'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Season 2 First Look: Joan Offers Zoey an Intriguing Promotion (Exclusive)

Creator Austin Winsberg previews the new season, why he didn't write in the pandemic and Zoey's next chapter without her dad.

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist is here to ring in a new year.

NBC's delightful musical dramedy, one of ET's best TV shows of 2020, kicks off its second season in just a few days, but ET has your exclusive first look at the anticipated return. Last we left Zoey (Jane Levy) and the Clarke clan, they were grieving the death of the patriarch of the family, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), following a harrowing battle with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), and figuring out how to move on without him.

When season 2 picks up, about a month and a half has passed since Mitch's death, and each member of the family is going about the grieving process differently. As Zoey returns to work at SPRQ Point, a lot has changed since she's been gone. Max (Skylar Astin) has quit and still figuring out his next professional steps, Joan (Lauren Graham) is the new SPRQ Point CEO and the company isn't exactly in good financial health.

So when Joan springs an intriguing offer for a promotion on Zoey on the day she returns to work, it's almost too perfect of an opportunity for it to come without any strings. 

"Being interim CEO of a company in this much turmoil is not quite the dream job I imagined, however, I do get to do pretty much whatever I want. And as such, I would like to promote you to executive director of the fourth floor," Joan excitedly shares with Zoey, who is more than surprised by the sudden news.

"I'm sorry, what?" Zoey can only muster.

"Things are just crazy around here. They're changing everyday and I need someone in a position of power who I can trust, and that someone is you sunshine!" Joan says with enthusiasm.

Considering how long Zoey's been away and that she's still learning how to adjust to life without her dad, she's not exactly jumping at the chance to be the new Joan. But as quickly as Joan offers her the opportunity to move up at SPRQ Point, she shoos her out of the office with the expressed hopes that Zoey will eventually say yes. Will she? 

Sergei Bachlakov/NBC/Lionsgate

Ahead of the new season, ET spoke with creator Austin Winsberg about Zoey and the family's new chapter of life without Mitch and what that looks like. 

"Everybody in the family is navigating grief in their own way. That was kind of true in my own family after my father passed away, so [we're] trying to be true and reflective to everybody's individual experience. The entire emotional arc for Zoey over the season is all about her stages of grief and all about the ways in which Zoey attempts to recover from this massive loss in her life," Winsberg tells ET. "When I was mapping out the season, a lot of it had to do with her own recovery and the phases of recovery, and the possibility of relapse and regression and rebellion and rebirth and redemption. Mapping out the season from that perspective of 'How is Zoey going through this?' And I know nobody's grief journey is the same. For me, it was a good six months to a year after my father passed away where I started to feel I was adjusting to a new normal, but it was a circuitous route that first six months."

"I wanted to lean into that for Zoey, and there are certain episodes that are lighter. There are certain episodes where she's trying to live in a happier state and then there's certain episodes where she just gets gobsmacked, or something reminds her of her dad, and it sends her on a spiral again," he continued. "Maggie's trying to recalibrate her whole life after being with this one person who was her lover and partner for over 40 years. How can she go back into the work world without her work partner and how can she function in the world without Mitch by her side? It's all about Maggie trying to find her independence. Then David is going through his own journey of becoming a dad right after losing his father, and trying to assess what's important to him. Knowing that life is short, how does that impact the way that he wants to live his days?"

Because Zoey's lives in its own heightened musical world, Winsberg confirmed that season 2 won't be incorporating the pandemic into its storytelling but will be making subtle nods to the larger emotions and feelings audiences may be feeling during this trying time.

"I made the conscious choice to not have this show taking place during the pandemic time. The musical world of the show and some of the wish fulfillment, and some of the hope and joy of the show, I just didn't want it to live in a world where corona was happening. I wanted people to be able to watch it as an escape from that," Winsberg explained. "I also thought the idea of musical numbers with dancers and singers in masks the whole time robs the show of what, hopefully, makes it special. So I didn't want corona to be a part of it, but I also felt like we can't not acknowledge a bit of what's going on in the world. So make some small nods to it. Certainly in the beginning of the season, with the idea that Zoey has been staying at her mom's house and where she's not leaving the bubble of that house for the last six weeks is a bit my nod to quarantining. Also this idea of what happens when it's all over and when we go back into the world: How have things changed? How have things shifted and how do we approach people differently after being in our own bubbles?" 

"As far as production goes, there were certain limitations that were put on the show for season 2. The first limitation was I couldn't do a lot of interior location work. I couldn't do a lot of scenes that took place at restaurants or clubs, or indoor places that would have a lot of people in them. So SPRQPOINT is one of our own sets where we had to navigate that to some extent, and it was important to have a few more existing sets that we could go to on our own sets that we could control more. The other piece was not having as many big musical numbers with as many people in them, and trying to reduce the scale a tiny bit without having anybody really feel the difference," he noted. "And the other big thing is the ability to get guest stars on the show, just because there's a 14-day quarantine in Canada. Last season, we had the benefit of being able to bring in people from the States. We didn't have that luxury as much this year."

Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist premieres Tuesday, Jan. 5 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on NBC. For more on the series, watch the video below.

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