It’s a truly remarkable show that can switch from drama and comedy from one episode to the next with a deft touch; it’s even more amazing when a show can manage it within a single episode. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist manages just that in the fifth episode of the season, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Trip.”
After an episode that was mostly filler (but not in a bad way) last week, this week starts delving into some deeper issues for some of the supporting characters. Most notably, the fifth episode launches Simon’s story, as he has to come to terms with his new responsibilities as SPRQ Point spokesperson and his moral imperative not to be used to smooth over the racism and lack of diversity within the company. Max and Mo are also struggling to get the capital to launch their new business venture, while Max deals with a strained parental relationship. Maggie and Jenna hit an impasse in their relationship. And, oh yeah, Zoey herself gets high as f*** in yet another attempt to avoid her grief.
It’s a lot for one episode, with emotional highs and lows. So let’s get to it, shall we?
Flying High – And Crashing
Zoey’s been really struggling with her grief this season, trying various measures to cope. This week, she tried some recreational drugs. Now, whether you think drugs are a good time to be had by all or Satan’s doorbell, the fact is that Zoey is not choosing healthy measures to cope with her loss. She’s running and hiding. She’s distracting. She’s trying everything under the sun short of dealing with it.
This week, her method was to take a few drugs and rebel for a while. And to be fair, this particular coping measure led to some hilarity. (Not to mention a fantastic musical number.) But it’s still not healthy. It’s not healthy for her to continue to run from her grief. And, ultimately, it’s harming her – and the people around her.
Before I continue, I want to make one thing very, very clear. I adore Zoey. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t love watching her every week. I wouldn’t love the show as much as I do. And, frankly, I wouldn’t devote a fraction of the time I spend thinking about the show on a weekly basis. I love Zoey, and – what’s more – I sympathize with her.
That said, Zoey isn’t perfect – and the show is better for it. The series would be pretty boring if she didn’t have any room (or need) to grow. And I have a lot of faith in Austin Winsberg, series show runner, that he has a grand plan. That all of her most glaring flaws are intentional. That the show intends to one day address them, making Zoey own up to them. Learn from them. Grow from them.
As much as I love Zoey, there are a couple issues with her behavior that have been consistent over the season (or series) but were particularly glaring this episode. Of course, the first is her continued reluctance to deal with her grief in healthy ways. That is one flaw that I have no doubt the show will address. Just as she came to realize that “just stop caring” isn’t a positive – or practical – personal philosophy. The other flaw is less overt, and so it’s less clear whether it’s intention. And if unintentional, whether the show will ever address it and rectify it.
What’s in a Friendship?
Zoey is not always as good a friend to others as they are to her. I don’t hate her for it. I certainly don’t think this trait makes her inherently evil or undeserving of sympathy. But it is a trait that has repeatedly been demonstrated within her character. And it was certainly on display this week.
One thing she really must learn is that, as terrible as her situation is – and it is terrible – life goes on. Others around her have their own struggles and pain. As they’ve been there for her, she should be there for them.
Now, maybe fans would be willing to forgive her for some things, because she’s grieving. Maybe she can be forgiven for not always being there for others. For example, for not being there for Mo while he deals with his breakup with Eddie. Maybe that would be okay, as Mo hasn’t demonstrated a particular desire for Zoey’s support.
Except that she wasn’t really emotionally supportive of Max, either, while he deals with his issues with his father. And he very much made it clear he wanted her help. (She did make a joke about being there for him and the sweet, sweet dental floss. Girl is serious about oral health.) Maybe she could be forgiven for that, because she at least showed up for Max. She attended the meeting.
Except she definitely wasn’t there for Simon, either. And he’s not just her friend; he’s her employee. Yes, he called when she was tripping, so it was a bad time. But she never followed up. Called him back. Reached out. And he was definitely struggling with something personal and professional. Her certainly could have used her help. Or at least her friendship. She wasn’t there for him this episode, when he’s been there for her all season.
Zoey’s losing herself in her grief. That’s totally understandable to a point. But her actions still impact those around her. They impacted George last week, when she put herself in a position to have to fire him twice in two days. They impacted Simon this week, when he could have used her as a friend and a boss. And, frankly, they’re going to impact her professionally, because – as Simon’s boss – she should have been aware of this issue before it blindsided her at a press conference.
Simon’s story was certainly the deepest of the episode. After discovering that their technology doesn’t recognize black and brown faces as accurately as white faces, Danny Michael Davis tasks him with smoothing things over with the press. Simon is basically responsible for covering up the very racism and disparate treatment that he is likely to be a victim of in the future. It leaves him with a moral dilemma – to call out the problem (and put his job at risk). Or to be a good little soldier, covering up the problem in the hope he may one day be in a position of power to do change it.
It isn’t a problem with an easy solution, and Simon certainly deserves compassion for his struggle. Fortunately, he had the support and advice of Mo and Tatiana to help him with his dilemma. They provided differing viewpoints to demonstrate the pros and cons of either course of action. I only hope that this support system continues to remain part of the show. Particularly since Zoey is otherwise distracted and did not give Simon the attention and consideration he needed (and deserved) as her friend this week.
From a shipping standpoint, as well, I hope Tatiana sticks around for much longer. Is it just me, or is there something significant in the fact that Simon turned to Tatiana for advice and counsel at all? She is a reporter, after all. If he’d made the decision to cover up the issue in the hopes of playing a long game, she could have blown the lid off the problem anyway. It showed the depth of trust he’s placed in her in a short amount of time.
Plus, I’m still not convinced his invitation to the karaoke cleanse wasn’t a date. I see you, Simon. I see you.
Fathers and Sons
The final major plot of the episode pertained to Max and his dad. Earlier in the season, Max told Mo that he hadn’t heard his father ever say he’s proud of him. The strain in their relationship was certainly on display this week.
As much as I loved seeing the relationship between and Zoey and Mitch, the sad truth is that not every parent/child relationship is so strong. Or so supportive. Parents and children can be estranged, and while this can be due to intentional cruelty, that isn’t always the case. Sometimes parents just don’t know how to show the love they feel.
I suspect this is the case with Alan and Max. It isn’t that Dr. Richman doesn’t care about his son. He simply doesn’t understand him. He can’t relate to him, so he doesn’t know how to show him how he feels. Even in trying to demonstrate his support, he denies what Max really needs. He doesn’t just need his dad’s monetary support, given with almost an expectation of failure. He wants his dad to believe in him.
Because I’m sure there really is love there, these two can eventually find a way to bridge the gap. Perhaps they never will see eye-to-eye, but they can come to understand each other. And maybe in so doing, Max can – and will – find the self-confidence he sometimes lacks.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Tuesdays at 8/7c on NBC.