Warning: Do not proceed if you have not watched Sunday's episode of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist. You are approaching major spoiler territory.
On Sunday's episode of NBC's heartwarming musical dramedy, Zoey (Jane Levy) suffers a glitch in her superpowers when she suddenly finds herself singing and dancing elaborate musical numbers for all to see, instead of secretly watching everyone else's innermost heart songs. From Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" to Billy Joel's "Pressure" and Jason Mraz's "I'm Yours" to Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me," Zoey's uncontrollable urges to belt out into song in inopportune times stemmed from the devastating news that her father (Peter Gallagher) only had weeks left to live from his rare neurological disease, progressive supranuclear palsy.
Instead of addressing the life-changing news head on, Zoey suppresses it as she attempts to go about her day -- to varying degrees of failure. There's the high-stakes presentation in front of the SPRQPOINT CEO, where Zoey ends up singing atop a conference room table. (Thankfully, it worked!) Then there's the complex love triangle between her best friend, Max (Skylar Astin), and her very engaged co-worker, Simon (John Clarence Stewart), that somehow gets even messier after she confesses -- via song, of course -- her feelings for both. But by the end of the episode, she's forced to contend with the reality that she will soon be without her rock, her father, in the matter of weeks.
To get the scoop on what this means for Zoey moving forward, ET spoke with Levy, who broke down every big moment from Sunday's episode, the grueling process in preparing to perform six elaborate musical numbers, and the repercussions that may come from Zoey's unintentional bombshells.
ET: What does it mean for you to be a part of a show that is so incredibly unique and refreshing?
Jane Levy: I am so grateful to be able to play this part. I do think that it's a show about our shared humanity and it's a show about empathy, and love and connection. And in some ways it's a show about celebrating life; life is short and our relationships are what matte. It's rare as an actor to get a job and it's rare as an actor to get a job that speaks so directly to your sensibility and your sense of humor and your specific talents. You don't always get the opportunity to stretch yourself in the way that I get to in this show. I get to do slapstick comedy, I get to do farce, I get to do musical theater, I get to do rooted family drama, I get to do physical comedy, like a clown, almost like Jim Carrey, in this in the "I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus" number.
It's a real special moment for me in my life and in my career as an actress. Lauren Graham has become my spirit guide throughout this whole process. She's like, "Enjoy it Jane, because these roles that are so specifically yours don't come often." It's like a love affair people talk about. It's like you're lucky enough if you find one love of your life in your lifetime. For me, I'm just so happy to be a part of this and to play Zoey. We all really love and support one another, and I think that shows on camera. And I'm particularly excited for people to see this episode because I worked really hard on it and I'm proud of it.
Let's talk about tonight's episode. It is such a big just episode for you; it is a showcase for you and your performance. When you got the script, were you like, "Holy crap, how am I going to do all these numbers and pull this off?" What was your reaction? Did you have a flurry of emotions?
It was full terror, the most afraid of anything I've ever been, and it was a crippling anxiety. I mean, I am in almost every scene of this show and even the scenes I'm not in are the few moments that I could go to a wardrobe fitting or get my roots colored -- I'm not a natural redhead -- or learn choreography, or record a song, or even just get my actual turnaround. I never had any time away from set. Every day was 14 to 16 hours for me. And so, prepping an episode of this scale while working that hard and that rigorously was really scary. I was like, "How are we ever going to pull this off?" Just recording those songs alone takes, I don't know, an hour and a half per song; six songs, you do the math. I don't have that many hours!
And let alone learning the choreography. Normally the cast members get, I think, on average two rehearsals per musical number. And most cast members are doing one song per episode and they're in a couple of scenes at most, so they have lots of time to rest and rehearse. There wasn't any of that for me. We ended up having to take three days off of production -- the rest of the cast and the crew had three days off -- and [choreographer] Mandy [Moore] and her associates, Jillian and Jeff, and I worked 10 hour days banging out these numbers. That was actually some of the best times I've had working on this show is choreographing with Mandy Moore. She's such a true collaborator; she's so creative, she works so hard, she's so thoughtful and she's a huge part of the show. It was terrifying [at first] and then it ended up being very fun. And now, I have the thing that I'm so proud of doing.
The episode really flips the premise on its head. It's Zoey who's singing and dancing for everyone else to see and not the other way around. How does this glitch in her superpowers, in the aftermath of everything, complicate her relationships moving forward?
She tells everyone all the things that she's been holding inside. She tells one of her coworkers [Simon] she wants to have sex with them. She tells her best friend [Max] that she's also probably in love with him deep down. She tells her boss [Joan] that she knows that she is doing some inappropriate behavior at work. She tells her dad that "losing you is my biggest fear and I don't think I'm going to survive it if you die." And she dances on top of a table in front of, arguably, the most important boss. The repercussions are actually more positive than they are negative moving forward. Zoey is somebody who is very neurotic and has a tendency towards more logic -- solving problems, a math-like brain. She is constantly avoiding how she really feels and a lot of that has to do with the fact that she's going through something so traumatic, which is the possibility of losing her father. This is an episode in which you really see deep inside Zoey, which a lot of times her neuroses are there to cover up her deepest pain, fears and desires. Moving forward, I think it actually turns out to be a good thing.
Zoey's love life was already messy to begin with, but it really gets even murkier after this episode. What have you enjoyed about the show's treatment of this "love triangle" between Zoey, Max and Simon?
What I like is that, in my opinion -- Jane, the actor who plays Zoey, looking from the outside in -- I'm like, "OK, Zoey's feelings are 100 percent human and valid." Everyone is allowed to have sexual feelings towards a co-worker, everyone is allowed to have a deep-down love for their best friend and not only are they allowed, that is just so wildly normal. What's great about the show is Zoey's like, "Sure, I have those feelings. I didn't mean to tell you them, leave me alone. My dad's dying, I don't have to pledge my allegiance to either one of you. I'm not doing anything wrong or sneaky. These are my feelings and I've never promised either of you that I could be anything more than a friend with emotional problems." She's been very clear. And I like that it just feels real to me, and it's not gendered, and I don't feel like we're playing out any stereotypes about women and men, or social gendered...
Like expectations of how men and women are supposed to be approaching certain situations like this.
Yeah, and I like that about it because I think Zoey's totally in the right.
I mean, Simon's engaged and he kisses Zoey after she sings Cheap Trick's "I Want You to Want Me" to him! He's a mess.
Yeah, he's definitely a mess.
Zoey's relationship with her father is one of my favorites on the show. What is she most afraid of in losing her dad? Does she come to terms with her father's remaining days? Or, is there a hope that her dad makes it beyond a few weeks that they believe he has left?
To me, the heart of the show and the core of the show is Zoey's relationship with her father and the pain involved in there being a possibility that she's going to lose him. And grief is a big theme in our show. I think the reason why that relationship resonates so deeply with our audience is it's so universal. We all know what yearning for parental love feels like and what it feels like to be let down by a parent, or what it feels like to have fantasies about what they wished their parent could have or would have or should said to them, or fantasies of the ways that their parents could have been, or fantasies that it could have lasted longer, that it is just is such a human condition.
And what Zoey is so afraid of is losing her father. What I think is so brilliant about the way this episode is crafted is it's very clear -- amid a fantastical reality -- that this glitch happens because she's so stressed out and the whole day she's avoiding confronting her fear. Her fear is [her dad]. "I might actually lose you and I don't know if I can survive that." The whole episode culminates with that song ["How Do I Live"] to her father, which, I knew that that song was going to happen since the summer, since before we even started shooting that series. Every time I sang that song I felt ripped apart inside personally, because "how do I live without you?," is such a question that anyone can relate to with anyone in their life, and [it's] really sad. Austin Winsberg, our creator, his father had this condition and passed away from it. It's such a beautiful homage to his father's life that we get to make this beautiful musical that touches people all over the world in honor of Austin's dad.
What are you most excited for in the second half of the season?
There are a couple of musical numbers -- some between Zoey and Simon, some between Zoey and Max, that I'm really excited to watch myself. And there's some great stuff between Maggie and Mitch. And in the finale, there is a love number that is one of my favorite things I read and the favorite things we performed. The finale is a really great episode and I think audience members will be very moved and satisfied.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.
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