Warning: spoilers ahead for the Season 2 winter finale of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, "Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning."
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist may have sidestepped one major element of current events by omitting the pandemic from Season 2, but NBC's musical dramedy didn't shy away from addressing the hot button issue of racism within the workplace, and specifically the tech industry, following Simon's very public speech about racial bias in the previous episode. It was an emotional hour that finally showed the perspectives of the people of color usually supporting Zoey. But did "Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning" strike the right balance in addressing the issue?
Before getting into the meat on the bones of "Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning," I have to start with a shout out to John Clarence Stewart as Simon in particular, although the rest of the cast crushed the episode as well. Not only did he deliver on his powerful performance of "Black Man In A White World" in the middle of Zoey's poorly-thought out fourth floor town hall as well as the more jubilant "Tightrope" at the end, but he sold Simon's emotional journey from start to finish as he considered the consequences that could come of his speech as well as whether he could bear it if he retracted his statement.
If Jane Levy and Skylar Astin got episodes to showcase their talents earlier in Season 2 for going all-out, "Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning" was exactly that for John Clarence Stewart. On the whole, however, this episode approached the issue of racism in the workplace on ZEP by acknowledging both the deliberate biases against people of color and the more subtle but no less harmful slights described by characters like Simon and Tobin that have made their careers at SPRQ Point such an uphill climb compared to Joan and even Zoey, and make Mo's life so full of challenges without also dealing with Zoey's drama.
There was no magic fix for the issue as a whole by the end of the episode, but the episode did close on a hopeful note for SPRQ Point, largely thanks to Tobin moving past his fears of speaking out (with the help of some Queer Eye episodes) and opening up a conversation about race at the tech company on social media. Danny Michael Davis had to acknowledge the larger problems within his company due to the social media flood, which was enough for the SPRQ Point board as well.
As much as this episode was a showcase for John Clarence Stewart as Simon, credit also has to go to Alex Newell as Mo with "No More Drama" and Kapil Talwalkar as Tobin, who was a very pleasant surprise as he was allowed to shed his comic relief persona to vent his frustrations with his treatment as an Indian man at SPRQ Point and sing "The Tracks Of My Tears." Even Alvina August as Tatiana continued to prove what a great addition she has been to Season 2 and stories of substance, even if she hasn't had much screen time yet.
I'd be remiss not to note Jany Levy as well, however, who sold Zoey's journey from oblivious to what she did wrong with Simon to well-meaning but short-sighted with the town hall to embarrassed at what she needed Simon and Mo to point out to her at all. "Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning" wouldn't have worked if Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist was unwilling to paint the leading lady in a negative light as she realized how much she underestimated what Simon and other people of color at SPRQ Point and beyond go through.
"Zoey's Extraordinary Reckoning" also didn't make Zoey into the savior of the episode, despite her efforts to do just that, and it really worked for me. I think both "Black Man In A White World" and "Tightrope" will go down as some of the most memorable musical numbers that Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist ever produced. I also have to credit ZEP for using this episode as the winter finale, when it doesn't end on any kind of cliffhanger that might have felt exploitative.
Be sure to vote in our poll below as to whether Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist did enough to address racism at SPRQ Point! The end of the previous episode with Simon's speech felt more like the typical midseason finale to me, and I'm so glad that ZEP subverted expectations and paid off on that risky move from Simon right away. Unfortunately, however, this was the winter finale, and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist will be off the air for several weeks before returning to a new Sunday night time slot in March.