It pains me a little to title my Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×08 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Birthday” review such, and to be here to mostly talk about all the didn’t work about the episode. This show was a bright spot in my life during the pandemic, and season 1 really did a fantastic job with the complexity of human emotions. As someone who has lost a parent too, the way the show handled grief will forever be something I look to and point towards as an example of how to tell those stories with depth and kindness.
This, however, doesn’t mean that the show has any idea what it’s doing in season 2, either with the grief storyline, or worse of all, with the love triangle that wasn’t and then was, two things that end up affecting the likeability of the main character, and in turn, the way the show, in general is perceived.
Let’s start with the grief thing first, because I had given the show a wide berth in this regard. Grief is like the ocean, sometimes the waves are stronger, sometimes they’re barely there, and I wanted, and still want, Zoey’s mourning period to feel realistic. And it kinda did, at first. This episode features some beautiful and poignant moments where Mitch is very much present in spirit, and where the people in his life remember him and try to honor him. Except Zoey seems to have more feelings about …which man she wants to bang …than she has about anything else?
And don’t get me wrong, losing someone doesn’t mean you have to forget about who you want to bang, the endorphins are good, but a show that managed balance so perfectly in season 1 has, in my opinion, failed at showing the nuances of Zoey’s emotions in season 2. It’s like she’s only feeling A or B, and cannot possibly manage to feel both at once, and that’s not just very reductive, it’s also …not at all the way it works.
We can feel two or five things at the same thing and still go on. It’s a thing. It’s called living.
But, for me, the worst part of these last two Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist episodes has been the love triangle that is somehow still alive, and I want to really take a moment to explore why. This isn’t just me, a Clarkerman shipper, being upset the show chose the other ship. I’m a big girl who’s watched a lot of TV, sometimes you get your ship, sometimes you don’t, and if the story makes sense, you suck it up.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist makes no sense, and I think it’s important to analyze the reasons why, because, though I’m not a fan of love triangles (and we were repeatedly, in different moments, told that this love triangle was over), I believe the show erred not in keeping it alive, but in choosing a side and then changing tracks so quickly. A love triangle is a fragile thing, and if you’re gonna end it, you better make sure that’s the end – or that you properly explain the reasons why your character is backtracking – or you run the risk of having your characters look flaky (literally what we were told they were trying hard to avoid) or worse, mean-spirited.
That’s where we are right now, with everyone involved in this geometrical shape looking bad enough that I don’t want to root for them – together or separate. So let’s talk about what doesn’t make sense in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×08 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Birthday”:
MAX, JUST, IN GENERAL
The Max in this episode behaves in a way that seems not just out of character, but impossible. He’s got a thing for Rose, yes. Acceptable, not something to be too concerned about. Despite popular opinion, loving someone doesn’t mean you stop appreciating other people. It just means you made a choice, and presumably, Max had made one? Doesn’t mean he has to keep it, but I thought he was, you know, in love with Zoey? He sang many, maaaaaaaaaaany songs about it. So that he was willing to be like yes, I love you, but I also want to bang this girl so quickly was …eh …weird to say the least?
But he also did that after …bringing Zoey the sweetest present ever? So, he …did wait a lifetime for a moment like the one he had with Zoey’s, but banging the other girl is more important? I don’t get it. And you shouldn’t either. It makes no sense.
Their whole conversation – the pivotal moment in the episode – is just …weird. There’s no other word for it. Max never asks why she said she wanted to be him and now wants Simon, doesn’t care about reasons, he just basically goes CW love interest on her and pulls out the “If I love you, I have to be okay with you wanting to bang him” logic, which isn’t actually logic as much as it is lazy writing.
In fact, the only part of Max’s behavior this episode that makes some sense is when he gets upset with Zoey for confronting him with feelings he expressed in a “heart song.” It’s like, if I were standing in front of Chris Hemsworth, I’d also sing a heart song, and I promise you, that doesn’t mean I’m ready to throw my relationship in the trash for Chris Hemsworth. Max didn’t even seem to have realized his feelings for Rose till Zoey pointed them out, and his first instinct during that conversation is to ask Zoey if she’s ready to get back together, implying he is. Rose doesn’t matter then. If Zoey wants, he’s all in with her.
Except later the episode makes it seem like Max wanted Zoey to …give him an out, but also …promise to still love him and maybe, one day, when they’re done banging other people, marry him and have kids with him? And you cannot have your freaking cake and eat it too. No one can compartmentalize feelings like this.
ZOEY’S LOGIC (OR LACK THEREOF)
So Zoey has feelings for Max, presumably. She paused their relationship because she was having nightmares, her grief was choking her and it wasn’t fair to either of them to start the relationship like that. She needed to heal first so she could truly give her heart to the man she’d chosen. Or …did she pause it because she wanted to bang Simon, deep down? Right now, I’m not so sure, and that’s a horrible thing to say about the main character of this show.
Her reactions throughout this episode are all over the place. First she’s understandably upset about Rose, even jealous. Which, okay, normal, she was just banging Max not that long ago. But then she’s all like AHA, OPPORTUNITY! He wants to bang this girl, and I want to bang Simon so why don’t we get that out of the way and then, maybe, if the banging doesn’t go that well, I can go back to banging Max later! Totally normal, right?
Not to mention she basically goes omg this gift you gave me means the world to me I waited a lifetime for this moment we had together and literally sang a duet with you as you were singing a heart song, but have I mentioned I want to bang Simon? I have a mighty need, Max!
But that’s all good, cause Max is also not acting like a normal person with normal emotions, so he’s like yes, my love, go bang Simon, get it out of your system! We’ll be fine. And then, Zoey, in response, has to go have an inappropriate conversation with Tatiana to make sure the man who cheated on his fiancé with her before isn’t going to now cheat on his girlfriend with her. But all is well, Simon isn’t actually dating Tatiana, because plot contrivances and bad writing, so all is well! Free to bang!
There are only two options here that make sense and both make Zoey look horrible. First, she jumped into a relationship with Max without being sure, and then lied to him when they paused that relationship because she didn’t want to admit she just didn’t know if she was ready for that relationship – something that was categorically contradicted by, you know, everything we saw – or, she just loves the last boy who paid attention to her best, and Max hasn’t been paying that much attention.
Because the option the show seems to be presenting, which is …eh, she made a choice she was super sure about, then she paused the relationship because of grief related reasons and only that, but two seconds later changed her mind because people grow and change and relationships evolve in unexpected ways, doesn’t make one iota of sense considering what we’re actually seeing. If that’s what the show wanted me to believe, it failed in delivery.
Plus, I haven’t even gone into how unfair this is to Simon. Does Simon know she’s only there to bang him or does he think she’s giving this relationship a fair chance? (Max is the forever option, another interview confirmed) She owed it to him to be honest about her feelings before banging him, and she’s owed him the truth about her powers for a while, because as it stands she’s just emotionally manipulating him into thinking she’s this mythical creature who truly sees into his soul when she’s literally just reading his mind.
Either way, Zoey is our main character. We’re supposed to like her, we’re supposed to understand her, and above all, we’re supposed to root for her. Right now, however, all I feel is disappointment …and confusion. A lot of that.
I’m going to give Aiden more time than I have ever given him before because why in the world what why? He has a …crush on Zoey? Since when? He does know he had literally a thousand chances to confess this before, and he just …decided this was the best time? Not to mention the show had about a thousand chances to SET THIS UP, and they just said nah, we’re gonna pass on that, and then fell so in love with the idea of this song he was singing that they just went and did it anyway?
Talk about plot over characterization.
Aiden is a sweet kid, and I feel kinda bad that the character has become just a plot device, but I don’t particularly feel bad about the fact that this probably means we’re never seeing him again. I’ve get enough of a headache with two men in Zoey’s life, I don’t need to worry about a third.
Simon doesn’t get much of a chance to not make sense, as the episode is mostly focused on the ways Zoey and Max don’t make sense, but I’ll take a crack at it nonetheless. Simon, apparently, has feelings for Zoey. Not shocking, he’s had feelings for Zoey for a while, and he was a really good friend to her when she dating Max and what he needed from her was friendship.
Which means we should forget about the act that he was basically waiting for his friend to finish banging the girl so he could? Just trying to understand here. I mean, presumably he knows Zoey and Max took a break and why they took a break, so of course that sounds like just the go-ahead he needs to …start a relationship with Zoey? While she still hasn’t dealt with the grief that was so crippling, she couldn’t manage a relationship with Max? A grief he understands better than anyone, as it ruined his relationship with Jessica?
It all makes total sense. (Not)
But the biggest thing about Simon right now is simply that ..he doesn’t know about Zoey’s powers, and since he doesn’t know, he doesn’t get to react to things. In general he never does, even if he should, because, like, I thought Max was your friend, dude, at least ask where that stands before you go bang the girl! – which is why he’s a more sympathetic figure – but he especially doesn’t because he has no idea Zoey is reading his mind and, you know, emotionally manipulating him.
This makes it so Max is always the one to “start drama” when he asks common sense questions and Simon is always the “mature one” because the spotlight just …hasn’t been placed on him. It’s one of the ways in which the love triangle feels lopsided, and also proof that Simon has never truly been given a fair chance. He’s all Zoey has ever wanted, the man who truly understands her, the man who never, ever argues with her or makes her confront her all mistakes, or the ways she, sometimes, isn’t that great. That’s easy when he doesn’t …you know …know her.
And hey, I’d like to believe this is his fair chance, but he still knows nothing about Zoey’s powers, or her issues that are not grief-related (and she’s got plenty of those). All he has are cheesequakes and lust. Not a solid start to a relationship, not at all.
WHAT DOES MAKE SENSE
Just for the sake of saying something good I will say Mo always makes sense, okay? Make this show about Mo. I would watch that.
Also David and Emily. And Maggie, who is the emotional center of this show. Also, the baby. The baby’s cute. More of the baby, less of the love triangle.
Agree? Disagree? What did you think about Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist 2×08 “Zoey’s Extraordinary Birthday”? Share with us in the comments below!
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9/8c on NBC.