[Warning: The following contains spoilers from Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas. Read at your own risk!]
Fans of Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist are likely singing jubilant Heart Songs after seeing the show's triumphant return with Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas, a not-necessarily-concluding holiday movie on The Roku Channel. But they'd be hard-pressed to drown out the joyful noises made by star Skylar Astin.
Just months after NBC shocked the creative team and fans alike with the show's unexpected cancellation, Astin reprises his role as Zoey's bestie-turned-beau Max, now imbued with the same uncanny ability to see and hear the emotional internal music of those around him that has both plagued and blessed Zoey since the show's debut.
With the cliffhanger of just how their shared superpower would impact their often complicated romance left in the lurch after the cancellation, Astin tells TV Guide he was both relieved and grateful to get the chance to resolve that lingering plotline, almost as much as he was thrilled to get an opportunity to watch his leading lady Jane Levy cut loose in song and dance sequences more than ever before.
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Tell me about the extraordinary journey you had on the way to this extraordinary Christmas. Lots of twists and turns along the way even before you hit the soundstage!
Skylar Astin: Yeah, it was a real testament to the fan base and how much of an impact this show has made on that fan base. And it happened as fast for us as it did for the fans. We were heartbreakingly canceled, I believe, before we really should have been. And those decisions are so above me and have so much to do with so many things that actually don't even have anything to do with the show.
And thankfully, the fans really rallied around it and Roku totally came to the rescue. They've been unbelievable. They've even now bought the entire library of the show, so all 25 episodes are now on the Roku channel, which is incredible. So even if you haven't seen the series, you now can binge it and then catch up just in time for the movie. Or, if you really want to take the shortcut, you can just watch the movie, because it can serve as a standalone. There's a little bit of a preamble in the first act where it kind of catches you up to speed. It was a bit of a rollercoaster for us, but how often, or how rare is it to be able to revisit something like that and put on the costume and be on the same set a couple months after receiving such bad news. I just felt really, really grateful to be there.
What was exciting about getting the opportunity, after that tantalizing Season 2 cliffhanger, to actually have Max be able to share his Heart Song experience more deeply with Zoey?
Astin: I was so excited at the opportunity to be able to do that for seasons to come, and I'm so glad that I got to play it out in this movie because there's been a level of inequality between Zoey and Max and something that's driven him up the wall for at least a season of television. And so now that the playing field is leveled, I actually got to not only experience that feeling of equality, but also as an actor I got to experience what Jane gets to experience and that's to be a scene partner for the songs. I truly consider every song we've ever done on the show a duet, because Jane is such a phenomenal actress and she's always propelling the story forward, even as a listener. And I just wanted to do my job as Max for the few times that I got to do that in this movie.
In terms of the music, tell me being an observer instead of a participant. Was there something that stood out for you in particular?
Astin: I really liked watching Jane do "We Need A Little Christmas" because she is just like a fireball of energy in that number, and I know she was having a ton of fun. There's such a specialness to Jane in every way as a dramatic actress/comedic actress, but also as a triple threat, as a singer and a dancer — she can move and she is moving as a mover! So that was thrilling to watch, and then something else that was really actually emotionally moving was to watch the Pink Floyd song, "Wish You Were Here" at the dinner table with the entire Clarke family. If I'm not singing on this show, normally I'm in a frozen position, as you know — someone in the reality while Zoey can hear. But this was a time I got to pick my head up and truly just watch, as a front-row audience member, a beautiful performance. So a lot of the acting was really done for me.
It was nice to see you two move the relationship forward and become even more definitively coupled. And yet we got to get some complication along the way: it wasn't outrageous; it was very grounded, how had your conflict and resolved it. Tell me what you liked about working with Jane and the writing team to figure out this particular iteration of their romance.
Astin: Well, I think if we went further and there was a real conflict, where almost the relationship was in jeopardy or in question, I think that that would be the wrong move, because we've really taken the time to bring these two people together. And I think if we played with that any further, audiences would start to question if they are really right for each other. So to be able to navigate real-life scenarios — and even scenarios like in our story that are a bit magical and surreal — to be able to navigate that as a team and as a couple, and as a couple that's genesis was as best friends. I really enjoyed exploring that dynamic with Jane and the writers because a) it's a joy to work with her and b) I just think that that's the right way to tell the story
Was this a profound experience when the team was able to reunite on set, knowing that it was almost gone and then you got it back again?
Astin: Yeah, "Don't it always seem to go that you don't know what you've got till it's gone." That's kind of real. I mean, I've always loved this cast and I've always loved every moment, even when we were on what felt like an open-ended ride. But now knowing what you have, it felt even more special. It was a unique experience in that so many things were existing at once. I mean, at times it felt bittersweet. At times it felt pure gratitude. At times it felt almost sad, but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. And I think it's a really special thing, when you can leave audiences wanting more, and I think we do in this case.
You have a very special audience that has remained very passionate and devoted. Tell me what's been fun for you to see the anticipation building for this. Once people learn that yes, we are going to see them together again.
Astin: Well, it's way better than the reverse of them going "What no we're done with this. Get out of here". So, thank God they reacted the way that we expected them to. I mean, truly...whenever a show gets canceled or a project doesn't move forward it's a real blow to the cast and the team and the crew. But I really felt for the fans in this one, and I know that sounds a little corny, but I really think that, especially during the pandemic, when people were really picking it up, it was a form of escapism and grieving for people.
I can't tell you how many countless stories of people telling me that they've dealt with a relative that had a similar illness, or even the exact illness PSP that Peter Gallagher['s character] had. And that this show was an amazing coping mechanism. I mean, this show is an amazing coping mechanism for our creator, Austin Winsberg, who literally wrote this to cope with losing his father. So, that really always was evident in every table read in every episode in every audience reaction. And so, it's a really special thing that I will always look back on so fondly that I got to be a part of this incredible show.
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What is kind of percolating in your brain as you think about doing more, either doing more episodes or coming back every so often to do another movie. Tell me a little bit about, creatively, what's got you stoked about that prospect?
Astin: Well, something that was really proven to me in seeing the movie and in even seeing the trailer, is that it works. It works as a movie and these characters are minted. They work outside of their apartments. They work outside of what the series showed. And now I think we could really take them anywhere and do anything with them. I mean, I don't think we're going to space anytime soon, but I wouldn't mind going to Hawaii, or going on a little extraordinary vacation, or any holiday, whether it be Valentine's day or Labor day. You never know. I mean, I see wedding bells for Max and Zoe. I see family potential, and I of course see and hear more music.
And then lastly, I'll ask you, how did, how has this experience with this show changed you kind of forever going forward, both in your career and in your life?
Astin: Well, first of all, I have like an amazing community of friends now from this, just between the cast and Austin and the rest of the team. But to be able to do something of this scale on the platform that we were able to do it, I really felt a relationship towards the audience. I was able to in real-time kind of experience what they were experiencing. We really have an incredibly devoted fan base. A lot of times like you wonder what this is all for. I think that this show really has been like a transcendental experience for me. I've grown a lot as a person, as an empath, and as a musician from it.
Zoey's Extraordinary Christmas is now streaming on The Roku Channel.