It’s rare for a highly anticipated movie to deliver on fans’ high hopes. Which makes Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas even more…well, extraordinary. Not only is it a rare resurrection from television show purgatory (since it is a continuation of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which was abruptly cancelled on NBC after two seasons), but it actually managed to deliver on everything we’d hoped for.
Well…almost everything, at least.
Love Is All Around
As I’ve written before, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was a show about grief, but at its heart, it was really about love. Love in all its forms. And so it’s only right that, more than anything, love was the cornerstone of Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas. Yes, that of course refers to Clarkeman. (And don’t worry. I’ll get to the Clarkeman of it all.) But it was also demonstrated in the relationship between Mo and Perry. David and Emily. In Maggie, who had previously decided to try to open her heart up to love once more and now seemingly had the opportunity to dip her toe back in those waters. And even in the SPRQ Point crew trying to spare Zoey’s feelings about her (lack of) Holiday plans.
But we all know that Zoey’s wouldn’t be Zoey’s if the combination of humor and heart wasn’t topped off with a large dollop of secondhand cringe. And Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas certainly delivered. Several characters had moments where I wanted to hide my face while giving everyone involved a giant hug.
Born to Shine
Most notably, there was Mo’s plotline with Perry. Mo is a character who was born to stand in the spotlight. In fact, Alex Newell has stolen more than one scene over the course of the show through a combination of charisma and talent. There’s a reason Mo has been a fan favorite character since the first season! But Mo is also wonderfully flawed, and in the movie, this was all too apparent when he found himself unable to squelch his desire to take his position on center stage. Although he had good intentions, he ended up taking over Perry’s daughter’s school recital.
But even as Zoey’s sets up secondhand cringe, it also has never failed to surprise fans. And I admit, I was pleasantly surprised by the resolution to Mo’s story. Not that he realized his error and made it up to Amirah. Mo may sometimes get blinded by the limelight, but there’s no question he’s genuinely a good person who means well. But I was pleasantly surprised that the movie didn’t use the plot as an opportunity to create a schism between Mo and Perry. It ducked the obvious drama. While Perry wasn’t thrilled about Mo’s behavior, he addressed his disappointment with understanding and love.
Is it any wonder I came to love these two in the second season of the show?
It’s Not Easy Being Green
And speaking of couples I adore… Not to be dramatic, but I would die for David and Emily. I just can’t help but love these two, as individuals and a couple. And I think a lot of people can relate to their story in the movie. Well…at least, fans can probably relate to their jealousy about the picture-perfect curated Christmas letter from their old law school frienemy. We do live in the age of curated “candid” lives on Instagram. I grant few people would handle their jealousy in quite the same way. And I suspect renting a green screen and claiming to have all but won a Nobel Prize wasn’t quite what Max had in mind when he suggested a slight bending of the truth.
He should have known how far it would go, though. When David and Emily go all in, they go all in. And let’s be honest. If anyone could climb Mount Everest with a baby stroller, it really would be Emily – with David rooting her on. In the end, David realized an important lesson, but that didn’t stop them from sending the outlandish Christmas letter anyway. I don’t blame them. They did go through the trouble of renting a green screen, after all.
But let’s be clear on one thing: David and Emily don’t need to stretch the truth further than Mister Fantastic can reach to lead an enviable life. They have a life and a love that would make anyone a little jealous. They may not realize how fortunate they are, but fans do, and we love them for it.
That said, I want to take this opportunity to beg for more flashbacks of David and Emily, showing how they fell in love. And how they reconnected after their chance meeting in the hospital. And how David (or Emily!) proposed. Just…All of it. When it comes to David and Emily, I want all of it.
Learning to Love Again
Mitch and Maggie were so often the heart of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, and over the course of the series, we watched that heart break. And make no mistake about it: Maggie might have decided to open herself up to love again, but her heart is still broken. After all, wanting to do something and being able to do something are two different things. But – to Maggie’s credit – at least she knew she wasn’t quite ready yet. Even if part of her wants to be.
Like Zoey, I found Maggie’s mild flirtation with Jack to be bittersweet. As someone who loves Maggie, I want her to find love and happiness again. It’s what Mitch would have wanted, as well. And the thing is…I liked Jack. His reaction to the socks was a little unusual. And his breaking of the snow globe was unfortunate. But I liked him.
Still, much as I liked him…he wasn’t Mitch. And for someone who never had the largest part, Mitch was always the lifeblood of the series. So it’s impossible not to mentally compare the two. Still, as “not Mitch” as Jack was, I would be open to his return in future movies or seasons. As a fan, I want Maggie to be happy. It’s just going to take time.
In the meantime, Zoey’s going to have to be much, much more careful in warning Maggie about online dating profiles. They allow everything online, Maggie! Everything.
Holding On and Letting Go
While Maggie struggled to move forward, Zoey also wrestled with the question of how to honor the past without holding on to it. Although in her case, it was less about romance than memories of the holidays she used to spend with her father. Apparently (and unsurprisingly), Mitch always made the holiday season special, and Zoey wasn’t quite sure how to navigate the first Christmas without him.
As someone who has lost a parent, this was the most sympathetic and wrenching part of the movie. For the Clarkes, navigating this first season without Mitch was an inevitability. But that doesn’t make it easy, and sometimes the easiest way to deal with those difficult emotions – the poignancy of memories of Christmases past at a time of the year that is so focused on love and family – is to run from them. So it isn’t surprising that the Clarkes would initially wish to do the latter, intending to scatter for the holiday so they (theoretically, at least) wouldn’t have to think about the Christmases that Used To Be.
And to be fair, it wasn’t that long ago that Zoey would have probably done the same. But at the end of the second season, she decided to stop running from her grief. She decided to embrace the future – in her love with Max, to be sure, but also in general. Which didn’t make the question of how to honor the past versus holding onto it an easier one for her. For a good portion of the movie, she veered more toward the latter for that reason.
But ultimately – and with a little help from her dad – she realized that the best way to honor Mitch’s memory was for the Clarkes to remember him, to love him, but to create their own traditions moving forward. When it comes to carrying on after losing someone you love, that isn’t just the best you can do. Sometimes it’s all you can do. You have to move forward, and recreating past memories will never been entirely successful. Not just because nostalgia tends to wear rose-tinted glasses, but because part of what made those memories special was the presence of the one who is gone.
I certainly hope this isn’t the last we see of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, but if it is, I can’t be anything less than overjoyed at the payoff for Zoey as a character. How far she’s come over the course of two seasons and a movie. Yes, she still has more to learn. And, as I’ve written before, her experience with and healing from grief will likely ebb and flow, rather than operating in a straight line.
But as a fan, I want to stop back and acknowledge how far her personal growth has taken her already. Just look at the personal connections she’s made and deepened since the Pilot episode. With Mo, but also with the SPRQ Pointers. And that connection wasn’t a one-way street, either. Could you imagine the SPRQ Point crew being so considerate of her feelings about the holidays in the first season? How far they’ve all come from where they started.
Love of a Lifetime
And nowhere is Zoey’s growth more apparent than in her relationship with Max. As a Clarkeman fan, the second season had its rough moments on my shipper heart. But the dynamic between Zoey and Max in Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas? It was the perfect gift for fans. Domestic Clarkeman! Supportive Max! Zoey and Max just enjoying their love for each other – a love that was built, first and foremost, on a deep friendship! It is both all I could have hoped for and yet not nearly enough. (It will never be enough for me, so if The Roku Channel could be kind and give us another movie or season, fans would love them even more than we already do. And fans already love them a lot.)
Through all their ups and downs over the course of the show, one thing is undeniable: Zoey and Max love each other. So. Much. And as much satisfaction as it brought to see how much Zoey had grown over the course of the series and movie, it was equally gratifying to see Max’s epiphany about her powers. He always struggled with the inequities caused by her abilities, but now he’s come to understand the toll they take on the bearer of them.
It was an important lesson to learn – and likely the reason he got her powers to begin with. I’m a bit torn on how I feel about him losing that powers for that reason. That his experience as a superhero should be short-lived isn’t entirely a surprise. This is Zoey’s story, after all. But their shared powers left open the door for so much humor, drama, and sexy-flirty fun. I’m a little sad that period is over.
Still, I’m consoled by two undeniable facts: 1) Fanfiction exists (and the Zoey’s fandom is insanely talented in that arena), and 2) the powers can always return to Max if the plot dictates. As suddenly as they came and went the first time. After all, the Universe works in mysterious ways, and if the Universe thinks Zoey and Max’s relationship could be strengthened by more sexy-flirty mashup fun…cough cough, wink wink…?
A gal can dream!
So What’s the Downside?
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas as such a perfect conclusion/hopeful continuation of the series (and such a love letter to fans), there really was only one source of disappointment. As beautiful as the movie was, it was sad not to see more of certain characters from the series. I had hoped to see more of Simon, Tobin, and Leif. I would have loved to see Joan return.
Sadly, it appears their absence was outside of show creator Austin Winsberg’s control. The movie came together very quickly and was shot in only fifteen days. It’s truly unfortunate that some of our favorite actors had scheduling conflicts for that period and were unable to have more significant appearances in the movie.
Just one more reason to hope for another movie or continuation of the series, I suppose!
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas is available to watch for free on The Roku Channel.