Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Roundtable – “Zoey’s Extraordinary Best Friend”

Our love for Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is never ending. Sadly lacking word of a renewal and with no anticipated new content on television, we at Fangirlish decided to do a series rewatch as though viewing each episode for the first time. Because when you love a series (and a ship in Max/Zoey, which was wonderfully highlighted in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Best Friend”) why not? And if you’re going to do a rewatch, a roundtable just adds double the fun!

Joining me this week are Fangirlish writers Lizzie and Jacqueline as well as guests Samantha, Jacquie, and Amanda.

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With a show like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which has fantastic musical numbers, the first question always has to be…what was your favorite musical number in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Best Friend” and why?

Jade: I’m torn between “Sucker” and “I’ve Got the Music in Me.” Obviously, I adore “Sucker” because, while the Pilot introduced us to the characters, and we saw that Max thinks he has feelings for Zoey, “Sucker” spoke of more confidence and surety. Plus, the choreography was great, and I’m always amazed that Skylar was able to zip up his jacket while jumping backwards up the risers because I can do maybe one of those things at a time, and if I tried to do it without looking, I’d fall down and die. However, “I’ve Got the Music in Me” is also just so, so good, getting the whole cast involved in an amazing musical number (and, yeah, you’d have to be dead not to notice that hip action of Simon’s).

Lizzie: I’m not torn, I’m 100% in for “Sucker.” Skylar Astin does this thing with Max in this episode where he takes the character from sweet, funny best friend, to omg hot dude alert, and he does it in the space of that song. By the end Zoey was fanning herself, and so were we. It’s exactly what the character needed, and if we’re being honest, what the show needed.

Jacqueline: Really I LOVED all of them. I loved “I Got the Music in Me” because we see Zoey sing for the first time – and I totally forgot this happened. I loved “Sucker” because of Max, of course. I will always love Max professing his feelings for Zoey. But my favourite will be “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” because it gave me such a fresh take on the song. SO. MANY. FEELS.

Samantha: “Sucker,” definitely!!! I’m pretty sure Skylar Astin could fart on film for thirty minutes and I’d be like, wow, amazing content, 10/10. But seriously, his voice, the dancing, it sold me on the show 100% the first time I saw it. Plus, I loved actually being able to understand the lyrics (I never knew what the Jonas Brothers were saying besides “I’m a sucker for you”).

Jacquie: While I loved “Sucker” with all my heart, I think the best number of the episode has to be “I’ve Got The Music In Me”. What a great opener after a long hiatus! Not only does Zoey get to sing for the first time, but it literally tells you any details you needed to know about the show without anyone actually recapping it (props to the writers for having Zoey actually do that a scene later though). I’m always down for a big campy musical number, and I love that this was as corny as the show ever got. It was such a fun way to reintroduce the show to the audience, and I was as excited watching it as Skylar was performing it. (Seriously go back and watch his face during that whole song – priceless!) 

Amanda: This is always the hardest question because I love all the songs! “I’ve Got the Music in Me,” has that “we’re doing a huge ensemble number like in all musicals….just kidding” vibe which was a great opening to the second episode. Plus it helps set the tone for how ZEP approaches using songs in its narrative differently from other musical shows. “Sucker,” is of course fantastic because it’s a great Clarkeman moment, but because we get super confident/full of swagger Max feeling internally more confident about his feelings for Zoey. However, as much as I adore those numbers I think I really have to give it to “Moondance.” Mitch wants to tell Maggie that he loves her, so what is his “heart song” for her? The song that they were listening to when he first told her he loved her. They are such a sweet, romantic couple that makes you fall in love with how in love with one another they are. Their reflective choreography throughout the number was just amazing. They were perfectly in sync with one another, but they kept just missing their moments to connect. Which is of course painfully reflective of how things have become because of Mitch’s disease. It was just such a beautiful, poetic and a little heartbreaking number that it has to be my favorite.

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Clarkeman was further established as OTP in this episode, particularly with the musical number, “Sucker.” There’s been a lot of debate in fandom about the status of Zoey’s feelings and attraction to Max as of this part of the series. So, what do you think? Was she attracted to him/did she have feelings for him in this episode? Why or why not?

Jade: I think she certainly was attracted to him, but I think she honestly hasn’t consciously thought about him in that way. With the way she was fanning herself during “Sucker” she definitely started thinking about him that way at this point, if she never had before. And she certainly looked a little jealous when she caught him on a date with Autumn. You know what they say, Zoey! “Well, well, well. How the turntables have…”

Lizzie: Yes and no. I think she was probably attracted to him at first, then they became friends, and then she sorta liked him more than she was attracted to him, and she was alone in this new job where it was more important to have a friend than a fling, so she sort of put that attraction aside. In fact, I feel like she’s been doing that for so long that, if you asked Zoey at this point if she was attracted to Max, she’d probably say no, we’re friends. Except I think she’s aware enough to know that she cares, and that despite the fact that SHE set him up with Autumn, she still doesn’t want to lose him to Autumn …

Jacqueline: She was right there with him BUT running scared. I totally understand the fear of losing your best friend but that wistful look when she sees Autumn and Max in the coffee shop – sigh, girl, has it bad. I also LOVED how Max sensed she was there!

Samantha: The girl was fanning herself while he sang to her. People who haven’t caught feels aren’t fanning themselves. It is law. 

Jacquie: DUH! All joking aside, there are multiple instances in this episode both verbal and non-verbal that suggest Zoey was attracted to and/or had feelings for Max. The thing she talks the most about in the episode are Max’s heart-songs. Her body language during “Sucker”, no one fans themselves because they’re all hot and embarrassed. When you’re embarrassed you go find a nice place to hide, you don’t prance around the office all flirtatiously, waiting for your best friend who is serenading you to follow. Something we learn very early on about Zoey is how emotionally avoidant she is, whether that’s concerning her own feelings or the feelings of others. I attribute her behavior in this episode to that more than anything else. Everything she does or says to Max is all in an attempt to avoid feelings. While the case could be made that it is hard to deal with someone having feelings for you that are maybe not reciprocated, I don’t read this situation in that way. Zoey never seems to be negatively affected by Max singing to her, she usually is trying to suppress a smile. But because of her emotional issues – she doesn’t want to deal with them. Her dealing with emotions quota is being met by the situation with Mitch. This episode begs the question: Is how Zoey responding to what Max consciously wants OR is it what Zoey is projecting onto him? She’s the one who turns dinner into a date. She’s the one who calls their arguing a “lovers quarrel”. If Zoey didn’t feel something for Max, her reaction wouldn’t have been so dramatic – I’m just sayin’. 

Amanda: The look on her face when Max first starts singing is not a look of embarrassment or annoyance, her mouth drops open and she is looking at him as though he’s the only person in the room. Throughout the number she is not resistant to his movements or even what he is singing, merely annoyed by the timing of the song. The way she fans herself with her notecards though, is as if she were a romantic heroine attempting to keep from swooning at the feet of her love interest. Zoey is definitely attracted to Max, even later when she’s telling Mo about Max’s song and Mo comments, “Ooo that song’s hot. How did Max look doing it?” Zoey’s response is “It doesn’t matter,” implying that she totally thought he looked hot doing it (which he totally did). Zoey hides from her emotions, and the heart songs force her to face other people’s emotions as well as deal with her own. She is definitely wondering about how she feels now that she is aware of Max’s feelings, something you can see on her face when he stops by later to drop off the pudding for Mitch. Zoey is so focused on her father’s illness and her new promotion that anything which deviates from her “norm,” falls into the “shove it aside and deal with it later category.” So while she is attracted to Max and definitely has feelings for him, she refuses to acknowledge or deal with them right now, since she views them as a distraction from her current priorities.

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This episode featured the first argument between Max and Zoey, which would become a bigger plot point in the future. What do you think this first argument says about their dynamic, and are you happy with how it was handled?

Jade: It’s definitely a very real, understandable argument. Zoey’s in full “running scared” mode, and Max really doesn’t understand what’s going on. In his mind, nothing has changed – he has no way of knowing about her heart songs at this point. She doesn’t know how to be honest with him about everything that’s going on yet, so it seems to him like she’s just acting weird and pushing him away for no reason. However, I also think it’s very indicative of their relationship, but when she reaches out to him for help because she doesn’t know what she’s doing wrong with the team, he puts his anger aside for the moment and does what he can to help. Max is – first and foremost – her friend. And that’s really what brings them back together in the end and helps them patch things up. It isn’t about his romantic feelings for her but his genuine caring for her (and her family), because he is her friend. It’s a great episode that shows how Zoey and Max deal with conflict between the two of them, and the ways in which they still have to grow. Zoey runs from it, Max doesn’t know what to do with it, but even when things are rocky between them, Zoey can’t really stand for there to be distance between them, and Max can’t really turn her down when she needs him.

Lizzie: Honestly, my main thing in re-watch is how much I appreciate that Max isn’t the kind of best friend who just takes it – even if he is now aware of his feelings for Zoey. I think I would like them less as a couple if Max wasn’t able to push back a little bit when Zoey is being …well, uncommunicative and just plain weird. So in many ways I appreciate the argument, and I even appreciate how it ended. Some people need long conversations to feel good after a fight, and some people just don’t. Zoey and Max don’t seem to need much to find themselves on the same page, even after a fight, and I love that. 

Jacqueline: What I loved about this argument was that Max thinks they were arguing about something they totally weren’t arguing about! Zoey said it was about the work dynamic when it was all her not wanting to deal with her feelings for him. Poor Max had no idea. It gave me hope for the ship!

Samantha: I sort of appreciate this dispute! It feels indicative of a friendship that calls for open and honest communication (at least on Max’s part). You can tell he’s legit unsure as to why Zoey didn’t want to get dinner with him. I’m not saying Zoey isn’t a fan of open and honest communication, either, and I’ll cut her a ton of slack…she just got this new power and has no idea how to navigate it or who to tell, and telling your bff who just literally sang his heart out to you at work doesn’t seem like the best timing to be open and honest about it. I don’t blame her for kind of freezing up here.

Jacquie: These are two people who obviously really care about each other, all romantic feelings aside. Spats are totally normal in friendships, or any other relationship between people. We aren’t always the best versions of ourselves, nobody’s perfect. I think the resolution was very telling of the love and respect Max and Zoey have for each other. Little do they know how later on this bond will be tested – but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. At the end of the day, they can’t be without each other. Their ‘sorry without having to say it’ scene was really sweet and seemed appropriate considering how short-lived the argument was. I may have a different opinion when it comes to round-two. 

Amanda: I’m glad we got conflict between the two of them, conflict is a part of all relationships and to portray a friendship much less a potential romance without conflict is unrealistic. In the grand scheme of their relationship, and compared to their later argument, this is just a minor disagreement, one that they are both ready to move on from without another thought. What I found really interesting about Max and Zoey’s argument is how it ran parallel to the conflict we saw between Mitch and Maggie. Mitch knows what he wants to say to Maggie but he is unable to because he is trapped by his disease. Zoey knows Max’s feelings, but she can’t tell him because she feels trapped by the knowledge her powers gave her, and she is afraid of changing their relationship. While Maggie is frustrated because of how much has changed because of Mitch’s disease and  at not being able to understand what Mitch wants. Max is upset because he doesn’t understand why Zoey’s behavior has changed. Zoey’s lack of communication frustrates Max because he doesn’t know what she wants or how he can help her. Of course the comparison between the two couples is a common thread throughout the series, with Maggie=Zoey and Mitch=Max, though in this situation the roles are reversed. 

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In an episode called “Zoey’s Extraordinary Best Friend,” Simon was really in the “friend” mode after building up Zoey’s crush on him in the Pilot, while the episode strongly featured the romantic connection between Zoey and Max. Do you think this is significant and, if so, how?

Jade: I do think that Zoey and Simon will eventually make the transition to being just friends, though I think Max will always remain Zoey’s best friend. However, this shift in relationships in this episode really just foreshadowed how these dynamics are going to eventually change. Zoey may not be ready to admit to her feelings for Max, but she was definitely feeling them. The episode was titled her “best friend” but she wasn’t having friendly feelings for him throughout – even if, again, she isn’t ready to face that. And while she currently has a crush on Simon, she was so distracted by Max that her feelings for Simon didn’t even really seem to come to mind. It’s interesting, because Max will once again drive all thoughts of Simon from her mind in the finale.

Lizzie: I think TV shows always set up the OTP first, and then move on to the… well, the distraction, like Jade previously called Simon. And I think it’s important that the show did set up Simon and Zoey as having an actual friendship, even if it isn’t as deep as he thinks, because I believe Zoey will need Simon as a friend going onto season 2. And then there’s the whole, yes, Max and Zoey can get together, and he can remain her best friend, but you still need friends on the outside of the relationship. You always will. 

Jacqueline: This episode really did build up the Zoey and Max relationship. Between the fight, “Sucker” and Max visiting her father – it was all about building the foundation for that relationship. Even Zoey freaking out about going to dinner with Max now that she knows his feelings, says so much about how she felt about him at this point. 

Jacquie: I would like it on record that this episode is the first/last time Simon and Zoey talk about anything that doesn’t have even a trace of grief or connect back to his father’s death in some way. Usually love triangles give you a clear contender, or an “obvious choice”. What ZEP does instead is show you both sides of the coin. In the pilot we saw Simon and Zoey connecting, and Max was just the supportive best friend until the very last seconds of the episode. Here they flipped it so you can see what a friendship with Simon would be, while Max is shown in more of a romantic connotation. It gives the audience exposure to different versions of how this love story could end. While not necessarily villainizing one guy over the other, I think the significance is in the difference between the two guys themselves. I totally understand Zoey’s attraction to Simon, but real relationships need more than that to work and Clarkeman comes out with a lot of those traits in this episode. 

Samantha: Are you asking if Simon eventually takes the slot of best friend while Max gets upgraded to beau? Because I don’t entirely hate that idea…but I also don’t know if I love it! I think Max will be performing double-duty as best friend and boyfriend eventually. We need context before they get together, so this episode serves as that. 

Amanda: Focusing on the romantic connection between Max and Zoey helps not only to show the dynamics of their relationship, but it also serves as a comparison to the “romance” we saw between Zoey and Simon in the Pilot. Max and Zoey’s relationship both in friendship and romantic aspects is comfortable, natural, and as evident by their ability to move past their argument, strong. Whereas her relationship with Simon, which is incredibly brand new, is based on their mutual grief and working on a project together, not exactly the best basis for a romantic relationship. Showing the friendship side of Simon and Zoey’s relationship only solidified for me that Max and Zoey were not only better friends but the better romantic couple as well. Simon and Zoey hardly know anything about one another nor do they see each other outside the office, Zoey didn’t even know Simon was engaged until she happened to run across him and Jessica. Whereas Max and Zoey know almost everything about each other, spend time together outside of the office and genuinely care for one another. I mean for goodness sake Max spends the holidays with Zoey’s family, something that screams how significant their relationship is! 

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Although she was introduced in the Pilot, Joan’s character development is particularly notable when comparing her attitude in this episode to her behavior in the final few episodes of the season. How do you feel about this progression of her character? Do you think she’s as emotionally disconnected and uncaring towards Zoey as she initially appears?

Jade: I don’t think Joan was ever as emotionally distant and disinterested as she would like to appear, even in the Pilot. After all, she took on a bit of a mentor loan even then – although it was with a bit more of a “tough love” approach than she will eventually develop over the series. I think she’s perhaps more a character who wants to not care and wants to not be invested in her employees’ lives than one who actually doesn’t care and isn’t interested. In her own way, I think she and Zoey are a lot alike – not terribly good with emotion, but Zoey helps her to start to connect more to others over the course of the season.

Lizzie: I think she was probably more one-note in the “Pilot” because they’d yet to figure out what to do with her, but the thing about Joan is that you don’t bring in Lauren Graham to play the cool, distant boss. You bring her in to play a mentor role, someone who can teach Zoey how to be better at her job, but also how to navigate being a woman in a mostly male world. I think Joan was always rooting for Zoey, and all she needed was for Zoey to show her that she was the right person for Joan to take under her wing – and once Zoey did that, well, the rest is history.

Jacqueline: I have to be honest, I didn’t love Joan at the beginning of Season 1. I did like how she pushed Zoey professionally but we didn’t know her. Joan now feels like a completely different person than she is at the end of the season but in many ways she is. We see Joan develop her relationship with Zoey over the season along with major changes in her personal life. I think Joan getting divorced was really freeing for her to find her own way. In this episode, she’s still in an unhappy marriage which I think brought her a sense of insecurity so she wouldn’t reveal herself to her subordinates. It was amazing to watch her character development throughout the season – Joan is a smart, capable, caring and brilliant woman and I’m so glad we got to see that side of her while to remained an awesome boss!

Samantha: I love this progression! Totally subverts the cold-as-ice boss stereotype; allows assertion and confidence to coexist with empathy. I feel like too often women are told they have to choose one or the other — they can’t have both — but it’s like, no, you can be a total badass at your job and your life without sacrificing your ability to feel. Women and girls need to hear more of those messages.

Jacquie: Early on it’s easy to assume that Joan is just a product of years spent working her way up the ladder in a male dominated field. I actually think a lot of her character has to do with her husband as well, but we don’t know about him yet. Zoey and Joan have a lot more in common than we know, in that both prefer not to deal with emotions head on. (Which is why I believe that helping Joan over the course of the series is more mutually beneficial than anything Zoey attempted to do with Simon) These are both emotionally avoidant women. With Joan, however, her character growth and development over the season is less about how she needs to change, necessarily more so than it is about finding herself again and being a little more free with how she feels. Some of the best and most heartfelt advice Zoey gets is from Joan – and all she needed to get there was knowing someone out there wanted to help her. 

Amanda: Initially Joan reminded me of a female boss I had in the past, even down to assuming that being called into their office meant you were in trouble. She was just as disconnected, uncaring and condescending towards employees as Joan was to everyone. I think that for Joan, being one of the few women in her department as well as being in a position of leadership, automatically places her on the offensive. Refusing to allow anyone too close to her on the off chance that they may attempt to undermine her authority later. Many times women positions like Joan’s, feel threatened by other women, particularly if the other women are intelligent, as Zoey is. So, Joan’s initial coolness towards Zoey is not emotional but is instead a defensive professional tactic to maintain the power of her position. I love that as Zoey gets to know Joan better we see how she can be a woman in a position of power but that she is able to support, listen to and advise her employees both professionally and personally. There needs to be more representation of workplace relationships between women like Joan and Zoey, in both entertainment and in real life.

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Two major themes of the first season involve connecting with other people and dealing with the grief of losing someone you love. In this episode, Maggie and Mitch’s stories touched on both themes, with the Clarke family finding a new way to communicate with Mitch, and Maggie facing not just the eventual loss of him, but the gradual loss of their relationship they had along the way. Did both of these themes resonate with you? How do you think these themes will continue to develop next season?

Jade: Losing someone you love is hard, but losing them slowly, inch by inch, has to be particularly hard. Although the breakthrough with the buzzer proved to have difficulties of its own, it was a blessing in that it allowed Maggie to see that the man she loves is still in there. Which, of course, would have its own heartbreak. Is it worse to know that the person you love is trapped in their mind, able to comprehend, to have their own thoughts and feelings and needs, but to forever be unable to communicate? Or to think that their mind has slipped away and the shell of the person you loved is there, but the person themselves is gone? Both would be devastating in their own ways, and it goes back to Maggie’s comment in the Pilot that she wishes the illness had struck her instead. I’m looking forward to seeing Maggie, David, and Zoey as they deal with Mitch’s lost next season, but I also know it’s going to break my heart all over again. So I’m not sure how ready I am for that.

Lizzie: I have never lost someone I’ve been involved with romantically, so I can’t say I really relate to the Mitch/Maggie part of the equation, but I saw it with my mom when we lost my dad, and I can certainly relate to the other part of this. Loss is so …different for each person who experiences it, in so many tiny ways that are sometimes impossible to quantify. And this show has done better with that nuance than most other shows on TV, which is why I really want a season 2 so we can get to …well, see them explore loss in the very different ways that it takes: For David, for Maggie, for Zoey, and even for the people around them. Even for Mitch’s two children, the loss hits in different ways, and those are the kind of stories we rarely see told, the kind we deserve more of. 

Jacqueline: I really was overjoyed, brought tears to my eyes – when they found a way for Mitch to connect with his family by answering questions. While frustrating as Maggie shows it could be, it allowed us insight into his thoughts. I love that he just wanted his wife. I think it was a great way of showing Mitch was still in there. Maggie must grieve the relationship they had and learn to accept this new one and her love for Mitch is evident throughout the season. As we know the grief of losing Mitch is a major theme for season one – I feel this show does an amazing job of showing the complexity of grief – it’s not all just crying in your pillow. It brings with it so many feelings – frustration as shown by Maggie in this episode, the longing you can see from the whole family when we see Mitch able to communicate, the angry we later see from Zoey and of course the unbelievable sadness of losing someone you love and need so much. Grief is something we all have experience with and deeply impacts our lives – but it also rarely shown so accurately on screen. So while of course, it is upsetting – it should be – it’s comforting in seeing yourself on screen and knowing you are not alone.

Jacquie: Connection is hard for some couples as is, but something tells me that was never a problem for Mitch and Maggie. This episode is just one example of adjustments the Clarke family is going to have to make moving forward. Giving Mitch a form of connection again, even if it’s as simple as pressing a button, is bittersweet. Can he communicate again? Yes. Will it ever be like it was? No, never again. Things never being the same is just as big a theme in this show as the other two – probably because it’s a big aspect of both connection and grief. Sometimes when you connect with someone in a different way than you had before, you can’t undo that. You have to live in the new world you created for yourself. Grief is just as transformative. And, we can grieve more than just the loss of a life. Dreams can die, expectations can crumble at a moment’s notice, and plans for the future can be made in vain. What I love about this show (among many other things) is the attitude of those involved. They find a way to make whatever they have work for them. It’s that kind of perseverance of spirit that resonates with me the most. In season 2, all of the characters will find themselves in a ‘new normal’. Some will be grieving the loss of what was, and what can never be. Others might take the change in stride. One thing is for sure, Zoey still has a lot to learn about connecting – whether it’s with others or her own feelings. 

Amanda: Maggie and Mitch have my heart, every time they are together I’m simultaneously smiling because of their loving, romantic relationship and crying because of the pain and loss that they are facing. I love that the taboo buzzer communication method is something that the family uses up until Mitch’s last day (the “I love you buzzes” in the finale were when I started crying and didn’t stop!). We’ve seen progressively throughout the season that communication for Clarke family has become more important, something not to be taken for granted. They have struggled to find new alternatives and ways to progress together as they face each new obstacle of Mitch’s declining health. But throughout it all they have held onto one another, with their love as a family. 

For the Clarke family their grief has been ongoing, watching as the man they knew and loved slowly slipped further away from them each day. Going forward they will be facing so many new “firsts” as they adjust to their lives without Mitch, holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and the upcoming birth of David and Emily’s son. These will be difficult moments for them and I think we will see them struggling through these times. Each member of the family will process and handle their grief differently, something that I think we will see throughout the next season. No two people grieve the same, even members of the same family go through the process in different ways and at different times. 

All of Zoey’s relationships (friends, coworkers, family, love interests), have changed significantly from where they were at the beginning of the season through the connections she has built with them. Zoey will not only be facing her own grief and loss but that of her family and friends too. She will need these strong connections and the emotional growth she has gained, which I think she will find herself relying on more throughout season 2, as they move forward.

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