challenges” of that, both individually and in their relationship, is a tale he wants to tell. “Our intent now is to explore it with Max and see how they can really make a go of it in a relationship with the new complexity of him having the power as well,” he explains.
Where that leaves Simon is seemingly focusing on his new job for now. Heading up a new department designed to be an incubator for small businesses but also make his tech firm SPRQ Point a more diverse and inclusive environment, Simon is briefly seen at the second season finale already working with new employees. But he is also seen performing “I’m Still Standing” as a heart song, which Winsberg says is to prove he really is OK, even though he and Zoey have broken up.
Winsberg also hopes to expand the personal journeys of other characters, from Simon to Maggie (Mary Steenburgen) and Mo (Alex Newell).
Just as Mitch’s story was drawn from Winsberg’s own father’s diagnosis and eventual passing, he shares that pieces of Maggie are based on his mother. Specifically, Maggie having a “wingwoman” (played by Bernadette Peters in the series) and stepping back into the dating world.
“We had to get [Maggie] through this year of grieving to get her to [this] point, but I’m very interested in seeing what Maggie’s life could look like as she tries awkwardly and fumbles and stumbles to move on, which is something that Mitch very much wanted her to do and also what she told Mitch he should do in the flashback episode,” he says.
The nuances of Mo’s second-season relationship with Perry (David St. Louis) were born out of something personal, too, but for Newell: “Alex challenged me to be authentic with some of what he goes through in terms of dating,” Winsberg says.
Perry confessed to Mo that he always passed as a straight man and was beginning to experience anxiety around the relationship because he feared he was being looked at differently now. Through an honest and open conversation, Mo told Perry he went through similar emotions but came through it and would not go back to that place. Ultimately, though, Perry wanted to be with Mo enough to push through. And should the third season renewal come, Winsberg says Perry — and his kids — will be back.
“I’m tickled by the idea of playing with Mo and children in Season 3,” he says.
But at this time of year, the real question is how does he feel about his chances of getting to tell these stories?
“We have an amazing fan base. We won USA Today and TV Line’s ‘Save Our Show’ polls, we’re doing awards campaigns and getting awards talk now, which is very awesome. I feel like there’s a lot of good momentum and wind on our sails, so I’m cautiously optimistic,” Winsberg says about the prospect of landing a Season 3 renewal from NBC.