'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist': Skylar Astin on If Max Can Leave the Friend Zone
If you already watched the pilot episode of NBC's new musical dramedy Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, you know that the show is even more than the central story of Zoey (Jane Levy) getting the ability to hear music and see musical numbers in her head (the result of an MRI gone bad due to an earthquake!).
First, she juggles her new abilities while also dealing with challenges at her job — thanks to feisty, tough-as-nails boss Joan, played by Lauren Graham — and at home, with father Mitch (Peter Gallagher), who is suffering from Progressive Supernuclear Palsy (PSP) which renders him unable to move or speak. And then there's Zoey's friendship with coworker Max (Skylar Astin), which took an interesting turn in Episode 1 when her abilities revealed that Max is in love with her! What's a girl to do?
In the series' second episode, airing February 16, Zoey deals with her knowledge of Max's feelings, which come to life in a memorable version of the Jonas Brother's hit single, "Sucker." Astin talked to TV Insider about how he made the song his own, as well as what we'll learn about his character in the coming episode.
Let's jump right into your rendition of The Jonas Brothers’ song, "Sucker," and the show's fun take on it. Is it tougher when you’re doing a more contemporary song as opposed to a pop classic like The Partridge Family’s "I Think I Love You"?
Skylar Astin: I had such a blast doing that song and I think, as long as you're repurposing the song, it makes for a good cover even if it's a current song. And the fact that the Jonas Brothers have three of them singing it, we did it as a solo number with a slower tempo and a stronger downbeat. I think that that was the recipe for making it stand out as its own thing.
It also really fits into the story of the show because it's what's truly going on in Max's head as far as Zoey is concerned.
Exactly. The coolest thing that we do on the show is we always think of narrative first. Because, for instance, we can never sing a song like [Sean Mendes'] "Lost in Japan" because the lyric has to be literal. It has to be literally citing what's happening in the moment. So I think there were a couple contenders for that intention for Max, but "Sucker" definitely won.
Did you know "I Think I Love You" when you sang it in the pilot? It is an older song but did you know it?
I know it because my parents love it. My musical taste goes way back.
Let’s talk about Episode 2, where we find that Max is kind of stuck in the friend zone, isn't he?
Totally. I think that it's a difficult thing because not only does Max think he has a secret from Zoey but Zoey now has a secret from Max, which is that she knows his secret.
Will we see Max step up and get a little more competitive to win Zoey’s heart? Or is he going to let Zoey kind of decide what she wants?
I think that’s something I wanted to be conscious of — never making it a competition between Simon [played by John Clarence Stewart] and Max. And definitely never using phraseology like "winning anybody's heart" or "winning anybody," especially in this day and age. I don't think it's a good message to make any one woman or man feel like a prize. But I do think that what Max does throughout the season, without giving too much away, is just live in his own experience. And when he steps out of Zoey's and into his own, he realizes that he might have to tell her how he feels. It's a delicate situation for Max.
The good thing is, speaking for myself as a viewer, I’m rooting for them.
I appreciate that! People have been really sweet, and I know some of the producers and other people internally have seen some later episodes, and they ask "what's going on there?" as well. It's going to be a really interesting journey. I'm excited for people to see what we've done.
In Sunday’s episode, there's a really sweet scene where we realize that Max also knows Zoey's dad (Peter Gallagher), which adds a whole other layer to their relationship, especially given Mitch’s medical condition.
When I signed onto the project – and I loved the pilot script so much – I talked to Austin (Winsberg, executive producer) and I remember saying, "If Max is truly Zoey's best friend, he knows the parents. He knows what's going on with Mitch. He's been there." And I wanted to make sure that Max had the potential to go out of the office with Zoey at some point. I didn't realize we were going to get right into it in Episode 2.
I think that part of the story also really grounds the show, in a way, because that's such a real stuff. It’s not just about this ability that Zoey has.
I sometimes watch this show and forget it's a musical because the scenes are so strong and it's such a standalone TV show without the music. So, when the music catches you by surprise, it is like a thrill each time.
With such a musically talented cast, how much singing goes on between scenes?
We truly don't stop. [Laughs] It's embarrassing. I wish I could give you a cooler TV/film actor answer but, truly, we are always laughing, always singing, and rarely can take things seriously. But of course, there are certain [heavier] scenes I've done with Jane and with the family, that Peter's involved in, and we obviously bring it on those days. It really makes those days extra special because it's almost like we know we can be mature. We know we can be super, super professional and trustworthy actors, which makes it even more special when we're goofing around.
We saw in the pilot that Zoey is becoming Max's boss. How does that go over in Episode 2?
Well, it's a strange relationship because anytime your friend becomes your superior, it can be awkward. But when she's trying to create even more distance because she is aware of a secret crush you have on her, it really throws the balance off. And I think Max becomes very weary of that, and very curious, and almost frustrated.
What else will we find out about Max in the coming episodes? We’re in Zoey's world a lot in these first episodes but will there be a little more of his home life or his family life?
We get into it a little bit. Max makes mention of a strained relationship with his own father and there's a little bit of a metamorphosis that happens with Max in his style game, halfway through the season.
Speaking of Max’s style and his wardrobe, how does it compare to your own?
Max doesn't put too much emphasis on style or his career ambitions. He’s a bit of a coaster and that's different from myself for sure. I have a lot of focus and drive and so when he's confronted with that midway through the season, it's really fun to watch him change or try to change, or maybe not change at all.
Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist, Sundays, 9/8c, NBC