Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was, from the beginning, a labor of love. For creator Austin Winsberg, and for those of us who found catharsis, joy and even a bit of healing in the journey of Zoey and the Clarke family. And though Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas might – though never say never with this fandom – be the end of the road for these characters, the love and the light these characters have brought into the lives of fans cannot be understated.
Austin Winsberg understands this all too well, particularly because, for him, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is also a very personal story. We had a chance to talk to the man behind this show – and this Christmas movie – about the journey of putting your grief out there through art, the sheer scale of the musical numbers in the movie, and if there’s a chance for more stories in this universe, and though the interview went about twice as long as programmed, we still could have talked much more, without ever running out of words.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas is a continuation of season 2, yes, but it’s also a holiday movie. And in that respect, though there’s a bit of a Hallmark vibe to it, the movie is really about the same thing the show has always been about – Mitch, and how the Clarke family deals with his loss.
“I think that the first holiday without a loved one is such a hard one,” Winsberg shared before amending to “holiday season.” For him, though, it was even worse, as his father’s birthday was Christmas day, which made it so the entire first holiday season afterwards “was really rooted” in his father. This is a very personal experience that is, somehow, incredibly universal too. My first holiday season without my father was incredibly emotional, and gut-wrenching at times.
Early in the writing process, Winsberg was worried that telling his own very specific story of grief wouldn’t resonate with a wide audience. Later on, however, he realized that “the more specific” the story, “the more universal it becomes.” Particularly as “so many of us have dealt with loss, or especially dealing with loss now, during Covid.”
“Continuing to ask the question of how we move on, and what does that look like just felt like universal ideas we could all understand,” he shared, and the way to do that is, sometimes, by telling a very particular story – of a very specific time in the journey of grief.
This might have been a story that Winsberg would have wanted to tell before, but the logistics were never on his side. “When the show was on the air we never knew when it was going to air, so we couldn’t do a holiday episode, or a Valentine’s Day episode, or anything like that. So, when we got the idea (of) being able to tell a story that could be kind of a close-ended full holiday movie, using holiday songs and being able to tap into the real emotions of what that first Christmas and holidays are like, it just felt like it could kind of play on well with the Zoey world.”
And the movie starts off with a big number: “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which has been described as the biggest number in Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist so far. We needed clarification on that, because hey – “American Pie.”
“When I say bigger, I just mean, like, in terms of the number of people and the amount of space it covered. “American Pie” was something like six and a half minutes through the Clarke house, but I think there were only like 75 people total on the house while we were doing that number. But that number was so deeply emotional, and what was cool about that number was it showed passage of time as we were going through it and all the different departments were working together, like the lighting people were changing the lighting, the prop people were going into the rooms you couldn’t see and removing the buffet stuff from the tables, there were a lot of like different interactions from different departments all happening live.”
“In terms of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” I think it’s like two and a half minutes of one shot, without a cut, at a mall, but there are hundreds of dancers in there, everybody in that mall space was our own people.” Which means that, as you’re watching if “you look on the second and third floors and, on the escalators, and on the background, there are people dancing, so on the day there was a lot of logistics of getting everybody in sync.”
From there – take it from someone who’s watched it – the movie doesn’t get any less awesome, but it does focus more on the task at hand, which was, per Winsberg “dealing with what it means that Max has the powers and how that plays out over the course of the entire movie.”
But Max and the Clarke family trying to adjust to the holiday season isn’t all we can expect from Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas. “There were other threads that we kind of established throughout season 2, Mo and Perry’s relationship, this idea of Maggie maybe starting to consider the idea of dipping her toes back into the dating world, all that kind of stuff were threads that I felt were important to continue,” Winsberg told us.
Of course, the “challenge of the movie, besides having to do an entire movie incredibly fast,” and when he says incredibly fast, he means it. The whole thing, from pitch to release was only a four-month process” is not only to make the movie feel standalone and make it feel like a holiday film that people can watch year after year and that people can watch if they’ve never watched Zoey’s before, but also for the fans to make sure we’re continuing and wrapping up certain storylines that we had developed, so people don’t feel like they were left hanging.”
Plus, there are Easter Eggs, Austin promised – and I can confirm. Several ones that only long-time fans will get.
Winsberg, sadly, had no concrete answer. “I don’t know what Roku’s plans are going forward,” he told us, but he did add that “anything that the fans can do to show the enthusiasm and keep numbers high and make people believe there’s a real, continued appetite for all things Zoey, I think can only help. The more that we can spread the word, and get it out, and get people watching on Roku the better.”
So, Roku’s for everyone in our family this Christmas?
And worry not, there are more stories to tell. Plenty more. “The goal of the movie was to make it feel close-ended enough that if this was the last thing we ever did for Zoey’s, it could feel like we told some version of a complete story. But I think we end the movie with enough dot, dot, dot that it’s completely open for more, as well. So, it’s not like we shut the door on everything and there’s nothing more to tell.”
We even threw around some ideas. A Halloween special. A Valentine’s one. Those were my ideas. Austin had some even better ones. Zoey’s Extraordinary Proposal. Zoey’s Extraordinary Baby.
Can I have them all? Please?
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas is complete story. It ties up a great deal of lose ends. Or, as Winsberg put it: “I think it works in a close ended way, and if this is the end, it can play like the end, but it doesn’t have to play like the end.”
Say it isn’t the end, Roku. We beg you.