Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas is, in typical Zoey’s fashion, an equal parts emotional and just plain fun look at what happens after losing a loved one. In this case, it’s Zoey Clarke’s first Christmas without her father, so of course, she wants it to be perfect and just like it was before—which we all know it can never, ever be. Singing, dancing, and a whole lot of feelings ensue.
But there’s something in the background that’s both really, truly appreciated…and just…exhausting, to be honest.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has always, most notably through its musical numbers but really with every aspect of the storytelling, managed to hit me somewhere deep in my core. And I’d be willing to go out on a limb and say the series did that for a lot of people, regardless of where they come from or what they celebrate. There’s something universal in grief, transcendent in the way the choreography, sometimes with some of the simplest movement elements, looked at the human experience.
So, when I first heard that the film follow-up for a series that was canceled way too soon was going to be yet another Christmas movie, I felt like I’d been abandoned somehow. We don’t get a lot of—or really any—Hanukkah movies, while the likes of Netflix and The Hallmark Channel have a seemingly limitless supply of stories to tell about Christmas. Hallmark made an attempt at a couple in 2019, and they were not only godawful (and not in that fun, cheesy sort of way) but actually antisemitic as fuck.
Basically, hearing that Roku “saved” of Zoey turned out to be bittersweet. “Here we go again,” right?
But then, I got that warm, fuzzy feeling that only Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist has always consistently delivered: I’d been seen and heard. Because when he teased Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, Skylar Astin mentioned “I can hint at the fact that there is a bit of a Hannukah element with my character. And there’s a bit of a Hannukah ditty that I get to kinda go through.”
And so, I went in with high hopes. What I came out with was…all too familiar. Now, let me be clear before I go on: The familiarity, while kind of upsetting, also worked really well. Because, at the end of the day, this was Zoey’s Christmas story, after all. And if the series was always so good at being relatable, why shouldn’t Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas go ahead and tell it like it is? Sadly, “like it is” is just…the opposite of extraordinary.
Astin’s “Hanukkah ditty” turned out to be barely a few beats of “Hanukkah, Oh Hanukkah.” It was background noise on Christmas Eve, while a “bigger” plot point was playing out. Max didn’t get a full heart song for his holiday, and the part he did sing was more humming than clear lyrics. And we won’t even get into the fact that no Jew is singing that song on Christmas Eve on a year when the eighth candle was lit at sundown on December 5.
Throughout the film, the only person who really brings up the fact that Max is Jewish (besides Max himself, in a series of good-natured Jewish “in” jokes) is Mo. But he’s the perfect boyfriend throughout it all, supportive of Zoey when she asks him to help her with the ultimate Christmas…and who he is, what he believes, and what he already celebrated for eight nights? It’s a background ditty.
It’s frustrating to see, not because Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas gets anything wrong—but because it’s far too right. Take it from someone with Jews on one side of her family and Christians on another: Folks can’t even be bothered to look at a calendar to see when Hanukkah is; they just shoot back a “happy Hanukkah” in response to the annual “Merry Christmas” text. Just like SPRQ Point’s “non-denominational holiday sweaters” were very clearly coded toward the red and green, ugly Christmas sweater tradition, anything that claims to be for the “holidays” is really for one holiday and one only.
Our world jumps straight from Halloween (used to be straight from Thanksgiving) to Christmas, regardless of which holidays may fall in between. The rest of us can either get festive about it or be painted as killjoys. Your favorite Supreme Court Justice slash feminist icon was Jewish? Too bad. She’s going on a Christmas card. If you get mad about it, your’e a Grinch. You’re overreacting. Those pesky Jews are trying to control the world again.
You want to be included? Too bad. You’re now fuel for the FOX “News” War on Christmas nonsense.
In Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, if you’re paying particular attention to Max (which this Jew obviously did), you’ll catch several explicit reminders that he’s Jewish in the roughly hour and 40 minutes of runtime…Even one is more than what one would normally get. And thankfully, because this team has some sort of magical powers, even when Max drops the line quite a lot of us are feeling throughout the months of November and December—“See, the thing is, Christmas really means nothing to me…”—he is still seen in a positive, upbeat sort of light.
Because, really, we all love Max, don’t we? And he’s supporting Zoey through this whole thing, going all-in on doing a “Chris-mitzvah” for the woman he loves, whether the holiday is his thing or not. But wouldn’t it be nice if someone out there in the film world made us more than just “going along with what the people we love do” and showed them doing a mitzvah for us?
When Max hands over his Lego socks to Jack the Christmas tree guy, he tells him he’s “already had eight nights” and will be “fine” without the gift. But, like. We didn’t see, or get any other concrete reference to, those eight nights. If Zoey would’ve had three weeks of lead time before her holiday instead of two, Max could’ve been in the middle of his own. Toss a menorah in the background, catch Max singing that same “ditty” but as a spotlight instead of as an aside, and we go from breadcrumbs to an actual challah-day celebration.
(See, that’s me making a funny with the word “holiday” since challah is pronounced just right to fit there. And again, the above is based on the working assumption that Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas takes place in 2021/5782.)
But then again…Like Max, we’re used to having to say we’re fine when we get nothing. So, the crumbs were a whole lot of something. I’m not even saying it was a bad something. I’m just getting a little bit desperate for more.
Come to the Jew side. We have fried things and the chance to burn your fingers for eight nights in a row (as of the time I’m drafting this, your girl is four for four). Bonus points if you can figure out a way to make a pun with Mo’s name and sufganiyot. (Sufgan-mo-t?)