In 'Zoey 102,' Jamie Lynn Spears Admits She Peaked in High School – The Daily Beast

FOLLOW ME … BACK TO SENIOR YEAR
Watching the “Zoey 101” sequel film is like reuniting with your graduating class and finding that while you’ve changed, everyone else stayed the same—and they’re fine with it.
One of the pleasures of watching Nickelodeon’s Zoey 101 as a tween was the series’ idealization of independence. Set at the fictional boarding school Pacific Coast Academy, the Dan Scheinder-produced show centered on a confident, precocious teen named Zoey Brooks (Jamie Lynn Spears) and her rotating door of roommates (R.I.P. Dana), friends, and boyfriends as they navigated their teenage years away from their homes.
It gave college hopefuls a glimpse of living in a dorm and kids, who simply wanted to escape the reign of the parents, an extremely comfortable portrait of adult-like freedom. As with many children’s programs, the kids’ financial stability was a given.
It’s only appropriate, then, that a reboot set in the adult world would flip this fantasy on its head. In the new sequel film Zoey 102 (now on Paramount+), the former most popular girl at PCA appears to have seemingly peaked in high school.
It’s not that Zoey, who’s 30 in the film, is living a difficult life, by any means. She’s a producer on a Love Island-type dating show called Love: Fully Charged—although her boss is an obnoxious man-baby who refuses to acknowledge her contributions. She has a gorgeous apartment and can afford the newest PearPhone. She ostensibly has the same amount of guys fawning after her as she did in high school. (In the opening scene, a man proposes to her after just two dates.)
However, there’s a dissatisfaction lurking beneath Zoey’s public image that’s kept from having a long-term relationship since her teen years and becoming a well-rounded adult. (It also has suddenly made her a klutz.) A more insightful film would point to a number of societal reasons and mundane experiences that can diminish a woman’s self-confidence, once they step out into the real world. But for the most part, this is a breezy revisitation of a kids show, so all of Zoey’s problems have to trace back to her first love at PCA, Chase (Sean Flynn).
It’s not that Zoey's yearning for what could’ve been, if she hadn’t essentially ghosted Chase while they were in Hawaii together, is unrealistic. However, given the mostly comfortable life she has as an adult, it does make her a bit pathetic. I would compare the way she navigates adult life to how Carrie Bradshaw awkwardly exists in the modern world of And Just Like That. It's almost like Zoey’s been placed in a cryogenic freezer since Zoey 101 ended and awakened right before the movie starts. Likewise, you can’t help but be extremely curious about what traumatic event happened in the intervening years since the original show ended in 2008 that prohibited her growth and caused her to regress socially. (As far as we know, nothing occurred.)
Zoey 102 is essentially a redo of Zoey 101’s series finale, suffused with rom-com clichés. Most of the film takes place during the leadup to Logan (Matthew Underwood) and Quinn’s (Erin Sanders) wedding where most of Zoey’s classmates—minus a few notable faces, like Lola (Victoria Justice) and Nicole (Alexa Nikolas)—reunite. The fact that brainiac Quinn is settling down with Logan, who doesn’t seem to have matured much since PCA, is just as concerning as Zoey’s obsession with Chase. However, in classic rom-com fashion, her life is positioned as more aspirational than Zoey’s, because Quinn’s in a relationship.
That said, the fact that Quinn is getting married to her high-school lover and that Chase, who also attends the wedding, has a girlfriend sends Zoey spiraling down a path of bad decisions. Embarrassed about her singledom, Zoey tells the bridal party, including her nerdy former classmate Stacey (Abby Wilde), that she has a boyfriend. After Quinn puts her down for a plus-one, Zoey’s forced to hire an actor to pretend to be her date at the wedding.
On the same day as Quinn and Logan’s wedding, she also has to attend the taping of her show’s finale, after begging her boss to be added to the live team. The film tries its best to make the stakes of Zoey’s work life feel just as important as the state of her love life. But the sexism she experiences in the workplace is tackled in a cursory manner, and the film doesn’t seem to take reality TV seriously as a genre.
What follows are the standard hijinks and, in this movie’s case, overly long sequences one would expect from a rom-com made in 2007. (This film makes its 100-minute runtime feel like two-and-a-half hours.) The “fake relationship” trope with Zoey and her fake BF “Hugo” (played by Dean Geyer) doesn’t really work, given that they never become love interests or develop any sort of connection. There’s also a running joke about Stacey’s foray into true-crime podcasting that feels a few years too late. The same goes for the dating-show parody that is an unnecessarily time-consuming (and unfunny) set piece.
The most modern aspect of the film is its excessive needledrops, which will make you more curious about Paramount’s music budget and licensing agreements than whatever’s happening on-screen. The music, which includes “good 4 u” by Olivia Rodrigo, No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak,” and Kacey Musgraves’ “camera roll,” also seems to be why certain scenes where nothing is really happening go on for way too long. This includes a karaoke scene where members of the wedding party perform Limp Bizkit and the Dirty Dancing theme.
But what do fans of the original show, like myself, want out of a Zoey 101 movie in 2023, if they even want it all? This is certainly a question I kept asking myself while I laughed at the zanier portions of the film that felt classically Nickelodeon, like Chris Massey’s hysterical performance as Michael, and rolling my eyes at all the dialogue meant to appeal to a grown-up audience.
Zoey 102 is like most modern reboots that aren’t nearly as satisfying as watching the original product. Maybe if the film were willing to tackle the anxieties of modern womanhood in a more specific, less superficial way, it would at least give viewers the opportunity to be surprised. Instead, it does exactly what the original show did: present a generic, sanitized view of adulthood. This time, though, it’s less like a fantasy and simply just inaccurate.
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