Welcome to our weekly column Can’t Miss Episode of the Week! Every Saturday we’ll be spotlighting a different episode of television from that week that we thought was exceptional and a must-see. Check back to see if your favorite show got the nod — or to learn about a new one! Spoilers ahead.
The first piece ever for this column was on the Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 2 finale, with a plea to NBC not to cancel the show. Now it’s about half a year later and the cancellation has happened, but so has a TV movie called Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, which dropped on December 1 on Roku (don’t worry, it’s a free app!), as a response to a campaign by fans to save this beloved show. The series, about a computer programmer named Zoey Clarke (Jane Levy) who experiences people’s thoughts and feelings through big musical numbers, left off on a major cliffhanger, and that is exactly where the movie picks up.
Season 2 ended with Zoey and Max (Skylar Astin, Pitch Perfect), thankfully (sorry Zoey and Simon shippers!), getting back together, but also with Max receiving Zoey’s powers–she sings him a full love song in the park. It’s now a couple of weeks later, and the first Clarke family Christmas without Zoey’s dad, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), who passed away in season 1. It’s especially tough since apparently, Mitch was all about Christmas. The longer run time lends itself to portraying all the complicated ins and outs of the holiday season. This is what the show does best–rousing musical numbers, a genuinely emotional arc about grief, and a hopeful resolution.
One bonus of Max getting the powers is that Levy gets to sing a lot, which results in a killer rendition of Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood,” where Zoey sings about how hurt and betrayed she is by her family’s decision to go their separate ways for Christmas this year. As Simon (John Clarence Stewart) puts it in one of his and Zoey’s classic chats about mourning, “there’s only two ways to approach it: either you go all in remembering your father, honoring him completely, or avoid it at all costs.” People grieve differently, and Zoey’s problem is that she’s the only one who wants to do the former approach, expressed to Max in a large choreographed dance number where she enthusiastically performs “We Need a Little Christmas.”
No one plays neurotic like Levy, and, after convincing her family to stay in town, Zoey is the picture of cringe as she goes overboard trying to make the perfect Christmas like her dad used to do. It leads to plenty of holiday shenanigans, but also a beautiful black and white (because Mitch loved old black and white Christmas movies) dream sequence where her dad comes to her to give her sage advice and also croons “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”–bring on the waterworks. It wouldn’t be Zoey without a significant Gallagher appearance.
The disastrous Christmas Eve dinner also allows Max to realize how hard it is to have the powers. When he hears the entire family sing Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” about how sad they all are, he understands the burden of having everyone’s emotional needs be put directly onto you. Zoey and Max broke up the first time because he felt the relationship was one-sided since she could see into his head, but now knows what she’s been going through. Finally in sync, the two sing a lovely duet of “Time After Time” by Cyndi Lauper, at the end of which Max loses his powers. He’s learned his lesson.
The Clarke clan decides to make some new traditions and shows up at Mo’s (Alex Newell, Glee) Carol-oke, a party for lost souls on Christmas with no place else to go. This and Mo’s opening number in the mall of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year,” which is an impressive one-take, stress what a tragedy it will be if this is the last we get of this amazing character. As everyone relaxes and enjoys themselves at Carol-oke, Zoey and Max speculate about why Zoey got the powers, and conclude that Zoey was “spending too much of my life hiding behind a computer screen, and the universe was trying to tell me it was time to look up.” It’s a perfect note to end on if this is the last we get of Zoey, but it’s also not a surprise. Anyone who’s been paying attention to this show has hopefully already figured this out.
What’s remarkable is how much this film feels like a regular episode of Zoey that just happens to be extra long. It’s coming soon enough after the cancellation that it hasn’t lost an ounce of the series’ signature tone, and includes every cast member (except Lauren Graham). We’ve all seen our fair share of movies made to finish up canceled TV shows that are just absolute train wrecks (ahem, Veronica Mars); thankfully this is not one of them. It’s a satisfying series finale if necessary (as opposed to the massive cliffhanger Season 2 ended on), but if the success of this movie leads to either more episodes or movies, that should be pretty easy to accomplish as well.
Other observations that we thought made this episode stand out:
- This is pure coincidence, but in a week where we’re mourning musical theater titan Stephen Sondheim, this movie is a wonderful tonic.
- Bernadette Peters returns as the fan-favorite Deb, a friend and fellow widow to Zoey’s mom Maggie (Mary Steenburgen), who is all ready to whisk Maggie off to a Hawaiian vacation for the holiday before Zoey intervenes.
- Zoey’s brother David (Andrew Leeds) and sister-in-law Emily (Alice Lee) have a hilarious plotline where they make a fake Christmas newsletter to send to a former law school friend of David’s who always brags about his perfect life in his–we all wish we could be this petty.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas, Streaming Now, Roku Channel