A lot is different for Zoey (Jane Levy) on season two of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Picking up six weeks after the death of Zoey’s father (Peter Gallagher), the NBC musical dramedy returned earlier this month with Zoey sans her power to hear other people’s thoughts portayed as elaborate musical numbers. Of course, there would have been a fan revolt if her power had stayed dormant for long—and it was only a few commercial breaks before her coworkers (including guest star Harvey Guillén of What We Do In The Shadows) were serenading her with “Hello, Dolly!”
Just before heading back after winter hiatus, Jane Levy spoke to The A.V. Club for today’s episode of our podcast Push The Envelope. She touches on the show’s time jump, Zoey’s intimate duet with Max (Skylar Astin), and what we can expect from the rest of the season—including Guillén performing some Britney Spears. Listen to the full interview here on today’s Push The Envelope—which also features Editor-in-Chief Patrick Gomez and TV Editor Danette Chavez discussing the Critics Choice Awards’ TV drama nominees—or read some highlights from the conversation below.
The A.V. Club: You all got to experience filming season one in in kind of isolation—you had had this completed project that you just presented to the world. And now, to come back for season two, was that added pressure?
Jane Levy: I was pretty stressed out when we were making the first season. But now I sort of feel like I have my bearings.... It’s cool for me, as well, to read the scripts and watch the show grow and develop and shift, because what we saw episode two is Zoey joining in on the musical numbers, and in new ways. And that’s really exciting for me because we’re halfway through season two and we’ve shot 97 musical numbers. So that’s a lot. And I am constantly in conversation about how can we have Zoey join in in creative way.... Because I’m in so much of this show, there isn’t that much time for me to rehearse, so I can’t really be in the rehearsal process for the other actors’ musical numbers. So for me to get involved is a little bit tricky. I usually have to learn my path on the day.
The A.V. Club: Tell us about filming that duet love scene with Skylar Astin for episode two.
JL: This is one of those examples where I feel like it used all of our show’s strengths in a really smart way. You know, Skyler is highly trained in musical theater, and he has done many shows on Broadway, and if there’s anyone that can do a mash up of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” and Boyz II Men, it’s definitely him.... That was all highly choreographed. You know, sometimes we do musical numbers where there’s room for improvization like “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” There’s certain numbers where there’s room for that. But in this one, every single moment was choreographed, including my reactions, which it’s not always like that. And it was really fun. It took a day and a half. Usually we shoot musical number in a couple hours.
AVC: I’m sure obviously a lot of times it’s a recording, but everyone is still singing live because of the lip synching. Sometimes they are literally inches away from your face and you have to choose how to react to that...
JL: You know, it’s funny. This is the question that comes up the most. And I and I don’t have a great answer. Every time I answer this question, I’m like, “God, I sound like such an imbecile.” Like, “Let me tell you about my process...” I’ll take it as a compliment that this comes up, because I hope it means that people like it or something. But, you know, I take my acting powder that morning and I put it in my smoothie, and I blend it up, and I drink it. No, I’m kidding.... Usually the music is playing to they’re either acting to me or, oftentimes, we shoot my reactions after the musical number so that the actor has all the time that they need to be able to do this thing. That’s quite hard, and then sometimes they’re tired, so sometimes someone will stand in for them. And I’ll be acting to, oftentimes, the choreographers who know the movements.... I think because this power comes from Zoey, these songs come from Zoey.... So I just try to make it personal.
AVC: Your showrunner, Austin Winsberg, has said that he is intrigued with the idea of exploring the mythology behind Zoey’s power, but that he doesn’t really feel it’s necessary to spend a lot of time diving into it—at least not currently. But how much time have you spent discussing that mythology?
JL: A lot, I think about it all the time, and I don’t agree with Austin in this regard. I really think it would be great and fun and interesting to explore that. And maybe he doesn’t mean forever, but it’s just not on the the to-do list for the time being. But I think it’s incredibly important because in season one, we saw her get this power at this really pivotal time in her life, where she’s losing someone. And I think that’s very connected.
AVC: We pick up with season two after a time jump, Zoe is going through an immense amount of grief. What discussions did you have about the time that the audience doesn’t get to see?
JL: Well, there was a lot of parallels between that and what was happening in the world at large. Zoey has been living with her mom. She hasn’t really left the house for six weeks, and season two opens with her sort of having to reenter the world. I think that was sort of a nod to the pandemic. I think the other point of that was to tell the story that a musical number—that a heart song—hasn’t been sung to her since her dad died. So, for me, it was a little meta in that I had just been home for six months and hadn’t seen any of my friends or costars. I think that the the main thing that happens at the beginning of the season is that she hears a heart song again—a very big, loud one. And it’s all directed right at her, and is very funny.
AVC: It’s also funny knowing that Harvey Guillén was going to have an arc on the show, but have him just be someone in that number with super fun.
JL: I’m so I’m like giddy that we got Harvey. He is so much fun to act with and he sings Britney Spears. I hope that’s not a big deal that I just share that.... I’m not gonna tell you which song, but he.... Can I swear?
AVC: Oh, yeah. Go for it.
JL: He fucking kills it. We all were like, “Damn.” I personally can’t wait to see it.
AVC: What else can we expect from the season?
JL: Zoey turns 30 this year.... There is an episode about racism at SPRQPOINT. And John Stewart performs some of the most amazing musical numbers I’ve seen on the show.... Zoey may or may not get high on drugs....
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