‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ OTP Series: Missed Opportunities in “Zoey’s Extraordinary Outburst”

When it comes to OTP moments between our favorite characters and ships, let’s be honest. We shippers can never get enough. So as we go through our weekly rewatch of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (not for the first time), Fangirlish author Jade and I thought we’d break down moments that…okay, maybe they wouldn’t entirely have made sense for Zoey and Max (aka Clarkeman) to kiss…but we certainly wouldn’t have objected to a kiss or two!

This week we’re looking at episode 1×10 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Outburst“:

ARE WE EVEN FRIENDS?

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Lizzie: This is a weird episode to talk about kissing. In fact, this is a weird episode to talk about anything regarding Max/Zoey that isn’t the state of their friendship, so let’s just dive into that, because why not? To me the first ten episodes of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist leave one thing clear: Max and Zoey have been friends for years, and their relationship is anything BUT equal. Do you agree? Do you think they were as close as they would have liked to say they were? Was Zoey even capable of actual close friendships before she started hearing people’s thoughts in song?

Jade: I’ve given a lot of thought to this topic lately, so pardon me while I climb up on my soap box. I do think that they were close, but I think Zoey’s powers helped highlight some things they otherwise might not have recognized in their relationship. Zoey really isn’t very good at reading – or understanding – other people’s emotions. It’s one of the key drivers for the show. But this has led her to have, I think, unequal friendships. And not just with Max (though the inequalities are sometimes more glaring with Max because they’ve been friends for so long). With Simon, she uses her power to get close to him, and even after a year of doing so, he still doesn’t know. Meanwhile, he only knows things about her that she chooses to share or that he happens to recognize due to his own experiences. It’s not a two-way street (of course, because he doesn’t have her powers). 

With Max, I don’t think I realized it until my second or third viewing of the show, but this episode really highlighted some of the inequalities in that relationship. In the Pilot, Max was completely supportive of Zoey going up for the promotion. He was her #1 cheerleader, in fact, repeatedly reminding her that she could do it, that she deserved it, that Joan would be an idiot not to promote her. Compared to Zoey’s reaction to his promotion, which she completely forgot. And, yes, she has a lot on her mind, but it also wasn’t an isolated incident. After Leif got his soul crushed in the anonymous peer reviews, Zoey went to bat for him with Joan. Whether or not her efforts worked, she tried. Did she ever try to go to bat for Max in the same way? Heck, he couldn’t even get Joan to call him by his real name apparently. Did she ever go to bat for him, not just as his friend but as his supervisor? At the start of the season, Max totally supported her efforts to be with Simon and even put her needs over even his own feelings at times. But when Max called her about his breakup with Autumn, she ditched him mid-call to be with Simon. 

Her relationship with Mo is where I’ve wondered if this is something they’ve purposefully done with Zoey, and if they’ve intentionally dropped a few break crumbs to suggest as much. Things like Mo sarcastically commenting on her coming over and eating his food or drinking his wine. Do we ever see the reverse? Their friendship is wonderful, and a true highlight of the show. But Mo wasn’t lying that being Zoey’s (or anyone’s) romantic emotional sounding board would be exhausting, given the love triangle. However, her relationship with Mo is where we also get to see some personal growth on her part. When his relationship with Eddie broke down, Zoey (with the help of her powers) helped him face his fears and not push away someone he loved. So it’s definitely a work in progress for Zoey.

None of these friendship inequalities make me think that she’s a terrible person. Part of the joy of the show is getting to see her grow, and you have to have imperfections to have such character growth. But I think seeing her grow will include seeing her recognize the things she has taken for granted – or even ignored – when it comes to the people around her. Now let me put my soap box away before you throw things at me.

WHAT ARE YOU EVEN THINKING?

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Lizzie: Like I would. I appreciate when you go on rants, especially Clarkeman related rants. Please do continue. Now, to focus on what Zoey did this episode in particular, not just about their relationship in general: she gave what was probably the best advice, go to the 6th floor if that’s what good for you (even if, in all honesty, it didn’t seem as heartfelt as it could have been) and then she seemed to resent him for it right away? Also, she barely even noticed the timing of when he was leaving! I know the girl has a lot of things on her mind, but he’s supposedly her best friend. You take your best friend out for lunch on his last day at work. Get him, I don’t know, a plant or something for his desk. You at least REMEMBER. Don’t you think, Jade? Do you think part of it was that she was so caught up in her family trouble or that she was deep into avoidance or what? How do we even begin to excuse Zoey?

Jade: Is she caught up in her family trouble? Absolutely. And something I noticed this time that I hadn’t noticed last time is that she also forgot her parents’ anniversary. That makes me give a little more leeway to her forgetting about Max leaving, because I do think it shows that there’s a lot going on with her right now. And when I step back and think about what she’s dealing with, my heart really goes out to her. I think it sucks for her to have forgotten Max was leaving, and I completely sympathize with Max’s hurt over it. But, man, she is going through a lot. He is also the person she said she couldn’t stand to lose, and maybe there was a sense for her that Max going up to the 6th floor would be like her “losing” him. It was implied in their conversation as he left, at least. Also, maybe I’m reaching, but I thought she was a bit quick to assume Max was probably miserable on the 6th floor, like part of her assumed he’d be running back down to her before they could even clear the lint out his desk drawer. Taking him out to lunch might make it seem like she was saying goodbye, which she didn’t want to do. It doesn’t make his pain any less valid. But I do think there was a fair bit of avoidance and even denial going on there.

AVOIDANCE 101

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Lizzie: I know this is mostly about Zoey and Max, as it should be, but let’s talk for a minute about how the minute Max was gone Zoey was 100% happy with being ALL IN with Simon, because it’s easier to ignore the fact that she has feelings for two guys when one of them is not in front of her. Though I will say that it says a lot that, in a way, she could only feel free enough to go all in with Simon when she felt like she was “losing” Max, in a way. Do you think she was just trying to let life make the decision for her, or something of the sort? Or is this another clueless Zoey thing? We know she’s not really in touch with her emotions, but she can’t be this blind, can she?

Jade: I don’t think it’s about her being blind, but I do think it’s about wanting to lose herself in something. Something easy. Something she doesn’t have to think about. Something she’d recover from if it’s lost. There’s also the fact that she said earlier in the season that she was afraid Simon was the one person who could understand what she’s going through. Turning to someone who can understand your pain…there’s some comfort in that. At the same time, I also think that connection is why she was so angry with him. At least in the specific way she was. Yes, she was angry, and she was lashing out at everyone. But her anger wasn’t totally random. It wasn’t like she was yelling at people for eating mustard on their hot dogs. She got mad at Howie for “denying” her some time with her dad. At Mo for not telling her what she wanted to hear about her romantic situation. At Max for “leaving” her and for being angry with her about her own behavior. And at Simon for being stuck in his grief. I don’t think she was angry just because that grief was getting in the way of her romantic aspirations. I think she was angry because part of her was scared that she would be like him one day. Unable to let that pain and grief go. Right now, looking ahead at the grief to come, she doesn’t know how she’ll get through it, and part of her is scared she won’t. The same thing that pushed her towards Simon also pushed her away. And notice that she mocked Simon by saying Max might be looking to the future, unlike him. It’s that very thing that will end up drawing her to Max in the finale. His confidence and willingness to embrace the future.

TO FIX OR NOT TO FIX

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Lizzie: This episode doesn’t end well for Zoey and Max, but why do you think it was so hard for her to reach out to Max to try to make amends when she easily did it with everyone else? A part of me thinks the stuff with Max was so much harder for her to face because it means so much more to her than all of the other dustups she had with people. Also, I think part of her fear is that – despite everything he has forgiven her for, it feels to Zoey like this might have been the breaking point. This time she might really have lost Max, and that’s just …too much for her to even comprehend. But why do you think – other than plot reasons – that she takes so long to just go talk to him?

Jade: Oh, plot is definitely part of it, but you’re right. Things are always hardest when they matter. But they’re also just so complicated with Max. It isn’t just about the things she said. It isn’t even just about her forgetting he was leaving. It isn’t just about the code or her grief. It’s everything. It’s a combination of all those things and more. Including her own conflicting and confusing feelings for Max, which she doesn’t know how to face and is scared to even try. Fixing things with Howie and Simon were easy; they could be wrapped up in five minutes at the end of an episode. And they were. One way you know the relationship with Max is the intended endgame OTP is that they didn’t wrap things up so quickly. They gave Zoey an entire episode to realize how deep the divide had grown between them, and that it wasn’t going away. To recognize that she’d really hurt him and that she needed to be the first one to take the steps to mend that rift. I was disappointed not to see them make up at the end, but it was handled differently because her relationship with Max is different. 

Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is available on streaming on Hulu, through the NBC app and on Peacock.

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