I’m late to the Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist party, I know. But like I always say its better to watch at some point than not to watch at all, and I stand by that statement. This past week I embarked on the musical journey that is Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and while it took me a moment to buy into the show, by the end of the season I was a sobbing mess.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is the brainchild of Austin Winsberg and was inspired by his own life. The musical drama series follows Zoey Clarke, a computer coder, who winds up being gifted the power of hearing peoples’ innermost wants and desires through song. While Zoey originally thinks of her newfound powers as a curse and inconvenience, she learns to embrace them and is even grateful for them when she realizes she can once again communicate with her father who is suffering from PSP (Progressive Supranuclear Palsy).
The series takes a page out of Broadway and truly uses the songs to advance the plot and show character development instead of just being there for the sake of adding musical numbers. It’s truly a masterpiece and I’m so excited that the series has been renewed for a second season.
While I do love the show, I don’t want to review it. Instead, I want to talk about one of my favorite and arguably the best musical performance that occurred in season one of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist: “Fight Song.”
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Now, let me first start by refreshing you on the rules of Zoey’s world. She can’t control when she hears the songs, which she calls “heart songs” or who is going to sing them. Once she hears a “heart song” its up to her to help the person through their feelings. And of course, the “heart songs” mirror the singer’s innermost wants and desires.
There’s another important rule to the “heart songs” though, and its one that is overlooked.
In addition to showcasing the singer’s innermost wants and desires, the “heart songs” also allow the singers to revert back to their best selves. Well, best selves might not be the best word but let me explain.
One of the reasons Zoey learns to embrace these “heart songs” is because it allows her to communicate with her father, Mitch. Mitch, as I mentioned above, is suffering from PSP which leaves him unable to communicate or be active. The only motor functions he currently retains are slight head movements, slight ability to use his right hand, and the ability to swallow. Given this, he uses a computer and keyboard to communicate with his family, but the communication is usually one worded which is a far cry from what the family is used to.
However, when Mitch sings Zoey his first “heart song” he regains all his motor functions he lost as his disease progressed. He can sing to Zoey without needed the computer. He can squeeze her hand and hug her. He can even dance with her and move around the house freely. In short, he becomes free from PSP when he’s singing the “heart songs.”
This is important, not only because it allows Zoey to communicate with her dad, but because it establishes a rule. That rule being that when a character is performing a “heart song” they are free from any and all barriers, emotionally and physically.
So, why is this all important? And what does it have to do with “Fight Song” being the best performance?
Well, let’s take a look.
During episode 9 titled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Silence,” Zoey learns that Howie, her father’s caretaker, is having a hard time connecting to his daughter, Abigail, who is in college. Determined to help Howie reconnect with Abigail, she accompanies him to Abigail’s college where she meets her. Upon meeting, we learn that Abigail is pursing a coding career like Zoey and we also learn that she is deaf.
While Abigail is deaf, she doesn’t let her disability stop her from living her life and chasing her dreams. In fact, she plans to go to Kenya to help advance her career and teach children there how to code. The trip to Kenya is the source of Howie and Abigail’s conflict. See, Howie doesn’t think Abigail should go to Kenya because he’s worried about her.
What transpires out of this conflict is a “heart song” performed by Abigail. She of course sings “Fight Song” by Rachel Platten; however this performance is different than all the rest because Abigail (and the rest of the performers) use ASL to perform. While the instrumental song plays, no lyrics are sung and instead they are signed.
Check out the performance:
This is an emotional scene and a truly groundbreaking performance but what makes it the best is that the writers chose to have Abigail sign instead of vocally singing it.
This is important because it proves that Abigail doesn’t see her deafness as a disability. She doesn’t think her deafness makes her less of a person or that its hindering her ability to live her life. Instead, she embraces it. This is who she is and she’s proud of that.
Remember, the “heart songs” allow people to be their best versions of themselves as proven by the fact that Mitch is allowed to be pre-PSP Mitch when he’s singing. Therefore, Abigail choosing to sign instead of vocally sing means that she is already her best self.
It might seem like a small choice but its an important one. The essence of the “Fight Song” performance is showcasing that deafness is not a disability. That hearing-people don’t need to pity the hearing impaired or treat them as less than whole. They are whole. They are perfect. And they are capable of anything, including accepting themselves.
It’s a beautiful moment and one that I think also aims at showing hearing impaired viewers that they aren’t broken.
Not to mention its a kick ass performance!
Truly though, its the emotional depth and inclusion that makes “Fight Song” the best performance of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.
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You can watch the first season of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist on Hulu.
What did you think of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist? What was your favorite performance? Do you agree with my analysis of “Fight Song?” Let me know in the comments or by tweeting me @3RsBlog.
Featured Image Source: Hulu