Race can be complicated and uncomfortable, but it’s still something we need to discuss.
For even if you think you are the least racist person in the world, as Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 2 Episode 6 showed, even the most well-intentioned and well-meaning characters have blindspots.
It’s only through having these conversations we can address this and work toward building a more tolerant world.
And with that in mind, I wanted to love this episode; I desperately did.
All thought that went into crafting this storyline and the choices made behind the scenes — the songs performed by Simon, Mo, Tobin, and other BIPOC characters are all tracks from Black artists, and Black creatives crafted the installment.
Zoey: That’s awful.
Simon: No, it’s the truth. I have to constantly amputate parts of who I am to make other people feel comfortable in my presence, so they feel safe. So when I walk onto the elevator, they aren’t startled to see me. Do you even have to think about that?
Zoey: I mean if I’m being honest when I see you, I just see Simon.
Simon: Simon is a Black man. You seeing me as only Simon denies a fundamental part of who I am. And you asking me to walk back my words, Zoey, is telling me to deny that fundamental part of who I am. Whether you’re doing it as my boss or my friend, it makes you part of the problem. So to answer your question, I will not be retracting anything that I said.
And don’t get me wrong, parts of the episode were exceptional, like Simon and Mo’s conversation about Simon’s future at SPRQPoint.
The problem was — and has been for most Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 2 — our protagonist Zoey Clarke.
She’s a well-intentioned character, but after a while, it’s hard to keep overlooking her insensitivity and lack of awareness.
Zoey always feels like she has to fix the problem, but it would have been great to see her take a backseat role this time and focus on being an ally to Simon and Tobin at SPRQPoint, instead of trying to pressure them into positions with which they weren’t comfortable.
Ideally, Zoey would have apologized to Simon at the top of the hour for her idiocy and spent the rest of the hour in the role of supportive friend and ally.
The episode still could have been as effective, and the only change would be Danny Michael Davis alone — and not him and Zoey — fill the role of a well-meaning but completely dense privileged white person.
This way, we wouldn’t have to watch Zoey stumble for most of the hour trying to figure out her role in all of this, making misstep after misstep.
From holding a town hall where the white employees explained why they couldn’t be racist to asking Mo, as a Black person, for advice on how to talk to Simon, a Black man, and encouraging Simon to deny a fundamental part of himself, Zoey just kept putting her foot in her mouth.
Presumably, that was the point: To portray an honest storyline about racial bias, to see Zoey mess up time and time again, and then be called on her flaws.
And while it was great that Simon and Mo called Zoey out on her ignorance, it just took too damn long for Zoey to get to the place where she realized that maybe, just maybe, she was part of the problem.
Zoey: Why didn’t you tell me?
Simon: I did try to tell you. I called you right after Danny Michael Davis dropped this on me. You weren’t really listening.
Zoey: I thought I was listening. You said there was a problem with the Chirp, so I assumed it was a coding issue, not, uh, that issue.
Simon: Well, when a Black employee tells you that a tech device is having trouble recognizing people of color, I’d think maybe you could put two and two together.
Zoey: You are right. I’m sorry. I was so focused on coming up with a solution I wasn’t hearing what was behind the problem.
Simon: Well, now you know.
Even then, though, she only seemed to get part of the message, as she couldn’t stop herself from meddling.
Checking in on Tobin after witnessing some racist humor on the fourth floor and gauging how he felt was the right call, especially as his direct supervisor.
What wasn’t OK was pressuring Tobin to come forward and share his own experiences of systemic racism at SPRQPoint.
This is not Zoey’s story, and she has no right to tell people when or with whom they should share their experiences.
Like all of the reasons Simon listed and a hundred more, Zoey has no idea what it’s like to be Black, live life as a person of color, move through the world as a minority.
Yes, Zoey was right that it’s harder to be a woman in the tech world, but those experiences aren’t the same ones Simon and Tobin face working at SPRQPoint, a company with a lack of diversity and systemic racism within the workplace.
So it wasn’t relief so much as a feeling of ‘it’s about time,’ when Zoey realized everyone, including herself, had to do better.
The supposed eureka moment happened too late in the episode to be as impactful as the writers probably hoped, feeling it was better to guide the audience on a roundabout road of why systemic racism is bad, and these are the ways we contribute to it, instead of just getting to their thesis sentence.
It was disappointing that a large portion of this storyline rested on Zoey’s shoulders, as again, it would have been better for the dramedy’s BIPOC characters to take center stage.
And they did, to some degree.
Simon: If I don’t retract my statement, they’ll slowly methodically ice me out. In a few months, there’ll be a new head of PR. My white bosses will give me a promotion to some job no one’s ever heard of where I’ll have no opportunity to rise and no voice. Period.
Mo: I just had a vision of me without a voice. I don’t like it.
Simon: Received. Maybe I should just retract everything I said. Just keep my head down, stack my checks. I mean who was I to think I could change any of this?
Mo: Listen to me. You are a gorgeous Black man with a big heart, and you should have to put your head down anywhere. And if you can’t be your whole self there, then they don’t deserve you. You hear me?
After being relegated to second string for most of the season, John Clarence Stewart was finally given a chance to showcase his acting chops and range in a meaningful way.
This storyline is such an important one to tell, especially in today’s increasingly polarized world, and Stewart, like Simon, does it justice.
Zoey may be a bumbling mess, unsure of what to say, Simon, though struggling with what to do, is steadfast in his beliefs.
He will no longer be silenced about the inequities he faces daily or how he has to go out of his way to make others feel more comfortable.
No, Simon is no longer apologizing to the world for being a Black man, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
The character has really come into his own during these past two episodes as someone outside of Zoey who has a distinct point of view and full emotional range.
It’s like we’re being introduced to Simon — the real Simon — for the first time, and he’s quite a character: unafraid to speak his mind, willing to hold those in power accountable for their actions, surprisingly vulnerable, a natural-born leader.
Yes, this is the Simon we can get behind and firmly support moving forward.
Another character given something more was Kapil Talwalkar’s Tobin.
Talwalkar got to be more than simply the jocular sidekick to Michael Thomas Grant’s Leif, and it was a nice change of pace.
Tobin: You want to know why I make jokes all the time? It’s because I’m a first gen. It’s how I fit in. It’s how I’ve always fit in because I don’t really fit in anywhere.
Zoey: Even here?
Tobin: At SPRQPoint? Are you kidding me? You know how shocked people are in other departments when they meet me and I don’t have an accent or I’m not the guy delivering their shawarma? Happens all the time.
Zoey: No one should have to feel this way at work. You should say something.
Tobin: To who, HR, Danny Michael Davis? What am I going to say? People are treating me like an Indian guy. Well, guess what, Zoey. I’m an Indian guy.
Zoey: The company is asking Simon to say he’s the only one who feels this way. He clearly isn’t. You could help him. You could help other people that maybe feel similar as you and Simon.
Tobin: I respect Simon for speaking out; I do. I just don’t want to stir the pot.
Tobin may hide behind humor, but he’s a
real person fictional character with real feelings something resembling human emotion, and even though the racist jokes may seem to slide off his back, they don’t.
Hearing such a jovial character detail how he, too, had to shoulder the racist culture at SPRQPoint further exemplified what a real problem this is and that Simon wasn’t alone.
It’s a good thing, too, because Tobin’s post on social contributed to the positive changes implemented at SPRQPoint globally.
Had Tobin not stepped up, things could have ended very differently. Instead of a rousing celebration at Max and Mo’s newly financed restaurant, Simon could have found himself looking for employment elsewhere.
The ending was a nice moment and felt earned after everything Simon, Zoey, et al. went through to get there, even if it was somewhat unnecessarily complicated.
The only concern is that things were wrapped up rather neatly, which would be a shame, as this isn’t a problem that can be fixed overnight.
This is a victory, to be sure, but it’d be great to see this storyline continue throughout the season and watch some of the changes be put into effect.
At the very least, some of the board’s promises should be mentioned; otherwise, this will be another instance of a large company promising to do better without ever following through.
Some stray thoughts:
Didn’t Max and Mo’s subplot of getting financing from Danny Michael Davis feel out of place? It was the right decision putting the racist culture at SPRQPoint and the fallout from Simon’s press conference front and center, but randomly inserting a semi-unrelated subplot didn’t work.
The subplot also meant that Mo couldn’t play a more prominent role in the central storyline. I know Mo was never going to be a key figure, but I wish he could have taken on a more active role than doling out advice to Simon and Zoey.
It was great having Max back at SPRQPoint, coding with the other programmers. Even though he’s outgrown the company, you can tell he missed that camaraderie of being deep in the trenches with the other coders, trying to come up with a fix. So it was nice to see him back in his element in that respect.
So what did you think, TV Fanatics?
Was Zoey’s ignorance derail the episode?
Did you see Simon and T?
Will SPRQPoint actually implement change?
Don’t forget to hit the comments below to let me know your thoughts on the midseason finale. If you missed the latest episode, remember you can watch Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist online at TV Fanatic.
Jessica Lerner is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.