Pilot Script Review of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is the first project to come out of a mega deal between Universal Music Group (which is part of NBCUniversal, corporate parent to NBC) and Lionsgate Television, signed back in 2018. Under this multiyear first-look deal, the two companies are developing original scripted and unscripted television series drawn from UMG’s portfolio of labels, artists and music, with plans to release accompanying soundtrack albums for each project. It's vertical integration in full force, and for that reason alone, it will be very surprising if this project doesn’t get ordered by NBC in May.
The show's creator, Austin Winsberg certainly has a musical theater pedigree: he penned the TV adaptation for NBC’s The Sound of Music Live! starring Carrie Underwood, as well as the Broadway musical First Date. Director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, Ghostbusters) was also attached to helm the pilot for a period of time, but as is often the case with movie directors attached to network projects, Feig is now said to be too busy with his feature schedule. Instead, Richard Shephard will direct, with Feig remaining on board as executive producer.
WRITTEN BY: Austin Winsberg
DRAFT DATE: Third Draft 1/8/19
PAGE COUNT: 59 pages
SCRIPT SYNOPSIS: ZOEY (late 20s) is a high-strung, stressed-out programmer who’s gunning for a promotion at work. She isn’t much "fun," as illustrated by her total apathy toward music. After getting stuck in an MRI machine during an earthquake, she begins to hallucinate the people around her singing aloud. Recounting the experience to her music-fanatic neighbor MO (late 20s), Zoey comes to realize that these impromptu musical numbers are actually expressions of a person’s innermost thoughts. This manifests as a kind of mind-reading power for Zoey, which has its pros and cons. On the positive side, she's able to "hear" her father MITCH, who's in a near-vegetative state with brain disease. On the negative side, she learns that many of her coworkers are rooting for her failure. After a conversation with her crush SIMON (early 30s), Zoey figures out a bug at work that earns her the promotion. Meanwhile, her close friend MAX (late 20s) is revealed to be secretly in love with her, leaving Zoey feeling conflicted
COMMENTS: NBC has described Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist as What Women Wantmeets La La Land -- a "big, bold, fun, hopeful, emotional and innovative musical series that will be unlike anything that’s ever been on television before." While I won't argue that the show isn't fun, hopeful or emotional, I personally didn't find the pilot script terribly bold or innovative. Yes, it’s probably the first time that a whole show has been based on the idea of a character hearing other people’s thoughts through music, but many shows have had characters suddenly burst into songs, from Glee to Eli Stone, to the upcoming Mixtape on Netflix (developed at FOX). Many other shows have done the same for special episodes, including Grey’s Anatomy and the Buffy musical, “Once More With Feeling.” Yes, there's a difference here in that the whole concept is based on this fantasy, but that’s its weakness, too.
First, you have to accept that the reason this happened is because our heroine was listening to music in an MRI machine during an earthquake (and for some reason a million different songs from a music streaming platform uploaded to her brain). It’s a lot to swallow but, if they find a way to hit the right note, it could work. For this, leading lady Jane Levy should be a real asset, as I think she could have what it takes to turn what might otherwise be a super cringy character into a charming woman we'd follow anywhere. Still, it's a tall order.
Second, how many times can one enjoy watching Zoey hearing someone’s inner thoughts? Sure, it's interesting and fun at first, but as with CBS's God Friended Me, even the most novel of concepts grow old. And after Zoey comes to learn in the pilot that her special ability is her chance to help others, all I could think about is the procedural type of show that's destined to follow. I hope my concerns prove to be unfounded, but based on the pilot script, it's hard to see a truly compelling path forward for the show's narrative.
Zoey’s co-worker and best friend Max is funny and the pairing of Jane Levy and Skylar Astin is exciting. The two actors should have great chemistry. Meanwhile, Mo, Zoey’s neighbor, is an easygoing, open-minded and cool character who assumes the role of a kind of guardian angel -- Zoey’s Yvette for those who watched ABC’s Kevin (Probably) Saves the World. This dynamic doesn’t seem to be reinvented here as much as it is rehashed. Again, I’d love to be proven wrong. At least, by casting gender nonconforming actor Alex Newell in Mo’s role, they’re adding a new flavor to the duet.
FINAL RECOMMENDATION: The pilot script for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is far from groundbreaking, but it has its charms and could prove to lay the groundwork for an effective “case of the week” procedural.
OVERALL PROJECT SCORE:
[ ] PASS
[ ] RECOMMEND
BEST FIT: After The Voice on Mondays in the spring seems like the only way to go