For more than a decade, musical TV shows have fought to break through, with the notable exception of “Glee,” which had the most success even as it struggled to keep the high school story going ? and interesting — after high school.
Other attempts at musicals include “Smash," “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Galavant” and “Soundtrack,” which just hit Netflix last month. Then there was “Eli Stone,” the easily forgotten two-season series starring Jonny Lee Miller as a San Francisco lawyer who has hallucinations set to George Michael songs.
Enter “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” the latest attempt by a major network, in this case, NBC, to attract a long-term audience through its eyes and ears, with a music-based show featuring a coder who, after an earthquake during her MRI, finds she can hear everyone’s inner thoughts through song.
In “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” Jane Levy (“Suburgatory,” “What/If”) plays Zoey, the main character who suddenly finds herself saddled with this unexpected gift. Her goals change quickly, from figuring out why she has this ability to figuring out what to do with it. Like most heroes, Zoey has to be convinced to save the world (or, you know, help her agoraphobic neighbor), but she gets there.
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” branches out musically to the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Van Morrison, a laugh-out-loud clip of “Jesus Chris Superstar” and, at co-star Skyler Astin’s suggestion, the Jonas Brothers’ “Sucker,” turned into the siren song of a lovesick best friend.
“When musicals work, it’s supposed to look easy and not make you think too much about what the heck’s going on in front of you,” Astin told the Daily News. “My job is to make it seem seamless.”
Astin, who cut his teeth at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts before making a name for himself in “Pitch Perfect” and the final season of “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” knows how to steal a scene, but he’s surrounded by a cast just as proficient in the art as he is: Alex Newell, playing Zoey’s gender fluid neighbor Mo, came straight from the halls of “Glee” and John Clarence Stewart, whose Simon makes up the third leg of the requisite love triangle, knows he can light up a room with his smile.
Even the secondary characters — Zoey’s parents (Mary Steenburgen and Peter Gallagher), boss (Lauren Graham) and co-workers, led by Michael Thomas Grant and his wildly absurd rendition of DJ Khaled’s “All I Do Is Win” — get their songs and their time.
Some songs are huge numbers, with backup singers and choreography. Others are ballads, especially those performed by Gallagher’s Mitch, who is suffering from Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a rare neurological disease that has left him practically catatonic. But through Zoey’s new “gift,” Mitch has a way to be heard.
“Not a lot of musical shows would deal with, as a major storyline, death,” Astin told The News.
It seems like a lot, but through the first four episodes, screened by The News, the storylines intermingle well enough that it works. And Gallagher’s storyline in particular, based on executive producer Austin Winsberg’s own father, who died of the disease years earlier, sticks the landing for the sweet but cheesy message.
“Music,” Astin said, “is a universal language.”
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” premieres Tuesday at 10 p.m. on NBC, then moves to Sundays at 9 p.m. on Feb. 16.