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Review: 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' sings and dances back into our hearts for Season 2

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Revisiting the magical, musical, mellifluous world of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" is a good way to start 2021.

NBC's ambitious musical comedy series almost didn't make it to a second season (it was the winner of USA TODAY's annual Save Our Shows poll). But "Zoey's" was saved, and a new season of the series (Tuesday, 8 EST/PST, ★★★ out of four) is just as delightful as the lovely first, if a little more somber.

Despite its sunny San Francisco setting and brilliantly choreographed musical numbers (choreographer Mandy Moore remains one of the best in the business), "Zoey's" has always been a dark, reflective series. Its super-powered protagonist (Jane Levy) hears the inner turmoil of her friends, her family and even strangers as covers of pop songs. Lonely ballads, songs of heartbreak and grief are frequently on her playlist.

Jane Levy as Zoey Clarke in Season 2 of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist."
Jane Levy as Zoey Clarke in Season 2 of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist."

In Season 1, Zoey was dealing with the decline of her father, Mitch (Peter Gallagher), who was dying of a degenerative disease. The season ended with Mitch's funeral (don't worry, he reappears). Still grieving at the start of Season 2, which picks up six weeks later, Zoey tries to return to work and her relationships, but it's messy and difficult. She has two men interested in dating her, Max (Skylar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart), a boss (Lauren Graham) who wants her to take on more responsibility and a best friend (Alex Newell) who won't let her wallow in self-pity.

Skylar Astin as Max and John Clarence Stewart as Simon in Season 2 of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist."
Skylar Astin as Max and John Clarence Stewart as Simon in Season 2 of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist."

Her powers had taken a break, but when she returns to her tech company office she's greeted with a rousing rendition of "Hello Dolly!," perhaps the series' most shamelessly Broadway-inspired musical number.

More: 'Hello, Dolly!': Zoey is back where she belongs in exclusive Season 2 clip from 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist'

As Zoey copes with her new reality, the series again balances its comedy and tragedy. The musical devices allow grief, and plenty of other emotions, to play out in bold, unsubtle ways. And for those frustrated with the love triangle in Season 1, which threatened to overstay its welcome, resolution in Zoey's love life happens sooner rather than later (but not simply happily-ever-after, of course).

Lauren Graham's Joan appears in the premiere before departing for a job in Singapore (the actress only signed on for a recurring role) and the hole in the office crew is filled by new coder George (Harvey Guillén of "What We Do in the Shadows"), whose adorable absurdity fits right in at the fictional SPRQ Point.

Harvey Guillen joins the cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" as new coder George.
Harvey Guillen joins the cast of "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" as new coder George.

In the three episodes made available for review, Zoey isn't really using her powers to help a stranger of the week, as she did in Season 1, echoing CBS' 2003-05 series "Joan of Arcadia" (which, like ''Zoey's," also starred Mary Steenburgen as the mom). It's not an unwelcome change. The series has a strong group of actors playing increasingly well-rounded characters, and focusing on them instead of guest stars makes the series, created by Austin Winsberg, more confident and engaging.

The show's ability to exist in a world where grief, joy, frustration and elation exist at once makes it particularly apt for our current era. The new season is all about Zoey and her family trying to make the best of their circumstances, a familiar mantra for all of us during the COVID-19 pandemic. It helps that these moments of deep reflection are buttressed by laugh-out-loud funny sequences.

Plenty of worthy shows never get a second season; it would have been a real shame if "Zoey" had stopped singing for good.

More: The 30 best TV shows to watch on Peacock right now

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Season 2 review: Series still sings