I’ve written a lot about the importance of recognizing things like racism, ableism and the like. And it’s true. All the ism’s, all the phobias should be recognized and worked on eliminating.
So I would like to shine a spotlight on a television series that, in my opinion, is absolutely doing it right and having a great time doing so.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is a series that ran on NBC, starting in January of 2020, with twelve episodes. The premise is, essentially, that the protagonist Zoey suddenly develops the ability to know people’s mental state/what’s on their minds, but only via an elaborate musical number (including dancers and backup singers) that only she can hear.
It’s hilarious. It’s often touching. And it’s also one of the most inclusive things I’ve seen in awhile.
For a one season, twelve episode show, it has managed to include a wide diversity of race, mixed race relationships, homosexual relationships, transgendered people, both women and men in positions of power, disability, mental illness, and terminally ill characters. Moreover, most of what I listed above fall into the realm of regularly occurring characters.
Let’s address the disabled character. She is one of the only ones on the list that was not a regular character, but even so I think they handled her story well. The character in question was a deaf young woman who was the daughter of one of the supporting cast. Her story showed her attending a prestigious school, kicking serious scholastic backside, and the plot revolved around her trying to convince her father that she was a fully capable individual completely able to follow her dream, which is an issue that many of us with disabilities do, in fact, face. I have, from more than one person who loved me and meant well.
The character was portrayed by Sandra Mae Frank, a deaf actress, and they did give her a song, one which she performed in sign (as did the backup performers), which I loved despite not being able to fully appreciate it. Now, I may not be able to fully understand what life is like for those with severe hearing impairments, but I do know what it’s like to be blind, and I absolutely identified with the character. I didn’t feel as if I was being pandered to, I didn’t feel like we were supposed to pity her, and they showed her intelligence and strength.
I feel like they did the same for all aspects of diversity that they included in the show, though as a white woman, I can only surmise on that score. Even more respect is given for appropriate casting. Alex Newell, who plays Mo, Zoey’s gender fluid next door neighbour and emotional sounding board, is themself genderfluid, in addition to Sandra Mae Frank actually being deaf.
The show is a fun romp that handled inclusivity and diversity as if it was no big thing. As if it were just normal. It should be normal.
Honestly, I love this show and can’t recommend it highly enough. Unless you hate musicals. You won’t like this if you don’t like people breaking into song suddenly. The only jarring aspect is that they do state outright in dialogue that it’s 2020, and what with the writers not actually being psychic there’s no pandemic, but that’s small.
Keep on being kind to yourself and to those you encounter.