It's great that a network like NBC is taking a chance on the unique concept of a musical dramedy when so much of network television is littered with doctor and cop shows. But, says Alan Sepinwall, the "song choices themselves tend to be too literal-minded. One character sings 'I Think I Love You' in the presence of their crush. Zoey hears an agoraphobic neighbor singing 'Margaritaville' and 'Kokomo' and realizes the woman is desperate to leave her apartment and travel...The best songs dabble in metaphor more than Zoey is comfortable with, as if (creator Austin) Winsberg and the rest of the creative team feared the song conceit was too confusing in and of itself to make the audience expend additional mental effort to follow it all. The non-singing portions tend to be even more formulaic and literal. Zoey’s office is a big, colorful space clearly designed to be a good backdrop for production numbers. But all of the conflicts there — Zoey pines for marketing boss Simon (John Clarence Stewart); Zoey struggles to win the approval of both Joan and her smug male colleagues — are generic in the extreme. There are some promising sparks to the odd-couple friendship between repressed Zoey and free spirit Mo, but the scenes involving Mitch’s condition are the only ones that would be compelling in a non-magical version of the series. Joan of Arcadia, Early Edition, and this show’s other spiritual ancestors needed time to figure out how best to use their magic. In general, this type of show levels up significantly once the hero accepts their weird power and just goes with it. So there’s hope for Zoey, especially with a cast this likable. But it also feels like I’m wish-casting based on what it represents versus what it is so far. And in a season when the broadcast networks are showing a pulse, that kind of blind faith feels less necessary. I’d like for Zoey to really sing, but if it doesn’t, there are plenty of other promising acts out there, for once."
The expansiveness of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist budget is to be admired, but it's too much of a focus: "In the pilot, Zoey (Jane Levy) hears the inner thoughts of those around her, as expressed through a group performance of the Beatles’s 'Help!'It’s a splashy statement of purpose for a show whose willingness to spend on big-name songs covers over some other sins," says Daniel D'Addario. "Zoey can hear what’s going on inside anyone she meets put to music, but the fact that those songs come from the familiar songbook of big, broadly recognizable emotions limits just how much complication or shading the show can achieve. People around Zoey are enamored, or happy, or really sad; they’re too rarely anything that would take more than a couple of words to describe, anything that merits a lengthy musical performance. The ambitions of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist seem, in its early going, more focused on assembling that legitimately impressive playlist than in making it really sing."
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist was inspired by creator Austin Winsberg's dad's rare neurological disease: "I didn't know how much he was processing, what he was processing, especially the last six months that he was alive," he said. "And then I started thinking, well, what if during that time he was able to see the world as big musical numbers? What if that's what was going on in his head? And that came from the fact that I had a musical that was on Broadway few years ago, I had done the live Sound of Music for NBC. I had been living in this musical space and the idea of my dad seeing the world as musical numbers made me smile. It gave me some hope."