Preview of ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ season 2 with John Clarence Stewart (Simon)

ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST -- "Zoey’s Extraordinary Return" Episode 201 -- Pictured: John Clarence Stewart as Simon -- (Photo by: Eric Milner/NBC/Lionsgate)
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ZOEY'S EXTRAORDINARY PLAYLIST -- "Zoey’s Extraordinary Return" Episode 201 -- Pictured: John Clarence Stewart as Simon -- (Photo by: Eric Milner/NBC/Lionsgate)

Credit: Eric Milner/NBC/Lionsgate

A high concept show like NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” is a high-wire act because the idea is purely fantastical: a woman sees others break into song and dance in her head to evoke what they are really thinking.

The writers found a way to balance finesse, heart, humor and a dying father into season one earlier this year and make it work. While ratings were modest, the show built a fervent enough following among its fans to merit a second season, which debuts at 8 p.m. Jan. 4.

Season 2 begins with main character Zoey (Jane Levy) coming out of seven weeks of mourning and returning to her tech job feeling detached from a world that felt the same — yet different. The two rival men who care for her are now suddenly friends with each other and hanging out with her best friend, the gender-fluid Mo (Alex Newell) And her boss (Lauren Graham) is leaving and wants Zoey to take over the office.

In a way, the cast and crew felt a similar way returning to set under COVID-19 social distancing conditions in Vancouver a few months ago.

“It was pretty surreal,” said Stone Mountain native John Clarence Stewart, who plays one of Zoey’s love interests and a work colleague, Simon. “The studio was the same, but the conditions were so different. You can’t wander around. You have to be escorted around all the time. You get tested every three days whether you’re on set or not.”

He spoke to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution right before Christmas at a point where the series had shot nine of 13 episodes so far. He said they had not experienced any major delays or run of COVID-19 cases. The only hold up came from a bottleneck with a testing site delaying test results.

Fortunately, the world of Zoey is not the real world. COVID does not happen here. Nobody has to wear masks. Maskless people can still go to restaurants and offices normally. “It felt like an escape,” Stewart said.

Off set, Stewart said he feels responsible to be super cautious. “A lot of people’s jobs are at stake,” he said. “Lives and families. We want to ensure people can feed their families.”

He stays by himself except for one friend in Vancouver: “We sit on park benches six feet apart.”

He’ll also take walks and sit outside for a meal once in awhile. “But more often than not, I’m at my crib chilling, talking to my girlfriend on the phone in Los Angeles.” (He was able to fly home to L.A. for the holidays.)

The first big dance number features the musical classic “Hello Dolly” when Zoey returns to the office. It’s an elaborately choreographed scene featuring dozens of dancers. “We felt like we were jumping into the deep end,” he said. “It tells the audience very specifically that we’re in this world, and we aren’t shying away from giving the viewer what they love about the show. It was exciting to shoot.”

And though Stewart is not a trained dancer, he said he’s getting more comfortable with the steps he’s given. “I’m happily surprised,” he said. “I find myself more of a dancer than I thought.”

Season one was focused very much on Zoey’s life, but season two will give other characters more airtime, a natural thing to happen for any show in its second season. “We see these characters broaden and get fleshed out,” he said, “most especially Zoey’s family members like her widow mom, played by Mary Steenburgen.

“Zoey’s” was not an immediate renewal for NBC. The network weighed its options and waited until May to give the show a greenlight.

The news was shared right after the George Floyd death led to nationwide social justice protests. “I felt a little disconnected from the joy of the news of getting picked up,” he said.

But he’s now grateful to have a great job. His love triangle storyline with Zoey and Max (Skylar Astin) will continue. Who will Zoey ultimately pick? It’s doubtful season two will resolve anything.

As for the songs Stewart gets to sing, he admitted he knew none of the songs he was given season one such as “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by the Clash and the Gary Jules/Michael Andrews version of “Mad World” from the “Donnie Darko” soundtrack.

That isn’t the case this year. “I get to sing songs I know and love,” Stewart said.

WHERE TO WATCH

“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” 8 p.m. Tuesdays on NBC and new episodes available for Peacock and Hulu subscribers the next day

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