Pop Culture

Jane Levy and Skylar Astin on Zoey’s Extraordinary Comeback

The stars of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist are thrilled to return for a Roku Christmas movie, which Astin hopes is just the beginning: ““Zoey’s Extraordinary Valentine’s Day. Zoey’s Extraordinary Labor Day. I just see endless possibilities.”

This story contains spoilers for Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas.

When Jane Levy wrapped the second season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, she put all her things in storage in Canada—where the series shot—and told the cast and crew she would see them next year.

Then her NBC dramedy—about a computer programmer with the ability to hear people’s innermost thoughts through song—was unceremoniously canceled. “I was in shock,” Levy says in a video interview. “But I basically decided I was just really grateful the show happened in the first place, and that there’s nothing to regret.”

Less than a month later, Levy got another shock: The beloved series got a reprieve. The Roku Channel commissioned a movie —Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas—which debuts December 1. All 25 episodes of the show’s first two seasons are also now available on the Roku Channel.

“It was quite the roller coaster, and quite the turn around,” says Skylar Astin, who plays Zoey’s boyfriend Max on the series. Series creator and executive producer Austin Winsberg wrote the script in three weeks, and the movie wrapped at the end of October. Levy had just four days to prep before filming began. “That’s when I learned all the music numbers, hair, makeup, everything,” she says.

Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas finds Zoey dealing with the first major holiday since her father, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), passed away, while grappling with the season two finale reveal that Max also now has the ability to hear what the show calls “heart songs.” The movie features all the things fans have come to expected from Zoey: zany antics from the SPRQ Point crew (complete with SPRQ Point ugly Christmas sweaters, which Astin said the cast and crew got as wrap gifts), 13 big musical numbers (the movie kicks off with a one-shot take of “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year”), and a poignant look at grief as Zoey and her family continue to mourn Mitch.

Levy and Astin credit the groundswell of fan support for making the movie possible. “There was a positively relentless energy,” Astin says. “It was out of love. These fans love this show.” When the series was canceled, he adds, “I was upset for the fans because they really invested in this show, and we delivered a really cathartic story that ended on quite the cliff-hanger.”

Max gaining Zoey’s powers was a plot twist that had been in the works since the show’s first season. “There’s a lot of talk about where does this series go, in terms of the mythology and the superpower of it all,” Levy says. “So the season two ending set us up for season three, where we both have the power—and two people can hear each other’s thoughts. How does a relationship like that survive?”

Thanks to that revelation, Levy got to sing and dance a lot more in the movie than she had on the series. “It’s such a funny position to be in, because I am Zoey and this is Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. Yet I found myself being so jealous of my costars in seasons one and two. You guys get to show up, hang out with [choreographer] Mandy Moore for a couple of days, come on the set and make everybody happy; I just have to sit here and look like I’m reading your mind. I was really jealous. I was really eager to be able to do it myself.”

Initially, Max thinks it’s super easy to solve the problems he hears people singing about. “Max loves music,” Astin says. “It’s not surprising that he’s thrilled that he gets to hear Rihanna songs on his way to work.”

It isn’t until Christmas Eve dinner, when he hears how much pain Zoey and her family are in, that he feels the full weight of his ability. The movie ends with Max losing his powers, but understanding all that Zoey has been experiencing. “He was constantly so concerned with the inequality in the relationship,” Astin says. “Thinking she’s got some edge over him. But in reality, sometimes it was a burden that she had to deal with, and it was never fun and games.”

For Levy, it was really important to understand why Max got his power. “Zoey got this power when she was going through the hardest moment of her life. When you’re grieving, you can often feel pulled away from the world and because of her musical power she is forced to go into it,” she says.“You eventually have to let go and hear the melody in life, and let the music carry you literally and metaphorically.” Max’s newfound talent helps usher in a new chapter for both characters.

“I like to imagine that her dad gave Max the power so that they could actually work as a couple, and she can be brave enough to love again,” Levy says. “Max getting the power allows them intimacy and closeness.”

The pivotal scene where Zoey and Max sing “Time After Time” as Max loses the power was filmed at the same Vancouver location that served as a backdrop for season two’s premiere and finale. Levy and Astin went to the park on their day off without any crew, just to work through all the logistics of the intricate scene. “We just did the dance full-out a couple of times, and just made sure we were comfortable with the actual bench and the actual concrete and the wind,” says Astin. “That location is beautiful, but it can be a little challenging in terms of weather.”

Peter Gallagher also returns in a dream sequence to croon “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and dance with Zoey while imparting fatherly advice. “The thing I love the most about the show was the relationship between Zoey and her father,” Levy says. “It just felt so universal, that need to be loved and comforted by your parent, and what it feels like to lose that. I think we all can relate. It’s just so human.”

While Levy and Astin are extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity to bring closure to Zoey’s story, both of them can also see a future with more Zoey movies.

“I think with these characters, we’ve now grown to understand them and we can kind of put them anywhere—whether it’s the backdrop of Christmas, or whether it’s the backdrop of vacation,” Astin says. “Zoey’s Extraordinary Valentine’s Day. Zoey’s Extraordinary Labor Day. I just see endless possibilities for the future.” At the same time, “if this is the end, we’re very grateful that we were able to continue this journey. But they know exactly where to find me. I would sign up to do more. We all really love doing this show.”

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