SPOILER ALERT: Don’t learn in case you have not but watched “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning,” the mid-season finale of “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” Season 2.
When “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” returns with the second half of its second season on March 28, audiences aren’t simply going to be dissecting the titular character’s love life or the center songs of the week. After beginning a dialog about racism throughout the tech business in the considerate and well timed mid-season finale episode entitled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Reckoning,” they can even have one eye on how that dialog continues and what modifications happen due to it.
“We began the writers’ room in late June, about three weeks after the worldwide protests sparked by the dying of George Floyd, and all the things was fairly insane at the moment however it was fairly unimaginable to not discuss it,” author Zora Bikangaga tells Selection. “We have been speaking in regards to the varied reckonings that have been occurring in tech, leisure, company America, and we felt like a reckoning was due throughout the world of our present, however how might we personalize that and make it relationship-based [especially] by way of the lens of a white lady who’s studying empathy by way of her superpower?”
Throughout the episode, which picked up the place the earlier one (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Journey”) left off, Simon (John Clarence Stewart) handled fallout from his public assertion that Sprq Level, the corporate at which he works, has a variety downside.
It started with complaints that the facial recognition performance of Sprq Level merchandise have been failing to acknowledge Black and brown faces at extraordinarily excessive charges, an error that was dropped at market on account of blind spots of these working there. The corporate has just one member of administration who’s BIPOC and no BIPOC board members, which Simon identified publicly. After doing so, he was requested to retract his assertion, and he struggled with whether or not or not he ought to.
By on-screen discussions with characters together with Zoey (Jane Levy) and Mo (Alex Newell), the episode not solely lined the professionals and cons of Simon sticking to his ideas, but in addition explored simply how remoted he had felt on the firm, whereas additionally revealing how he has amputated components of who he’s in order to maneuver by way of predominantly white areas. That latter dialogue was one which “hit actually hit the nerve” for Stewart as a result of it’s one he has had in his personal life.
“After George Floyd and all of those Black our bodies have been killed, all of those folks have been reaching out to me as if this was occurring to different folks and never as one thing that I’m affected by or involved with,” Stewart says. “What life have I been dwelling that white folks round me are OK seeing me as John other than my Blackness? What components of me have I amputated? And to increase that metaphor, what comes with issues which can be amputated are phantom pains — the ache of the issues I’ve given up in these areas and the accountability to reclaim that.”
“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” comes from a white showrunner (Austin Winsberg), who noticed the worth in opening up the house for Black and brown tales to be advised, in addition to voices to be heard. Bikangaga penned the episode, which he calls probably the most private factor he has ever written professionally. (Particularly, he shares, “As a Black particular person, with my white buddies, these conversations I’ve had are mirrored in the dialog that Zoey and Mo have.”) Anya Adams directed the episode and Luther Brown was introduced in to choreograph the musical numbers alongside sequence choreographer Mandy Moore.
Throughout the story, it wasn’t simply Simon who ended up talking out about feeling marginalized at Sprq Level. After Zoey witnessed Tobin (Kapil Talwalkar) brush off being referred to as “Slumdog” by a colleague in actuality however noticed how actually such a remark harm him by way of his coronary heart music, she inspired him to talk out. Having Tobin discuss being a first-generation American was one other space for Bikangaga to attract upon his personal private expertise for the story: He’s first-generation African, together with his dad and mom hailing from Uganda.
“I drew on a whole lot of expertise for Tobin and I relate loads to Tobin,” Bikangaga says. “There are methods that first-gens differentiate ourselves to assimilate, to distinguish and to say we’re ‘the mannequin minority.’ And all that does is condone and reinforce an surroundings of racism. And so, a whole lot of non-Black folks of coloration have been stepping as much as name that out. And I felt we needed to acknowledge that as a result of, as an individual of coloration, if I watch the present I’m at all times going to be fascinated by it.”
It was additionally vital to maintain Zoey in these on-screen conversations, not simply because she is the titular character, but in addition as a result of “we thought it could be extra of a chance to indicate her blind spots and expertise a reckoning in her personal friendships and relationships by way of this occasion that occurs at work,” Bikangaga says.
In reality, as vital as Stewart felt Simon’s journey was in the episode, he says one crucial scenes to him was when Zoey was in an area “with no different Black or brown folks current and to carry one other white voice accountable and name him out on blind spots of the issues that she simply realized.” He explains: “That’s the work. With out that, we don’t have an episode [but also] we don’t have progress. With out that, what did [you] study?”
“Most instances, we consider people who find themselves egregious and the injuries they trigger and we really feel a way of superiority that a minimum of we’re not them. I feel you see that in the City Corridor scene. However this lovely journey that Zora and Austin and everybody was actually intentional about was of Zoey shifting by way of the house and actively studying what it seems prefer to be an ally in progress,” he continues.
Balancing all of those views made collaboration integral to the crafting of this episode. Bikangaga and Stewart — who’ve by no means met in particular person since Bikangaga solely simply joined the present in its second season, when it was working underneath strict social distancing pointers amid the COVID-19 pandemic — related over Zoom in order to speak “about our collective experiences it and mixing it into Simon and letting him embody that,” Bikangaga says.
Moreover, conversations that have been being had in the writers’ room ended up in the script. Bikangaga explains: It was, “‘Properly, why would Mo say this?’ ‘Properly, Mo would say this as a result of that’s what I’d say in this second when white folks ask me to do issues — take on their emotional labor. So how would you reply to that?’”
Whereas each Bikangaga and Stewart are glad to have this second and this platform to talk about such vital points, each additionally acknowledge the load of such a accountability.
“It’s a double-edged sword. I get to inform a narrative and be so extremely trustworthy and draw upon my very own expertise, but in addition, to open that as much as collaboration and enter,” Bikangaga says. “Everybody had robust emotions [about the story], so the extent of scrutiny this story was underneath was loads.”
As an actor, Stewart provides that there have been instances when he’d end a scene, “return to the inexperienced room and shed some tears and course of a bit.”
“It’s labor. The concept tackling systemic racism in the office and relationships and private dynamics, any narrative that it’s easy-breezy is a lie, in my opinion. These are points that have an effect on everyone on some degree and convey up a whole lot of various things. That stated, we’re nonetheless diving into these traumatic areas in an area that could be very white, and that prices,” he says.
By the tip of the episode, issues are shifting towards optimistic enchancment, although. Simon didn’t need to retract his assertion; Tobin shared his personal story on social media, which began its personal hashtag motion and allowed staff in different branches to talk out too; Zoey realized learn how to be a greater ally, and Sprq Level CEO Danny Michael Davis (Noah Weisberg) dedicated to a plan to extend inclusion throughout the firm.
Going ahead, it should come right down to holding Danny Michael Davis and the corporate accountable, which in flip means ensuring “this will’t simply be a capsule episode,” Stewart says.
Stewart has already been doing his homework by reaching out to Black buddies who work in Silicon Valley to listen to what it truly seems like when a reckoning occurs in the house. He additionally admits “it’s of the utmost significance to talk up the place Simon is worried to guarantee that, as they carry issues to the desk, that they’re particular.”
Bikangaga guarantees that this storyline is “positively not going to be forgotten” in the back-half of the season.
“As a Black particular person and a Black author on this present, it’s one thing that I feel is vital — how tough it’s to vary a tradition and create house for folks to have a seat on the desk,” he says. “We felt like there’s an aspirational aspect to it — it’s an aspirational present — however we have been actually cautious to consider precise methods, in actual time, an organization like this will make change to create a tradition assist to alleviate a tradition of racism and what steps they should take to go ahead. Corporations are going to make errors, individuals are going to make errors, and I feel that might be attention-grabbing to painting on our present [but] I select hope in this example. I select to hope it’s going to get higher.”