Cue the music. The secret is out!
Mid-way through the first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, Max (Skylar Astin) has finally learned what Zoey’s (Jane Levy) has been hiding since the series premiered. In NBC’s musical dramedy, coding whiz Zoey hears people’s innermost thoughts and emotions through songs and big production numbers only she can see. This led to some extremely awkward moments when she learned, via David Cassidy’s “I Think I Love You” and the Jonas Brother’s “Sucker” (naturally), that Max has been quietly in love with her for quite some time.
Ever since his melodious confessions, Max couldn’t figure out why Zoey has been acting so strangely around him. But tonight Zoey finally confessed what’s been going on in her head after Max serenaded her with a flash mob version of Shawn Mendes’ “If I Can’t Have You.”
Paste TV had a chance to talk to Skylar Astin—who began his career as Georg in the Tony Award winning musical Spring Awakening—about tonight’s pivotal episode, what’s next for Zoey and Max and the “Zoe-ality” of it all.
Paste: When did you know that Max was going to learn Zoey’s big secret?
Skylar Astin: One or two episodes in [series creator and executive producer] Austin Winsberg told me you’re going to find out about the powers and concurrently you are going to sing as Max and not as “Zoe-ality” Max.
Paste: What’s “Zoe-ality?”
Astin: That’s a term we’ve coined internally for our show to distinguish between when we’re shooting a scene that’s in Zoey’s point of view where there could be musicals existing and reality which is where everyone else lives.
Paste: Max gets to sing Shawn Mendes “If I Can’t Have You” but the big reveal is that it’s a flash mob happening in real life.
Astin: The fact that Max gets to sing a song in reality is very very different and we were like, “How does he do that?” We can’t make him that good. That would be weird. “Oh Max you’re in love with me but also you’re a really good singer.”
Paste: So what did you do differently to sing as actual, real-life Max?
Astin: I straight-toned a lot of the singing. We talked about doing purposeful off-key stuff but that would feel like a mistake and it would tip away the whole idea that Zoey doesn’t realize Max is singing in real life. So we figured a really easy karaoke style cover no embellishment. If I was doing that song in, say, the second episode, and it was more of a “Zoe-ality” confession, there would be some embellishments I would do. I always honor the original but always like to add my flair to it and I’m sure I would be able to do that had I been singing in “Zoe-ality.”
Paste: Were you rooting for Max to find out about Zoey’s secret?
Astin: Any time a show has a super power or something, you definitely want to be in the know. It’s always fun to play the secret but that can become a little redundant. It adds another dimension to Max and Zoey’s relationship, and that’s what I loved the most. When I originally got offered the part I asked Austin very plainly, “Is Max going to get out of the office? I love that he’s the best friend but I don’t want them just to be work friends. If he is her real best friend he would know her parents.” And Austin was always in agreement with me. We always saw Max the same way.
Paste: How is this knowledge going to change Max’s relationship with Zoey?
Astin: It’s another notch in Max’s belt that makes him a little more different from every other relationship in her life. But It’s a very difficult thing for Max to do. There’s a lot of pride swallowing Max has to do and kind of put himself aside. He doesn’t really know what the power looks like and what it sounds like. He has to trust that with everything that’s going on in her life with her powers and with her father that maybe it isn’t the best time for a relationship. Max really cares about Zoey and I think he also has a lot of faith in the relationship but I think moving forward his patience may run dry. I wonder what that looks like for Max when he starts to go inward, and think about what does this all mean for him because right now he’s processing everything that’s going on with Zoey. When he’s actually able to focus on himself and go, “Okay what do I do now?” I think that’s when it’s going to prove a little complicated for Zoey and him moving forward. I don’t think they can just do movie night knowing that he has these feelings.
Paste: We are a little more than half-way through the season. What can fans expect as the show heads towards its first season finale?
Astin: They can expect is just a deepening of Max and Zoey’s relationship. Now that all the cards are out on the table and it’s not just some office crush and she’s not hiding her powers from him. Now there’s no place to hide, there’s no excuses. That will definitely deepen their understanding of their connection and their relationship.
Paste: You get to sing and dance to so many different genres in this show. Have you had a favorite so far?
Astin: There’s two things that I do in the last episode that I love but I can’t talk about! I really did love both parts of “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” [in the March 15 episode] because I got to do a song and then a reprise of that same song which I always love in musicals.
Paste: You come from a Broadway background, what’s challenging about doing these big musical numbers for television?
Astin: I think the only thing that’s a challenge for all of us, in every department, is the timeline. We are constantly moving forward. We don’t finish an episode and then get a break and then get to rehearse for the next episode. We actually are rehearsing for the next episode during the current episode. It’s not like a classic musical rehearsal period. We kind of have to squeeze it in. And we are doing all genres. That’s what I think is so great about our show. It’s not a pop show. It’s not musical theater. It’s like everything in between—rock and roll, R&B—the genres cover everything that a human emotional scale would. Sometimes I can be soaring operatically so I could be singing Andrea Bocelli while doing jetes across the floor.
It’s a common misconception that film and TV make things smaller, but I think it’s filling a room with your performance. There are different things you have to do to adjust for camera to make sure your performance reads. The way we do things on this show that’s different from other musical shows is that we do a lot of one shots which means the camera just does not cut and you really feel like you’re in the room with Zoey. That’s why I think our show looks a little bit different than other musicals.
Paste: Backing up a bit, how did you get this part?
Astin: I felt so fortunate because Austin always had me in mind for Max. That is rare that I get a call from my representative saying, “Hey it’s a straight offer and I actually think you’re going to love it.” And so I read it and Austin and I hit it off right away when we met. He said that Max had a lot of him in it and he always thought that if there was going to be a TV or movie version of him that I was going to play him so I was fortunate enough to always be in his head. He knew my work. We had gone to the same performing arts camp years apart and we bonded over that.
Paste: TV musicals can be tricky. Did you have any hesitation about joining the show?
Astin: I just wanted to hear where he could go with the stories because if you read the pilot on paper it can be limiting. There’s a worry of is it just going to be the same beat all the time? I wanted to hear the mythology and the rules. I think any time there’s a universe with superheroes or anything like that there has to be rules and we’ve been able to make them and even break them at times and so I really saw that there was a real future for the show. And Jane Levy being attached. She was the only cast member at that time who was attached. I’ve always been a huge fan of her work. I just think she’s so talented. I knew we needed a great Zoey because we spend a lot of time with her, and thank God we have Jane.
Paste: What can you tell me about the rest of the season?
Astin: Next Sunday’s episode is really strong. It is an episode that has a lot of focus because it’s when Zoey’s powers glitch and what the hell does that mean? That means that she’s singing now. Max now knows. How does that factor in? It gets a little messy. Every episode from here on out it cruises to the finish line, and we finish really strong.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer, a member of the Television Critics Association and the Assistant TV Editor for Paste. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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