'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist' Star Skylar Astin Picks His Favorite Comfort TV

The 'Pitch Perfect' actor talks about why musicals can be healing, joining the series after the pilot he wrote didn't go forward and Bernadette Peters.
Sergei Bachlakov/NBC
Skylar Astin on 'Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist'

Now is a good time to sit down with your loved ones in front of the TV for some good old-fashioned escapism, and Skylar Astin knows the perfect show: Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist.

The NBC musical dramedy features Astin as the BFF of the titular character (played by Jane Levy), a San Francisco computer programmer with whom he happens to be in love, and it's the type of uplifting content that he hopes will find an audience.

"I think people want a show like this. While being really warming, it also has pathos. And it also is a funny high concept. Sometimes there's a trade off with certain uplifting shows — they can be a little cheesy, a little corny — and I think our show accomplishes a lot," the actor told The Hollywood Reporter over the phone this week.

Astin's own comfort TV, though? WWE wrestling.

"I was literally on my couch one of the first days of social distancing and I went to the WWE Network, and I went to an old-school Monday Night Raw from 1997," he said. "I just pretended, like, I was 11 again and I ate cereal. I've got to be honest, it was a great day. It was definitely not something I'm going to be doing for all the weeks. But you know what? It was comforting, I've got to be honest. Thank God for Stone Cold Steve Austin and Shawn Michaels."

Below, the Pitch Perfect and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend star discusses the importance of musicals, writing his own show and watching Peter Gallagher and Mary Steenburgen show off their skills.

What's it like being on a heartwarming, feel-good show like Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist right now?

I think the writing and the cast and the whole team bring it together — the whole storyline with Zoey's family and all the stuff about loss, there's also depth in the story. So it's not just a bubble-gummy show.

Is there also something about a musical that is inherently feel-good? Even the most tragic musicals have songs that spark intense emotions.

I think there's like a certain liberty that you get to take when you do a musical. And the thing about the genre, even onstage, is that transition between scene and song is often taken for granted. What our show does really well and what some of the best musicals ever do really well is really take care of that transition and justify it. The device that we have with Zoey hearing people's thoughts is a great way to get into song. But I think even how it happens every single time, starting with one of the first songs after the group number in the pilot — where Simon opens up his heart — the way that we got there through Zoey's point of view, I think it's so dreamy and so magical. And that's why I think our show is different.

After The CW series Crazy Ex-Girlfriend ended, what type of project did you want to do next?

Last development season, I actually sold a show over at ABC. It was a musical show and I wrote all the music, and I wrote the script with Jimmy Kimmel. We sold it in the room to all the ABC executives. Unfortunately, at the goal line, the entire regime over ABC was replaced. So we had brand-new people reviewing our pilot and it didn't go forward. So I was kind of unsure about what I was doing.

I was still waiting to see if another service was going to pick up the pilot, and then I got a call from my agents saying, "Hey, you're going to love this. We have an offer for you. And what's even better is we love it and we love it for you."

What are some of your favorite musical numbers in the show so far?

I'm really excited about Jane in episode eight, because she sings again and more than once, and I hear it's spectacular. I've heard some of the pre-record and I was there for some of the songs, so I'm excited to see how that all turns out. I have a really spectacular sequence in the last episode of season one, and it is long and cool and was so fun to shoot.

I'm really excited [Sunday's] episode for Kapil Talwalkar, who plays Tobin on the show — he has his first number and we get to finally hear him sing and see what Tobin has to say.

Every time Peter Gallagher steps up from that couch and lights up the screen — I swear to God, I'm obsessed with that guy. He's so talented. I mean, everyone on the show, really. I could literally answer this question for 20 more minutes. The cast is amazing.

I really liked Mary Steenburgen's [rendition of] "How Do You Mend a Broken Heart." I thought [choreographer Mandy Moore]'s movements came out so effortlessly and organically and I could tell knowing both of them so well when I watched it. I remember thinking, "I can totally imagine how that rehearsal room went." Because I could see the marriage between both of them and their souls in that one song was just so beautiful.

Are there any other moments you're looking forward to people seeing throughout the season?

I'm personally just happy to be there for people. Shows often make attempts to be a source of comfort and you know their message and I think that our show actually has that. It has that feeling of comfort and and familiar faces that you've seen in other things, even in other musicals, and brand-new faces. People that you've never really thought would wind up together. Our guest cast continues to be amazing, from Justin Kirk to Stephanie Styles to the people that we have coming up — Bernadette Peters is coming up soon, Paul Feig. I think that as this gains momentum, it could be something that is on TV for a little bit and I can't wait to be a part of that.

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Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on NBC.