Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 1×12 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Dad” is an extraordinary episode of television. It’s emotional, poignant and despite all the sadness, incredibly uplifting, because it does a great job of showing grief in a way that’s relatable, in a way that feels tangible.
This show hits different notes for everyone depending on your very particular experience with grief and loss. I lost my father a few years ago, and so the storyline of Zoey losing her father has always hit me deep. But I didn’t lose my father the way Zoey did, I lost him suddenly, and as hard as watching this is, there’s always been a part of me that would have liked to have what Zoey and her family have had the luxury of: time.
You can never prepare for loss, let’s get that out of the way. But there’s a certain sense of closure that comes with the idea that you got to say your piece, you got to say goodbye. David, Zoey and Maggie got that chance with Mitch, and as much as that feels like poor comfort right now, it’ll mean something in the days ahead.
And we want to see the days ahead, we really, really want to. We want a season 2 of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist because we want to see this show tackling, well, the hard journey towards healing. We want this show to put into words (or songs) that feeling of things never going back to what they were. That feeling of …change.
Because the fact is, you’re never the same after a loss like the one Zoey just experienced. That doesn’t mean you won’t ever be okay again, but your baseline okay will change. You will never be okay the same way; you will just find a new okay. A new way of going forward.
So let’s talk about that loss, about Zoey’s journey towards a new normal, and about the men in her life as we discuss “Zoey’s Extraordinary Dad”:
THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED
It’s hard to imagine a more perfect song for the montage at the end than “American Pie.” There really is something especially poignant about Zoey, who keeps hearing people’s inner thoughts in songs, feeling like the music died. Because, in so many ways, that’s what losing a parent feels like: like your world ended. Like music just …died.
And it didn’t, you’re still standing. But that also feels unfair. How come you are still standing here without them? Why do you get to do that? If someone offered you a trade, you’d take it without even thinking on it.
Life isn’t magical, though. There are no trades to be made, no choice but to move forward, any way you can.
But that’s not the story for today, not the story for this episode. Instead, this episode is all about goodbyes, and about what it means to say them, just as much as it’s about people, and what it means to have a support system. Because grief is a solitary thing, yes, but the only way to truly heal is to have people.
It’s a contradiction, I know. People can’t really help you, and yet you need them. People can’t take away your pain, but then again, nothing can. And having a support system makes everything better.
And David, Emily, Maggie and Zoey will need …well, people. Their people. Be it family, friends, casual acquaintances dropping off food, or sending a quick how are you doing text. I remember not one second of my father’s funeral, but I remember the people who were at our house afterwards, I remember the friend who brought us breakfast the next day. I remember who held my hand all throughout.
So will Zoey. And she will also remember that she got to tell her dad the one thing you want to tell a parent on a moment like that: that she’s gonna be fine. Not great, and there’s always going to be a Mitch-shaped hole in her life, but she will get through this, because her dad raised her to be the kind of woman who would. The kind of woman who would go on, who would find happiness, and who would always, always carry him with her.
That’s the greatest legacy there is.
I’M STARTING TO THINK YOU LIKE HIM TOO
Considering where we left things with Simon and Zoey last time they were both on screen together, it feels like this episode takes them not one, but three steps backward. And yet it could be said that it doesn’t take Simon entirely out of the picture, it’s just that the picture that’s left at the end is well, way different.
I’m a weird spot with Simon, in the sense that I really like his character. I adore the actor playing him. I think he’s a precious dork and that his experience, his own pain, will allow him to be a good shoulder to lean on for Zoey going forward. And yet I do not want a romantic relationship between him and Zoey – not now, and probably not ever.
He’s not in a place for one, and she’s not in a place for one. That’s absolutely clear now. But he also doesn’t really know Zoey, he only knows her pain, and yes, that’s an important part of her, more important now than ever, but at some point Zoey will stop being all about her pain …and then Simon will know nothing.
Not to mention that Simon needs to find a way to heal, all by himself. Zoey can’t be his crutch. He can’t focus on her pain and on helping her, because he’s got to figure out a way to put himself back together. Yes, he took an important first step by attending his mother’s wedding, but he isn’t there yet.
At the beginning of this episode Zoey tells Simon he’s got nothing to worry about in regards to Max. She’s lying, to herself, and to him, but she says it because she’s trying to put him at ease, because their whole relationship has been about Zoey saying the things Simon wants and needs to hear, about anticipating his moods. That part of the relationship is fake, or it involves magic. Zoey doesn’t have a specific insight into Simon that no one else has, she’s just reading his mind, just as she’s reading everyone else’s. And if their relationship were to ever go somewhere, Zoey would need to confess that, and brace for the inevitable fallout.
Despite Zoey’s denials, though, and despite the fact that Simon feels the connection between him and Zoey is special, Simon is a clever guy. He can see the signs when it comes to Zoey and Max. He’s got two lines, in particular, that point to this. In the first song he sings, “Jealous,” he looks at the two of them together while singing “I’m starting to think you like him too,” only to then turn around and sing that he knows Zoey loves him.
This all changes by the last song, when as part of “American Pie” he sings to Zoey and Max: “Well, I know that you’re in love with him.” Not that much time has passed, but Simon’s awareness of what’s going on has shifted. And his feelings for Max likely have, too.
Despite the fact that they’re clearly rivals, Max and Simon have never had an adversarial relationship, and this episode, more than anything else, sets them up as two guys who both just really care for Zoey. This isn’t about Team Max or Team Simon as much as it’s about let’s allow Zoey time to figure out who she is and what she wants.
It’s actually Team Zoey that matters. Team Zoey above all.
So, yes, the door is still a little ajar, because this is a TV show. But the romantic possibilities for Simon and Zoey are looking much, much gloomier than they ever have, and let us remember he had a fiancée at some point, so that’s saying a lot.
I’M ON YOUR MAGICAL MYSTERY RIDE
There’s so much to talk about in regards to Max and Zoey that I almost don’t know where to start. Do I start with the Zoey-initiated kiss? With Max telling her to put herself first and that they’d discuss it later? With Max calling Simon? With him following her around like a puppy dog all through “American Pie”? WHERE DO I START?
Okay, maybe I start here: This episode has cemented in my head something I think the show has made clear from the beginning, Max is the one for Zoey.
Not because he loves her more, or because he deserves her more. Love isn’t a competition, and the way for Zoey to pick between them isn’t to put them on a metaphorical scale. No, Max is the one for Zoey because Max is the one that fits …the one that makes her feel at ease, the one that, in good times, in bad times, in awkward times and in every kind of moment in between, just makes her life better.
It’s been hard for Zoey to get there, and yet, when she kisses Max, she isn’t doing it just because she wants to jump his bones – though her frustration at his continued singing while she wants to kiss him is proof that she also wants that – but because she wants him. She knows what that entails, she knows the baggage. Hell, he’s literally singing a song about how much he loves her just as she’s trying to kiss him, and that doesn’t seem to faze her. She’s shied away from it before. And though there’s no conscious decision, in that moment, Zoey makes a choice.
Perhaps it’s because the idea of Max getting another job means that, in a way, she’s going to lose him anyway, the one thing she was trying to prevent by staying away from him. Maybe it’s that, in that moment, she recognized that it wasn’t just that she couldn’t see life without him, it’s that she actively wanted him to be part of her life. Or maybe Zoey wasn’t thinking about any of these things, she was just …feeling.
What might have happened had they been able to continue the night we will never know. What Zoey might have said or might not have said is gone, because in some ways, that Zoey is gone. But the feelings aren’t, and Max’s unconditional support isn’t, either. He demonstrates all through “American Pie,” that he’s her rock and he’s going to be there for her.
He, however, does something else in this episode that’s even more important: he constantly puts her first. And I know I said this wasn’t a competition, and it isn’t. I’m not keeping score because doing so will make Max “deserve” Zoey more, I’m just paying attention to the things Zoey might not even consciously realize, and that speak of the kind of love Max feels for her.
Number one: he lets her take the lead. Sure, he kisses her back with a lot of enthusiasm, but only after she took the first step. Number two: he calls Simon from Zoey’s house, because he knows Simon is her friend, and he knows Simon might be able to help in a way he can’t. Third: he gives her the space she needs to deal with her grief, first and foremost.
His presence in Zoey’s life, and her reaction to him are such that even Simon has noticed, at the end of the episode. Maggie knows. Mitch knew. Hell, I’m pretty sure the entire office has some sort of betting pool on Max and Zoey. So, this all seems very clear cut now, to me (not that I ever doubted).
It’s Zoey and Max, people. That’s it.
Not because he met her first, or because he’s “better” for her. Not because he “deserves” her more or any other of the mildly sexist reasons we see in fandom. Instead, it’s because he’s the guy whose shoulder Zoey wants to rest her head on after a bad day, the one who will appreciate her perfect imperfections, and the one who loves absolutely all of her.
Things I think I think:
- So this is an ominous song to start it all with.
- “I see bad times today.”
- Oh, so this is the calm before the storm.
- Tobin is kinda …cute. Like, he’s trying so hard.
- I love me some Zoey and Joan. I need a longer season 2 so these two can get to explore their friendship more.
- Aww, she took Max out for a Simon snack.
- “We’re gonna figure it out, together.”
- Of course Simon is there. OF COURSE.
- “Simon’s pity is exactly what I needed today.”
- I don’t think that was pity, Max.
- SEE, SONG TO PROVE IT.
- “I’m starting to think you want him too.”
- You’re starting to think? I’ve been on this train for ages, Simon. Get in line.
- “I know you love me,” is a tad presumptuous.
- She wants to bang you, that’s all you know.
- And to be fair, that applies to most of us.
- His first question is, “Are you alright?”
- Simon is a DORK. I kinda love this side of him.
- YOU SAID NO, SIMON. Remember?
- Zoey, girl, every time you go talk to him about something you heard him sing …that’s not real.
- Oooh, Zoey setting up Mo is perfection.
- “Two Eddie love songs deep.”
- “I find you charming, and disturbing.”
- She asked for Max’s job back. THAT’S WHAT SHE DID.
- Go Joan!
- Aw, Mo.
- Aw, Eddie.
- You’re looking at the back of the DVDs, Max.
- “I just don’t want to go backwards, Zoey.”
- And he basically just …let her.
- “Why’d you do that?”/”Because I felt like it.”
- This part with Max singing and Zoey just wanting him to stop and kiss is her hilarious.
- And hot.
- Super hot.
- “…cause all of me loves all of you.”
- I liked the first song better.
- Oh, Max went with her.
- I feel so profoundly thankful for Howie.
- And Emily is still pregnant – ha they got us good.
- Max calling Simon is quintessential I care more about Zoey than about myself energy, and I am here for it.
- I’m so glad Max got to not just say goodbye to Mitch, who he really cared for, but tell him how he feels for Zoey. (And Maggie too)
- Zoey still has to make her clear choice and all of that, but as a father …I can imagine Mitch being comforted by the fact that Max will be there for Zoey.
- She does look pretty comfortable cuddling up to Max, though.
- This song with Mitch/David/Emily BROKE ME.
- Like, I’m never going to be okay “broke me.”
- “Focus on yourself right now.”
- That’s it, I love Max.
- And I loved him before, but my love has GROWN. I didn’t even know that was possible.
- “I’m here, whenever you need me.”
- That was super nice, Simon. Super nice.
- He understands this moment. That means something. Doesn’t have to mean true love, but it does mean something.
- Maggie got her song too.
- “Death is hideous and ugly and grotesque, and wildly, wildly unfair.”
- That sounds about right.
- I’m glad Zoey got to talk to Mitch. I sat down and talked to my dad even after they told us he was gone.
- “You’re always going to hear me.”
- This one’s true.
- Aww, “True Colors.”
- Have I mentioned I love Emily?
- “The day the music died” indeed.
- Simon is there.
- Did you notice Zoey didn’t really say hi to Max? She just nodded at him, like this wasn’t the first time he was seeing him today, like they’d just seen each other at the actual funeral, like he was there with her, with them.
- “I know that you’re in love with him.”
- SO DO WE.
- Heart songs never lie.
- Aw, Mo and Eddie are there too.
- And Joan.
- Did you notice Max bringing Zoey something to drink in the background?
- He’s always thinking of her.
- You don’t need to know what it feels to be there for someone.
- This song both broke me and put me back together.
- We all love the ships, but this episode, this moment …it’s bigger than that.
- Max hugging Maggie, and THEN kissing Zoey in the forehead.
- That’s like my kryptonite, guys.
- Now, show me the after. That’s the hardest. Every second of it.
- That show with Jane singing to the empty space.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think about “Zoey’s Extraordinary Dad”? Share with us in the comments below!
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is available to stream on Hulu.