The pilot of a new series called ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ debuted on NBC January 7th, and I’m absolutely tickled red. Mostly because the lead, Jane Levy, is an extraordinary actress whose character in this thing seems to have an extraordinary playlist of music that people all around her sing to her all day long.
If she looks familiar, you may be thinking of ‘Suburgatory’ or ‘Shameless.’ She actually has a long list of credits but those two series standout for me.
Now, I know people don’t like spoilers, so I’ll make you a deal. I’m posting the trailer for this series below, and I won’t say anything beyond what the trailer says, m’kay? EXCEPT for talking about a few shooting locations in the pilot, which is mostly what this post is about, since I’m a San Francisco tour guide and I remember when the crew was here doing the shoot in early 2019.
So here’s the trailer…
What Dorian and I like about this show is that there are a lot of musical numbers woven throughout, and we’re musical theater fans.
I fell out of this chair when I heard last year that a remake of ‘CATS’ was coming to the big screen, and it was my knees I fell on, in prayer, begging the god of movie musicals not to cast Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler, because those two guys royally screwed-up the screen versions of ‘Les Miserables’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera.’
Steven Spielberg is producing a remake of ‘West Side Story,’ with Russell and Gerard nowhere to be seen, so we’re quite excited about that. You get the idea, right? We like seeing a show where people randomly break out into song and dance every so often, and this new series certainly delivers.
NOT GOING BEYOND THE ABOVE TRAILER, you should know that ‘Zoey,’ (Jane Levy), is the victim of a glitch that happens during an MRI scan, and afterward she envisions everyone around her dancing and singing to popular songs, which reveal their innermost feelings to her, and they all don’t have a clue as to what she’s seeing. It’s all in her head, thanks to the renegade MRI.
I recently had an MRI to make sure there weren’t rabid weasels running around in my brain, which is something the neurologist actually said, and I can attest that they don’t play music for you when you’re lying in that machine because your brain will generate all kinds of rainbows and make tumors, blood-clots and weasels all that much harder to see.
You must lie there in silence listening to a big, whirring machine that occasionally clunks loudly and if it’s your first time in an MRI you shout to the attendant, “Is this thing okay?” and they assure you there’s nothing to worry about, it’s just “imaging.” I guess it works because I was declared “weasel free,” to my great relief.
But a person can let go of the fact that they don’t play music for you in MRI machines once a person gets into this pilot a few minutes, and sees that everyone around Zoey breaks out singing fairly often, and the dance choreography is way beyond what a bunch of strangers could concoct on the spur of the moment. Because YEAH, THAT HAPPENS IN REAL LIFE.
When you watch the whole pilot episode, you’ll be treated to some pretty nice song and dance stuff, but I’m going to spend the rest of this post pointing out some fun little glitches in the pilot. The kind that you’ll find in every film or TV show because they NEVER care about continuity if it’s something that the majority of viewers aren’t going to notice.
In the screen cap below it depicts the beginning of Zoey’s weird mental state when the lady walking next to her suddenly starts singing. This is on Green Street walking toward Columbus Avenue with the Italian seafood restaurant ‘Sotto Mare’ seen in the background.
Zoey has been on her phone telling her mom about the MRI and she says she’s completed it and is heading home now. The problem is, they’re on Green Street, and with the direction she’s walking, there is no hospital behind her. At the end of the block behind Sotto Mare it’s all residential up on Telegraph Hill.
There’s not even a hospital or clinic in the neighborhood, except for a medical clinic around the corner that’s in the direction she’s walking, and it’s all pretty much Chinese staff and patients because it borders Chinatown. There’s just no way Zoe would have gotten an MRI in there, because she doesn’t speak Cantonese (for now) and she’s walking toward it anyway, not away from it.
If anyone has seen Tim Burton’s film ‘Big Eyes,’ which also takes place in North Beach San Francisco, but 1958-64, there’s a shot of Amy Adams walking down Green Steet but seen from the corner at the other end of the block.
From Tim Burton’s ‘Big Eyes,’ Sotto Mare is just down the street on the right, past Gino and Carlo.
As Zoey arrives on Columbus Avenue she encounters some young ladies who admire a strapping dude who just walked by, and they’re singing about him. This is at Columbus and Stockton, an intersection I go through twice a day in my tour job. Note the green/white/red colors on the pole; those are the colors of the Italian flag because this is the Italian district of San Francisco.
Every neighborhood in the city has distinct lamp poles that often capture the character of a given neighborhood. Across the street (to the left) in this shot is Chinatown and they have dragons EVERYWHERE. Buildings, lamps, posters, murals, ETC. The Chinese people really have a thing for dragons.
Zoey crosses the street and lands in front of a new restaurant called ‘Barbara,’ which I haven’t tried yet. A man walks up to her and suddenly starts singing ‘Help,’ by The Beatles. That’s the taller guy in the middle, and in a weirdo twist, the guy booked for that little singing part is a good friend of my tour guide supervisor/boss, who tells me his name is Dan Sachoff.
GOOD JOB, DAN OL’ BUDDY!
Probably the strangest thing to Dorian and I while watching this scene, was that we didn’t know anyone! We’re very familiar with the neighborhood, having lived about three blocks down Columbus Avenue for a bit over four years, and it’s impossible to walk down that street without passing at least five people we know on any given day, sitting at sidewalk cafes or walking by us.
In early 2019 we heard that Columbus Avenue would be blocked off for a TV shoot, so the tour company I work for had to reroute our buses to not go down it. In the screen cap below is the reason why.
The big green patio thing with tables doesn’t exist, that was put there for this scene. It’s taking up half of Columbus, which would really piss-off locals if the city allowed that permanently. It was bad enough for a two-day TV shoot, but it made for a really great musical number that I enjoyed, so I guess it was worth going the long way around.
Zoey is so freaked out by all these people singing to her that she runs across the fake patio thing and jumps onto a fake cable car. Please note that real cable cars don’t travel this part of Columbus Avenue.
Once on the fake cable car, people continue singing to her so she jumps off a block later, which is about three blocks in the other direction in real life, on Union Street next to Washington Square Park.
There are two things to note at this point:
1. The fake cable car is owned and operated by a company called ‘Classic Cable Cars,’ and they run on rubber tires, as you can see. They book tours and charters, but there’s never a scenario where a person like Zoey can just jump on one of them and then jump off a few blocks later.
They’re not a transit vehicle like city buses or real cable cars, they just do tours, charters, photo shoots and they seem to end-up in a lot of film and TV scenes shot here.
2. The cafe on the left corner of this shot is called, ‘Mario’s Bohemian Cigar Store Cafe,’ but there’s no one named Mario working there and you can’t buy a cigar. That’s okay, because Washington Square Park is to the right of the fake cable car, and it’s not square at all.
There’s a statue of Ben Franklin in the middle of it despite the fact that it’s named after George Washington, and all of that is in North Beach, where there is no beach, next to Russian Hill, where there are no Russians at all.
This town was founded during the gold rush by liars, con-artists, thieves, cheats, hooligans, scoundrels, miscreants, and scofflaws, and it shows in our loony legacy. You can’t trust everything you see around here, especially in the pilot of this show. But that’s how it goes with film and TV stuff, they are the masters of illusion.
It really helps to remember Zoey’s probably bat shit crazy due to a malfunctioning MRI so all of this kind of works, y’know? …or IS SHE? Maybe she’s actually able to feel emotions from people and the only way it translates in her red-headed brain is by using pop music as a vehicle. Hmm…
A lot of this pilot was shot inside, including some pretty terrific musical numbers, and they really didn’t shoot too much else outside except for down on the Embarcadero, as seen below.
Zoey and her co-worker, Simon (John Clarence Stewart) take a walk from their fictitious tech-company office and go right by this big sculpture on the waterfront called, ‘Cupid’s Bow.’ About a block away is the edge of San Francisco’s tech industry, called The SOMA, and that’s where you’ll find real life companies like Pinterest, Linked-In, Mozilla, and other giants of tech.
This is really the only believable outdoor shot when it comes to geography, because they both work in tech and on weekday afternoons you’ll see hundreds of ‘techies’ in this area, since their companies are pretty much across the street.
In this final, close-up screen cap, Zoey and Simon have an intimate conversation with The Ferry Building seen down the waterfront behind them. It’s an iconic landmark of San Francisco and a 1906 earthquake and fire survivor, a rarity down in that area. Most everything down there was wiped-out by the fires that followed that 8.0 quake.
Speaking of quakes, right before this scene, Simon has treated Zoey to a cheesecake dessert in the Ferry Building, called a ‘CheeseQuake.’ She likes it so much she returns the next day to get one for herself, and now I really must go into the Ferry Building to see if there is actually a cafe that serves a “CheeseQuake.”
The first actual episode of ZOEYS EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST doesn’t air until Feburary and the pilot has already aired on NBC, but you can catch it on HULU if you have an account. If you live outside the USA though, I can’t vouch for its availability in other countries. Licensing, and that sort of thing.
ZOEY’S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST AT NBC, including the entire pilot episode.