Jul 29, 2023

Jamie Lynn Spears 'carried the torch' for 'Zoey 101' reunion movie



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Zoey Brooks and her Pacific Coast Academy cohorts return to the television landscape 15 years later in thirtysomething adult terrain.

Jamie Lynn Spears, who played Zoey in the hugely popular Nickelodeon dramedy “Zoey 101” (2005-2008), headlines “Zoey 102,” a one-off Paramount+ movie ( reuniting many of the series original stars including Sean Flynn (Chase Matthews), Christopher Massey (Michael Barret), Matthew Underwood (Logan Reese) and Erin Sanders (Quinn Pensky).

“This [movie] would not have existed without her,” “Zoey 102” director Nancy Hower told The Post about Spears. “She’s been carrying this torch [to return] for 15 years and wanting to come back and do this.”

Spears takes center stage in the movie, in which Zoey — who’s now working on a reality show — and her school pals reunite in Southern California to celebrate Logan and Quinn’s wedding.

Zoey, in her 30s, is a bridesmaid. The best man? Her ex-boyfriend … Chase.

“We find Zoey in a part of her life where she’ in her 30s and hasn’t really gotten to where she wants to be, or doesn’t really know where she wants to be,” Hower said.

“The writers [Monica Sherer and Madeline Whitby] created this great world of this reality show and going behind-the-scenes there, which could be a show in itself,” she said. “I think they liked the idea that Zoey is in this job … and think about it, she’s a woman who kind of gave up on love … and now she’s working on a reality show about love — which is all fake.

“Like they say, it’s no coincidence where you end up in your life,” Hower said. “We wanted to make a funny rom-com about when all your friends are getting married off and you’re in that time of your life where you’re like, ‘Oh God, what happened to me?!'”

Hower said she didn’t grow up with “Zoey 101” but that she “immersed herself” in its world after reading Sherer/Whitby’s script — which helped to allay any fears she had of trying to live up to “Zoey 101” fans’ expectations.

“I don’t think I had that, ‘Oh, no, what do I do now?’ feeling,” she said. “I think my worry was, ‘OK, this is a group of actors, some of whom haven’t acted in a while. How is that going to work?’

“I used to be an actor [including Ensign Samantha Wildman on ‘Star Trek: Voyager’] so I brought the cast in and we did a lot of improv together and talked a lot about the history of the characters, like ‘What do you think happened to your character the last 15 years?’

“We started doing a lot of improv around the scenes — about what happened before and after — and these actors had really thought deeply about this … they really brought their A game and the love they have for each other is profound.”

Hower said Spears, who’s also an executive producer on “Zoey 102,” was deeply involved in the movie on several fronts.

“She has such an incredible work ethic … and was constantly giving me information on [the original series] that I wouldn’t necessarily have known unless I really dug down,” Hower said. “She shared the idea that we wanted to make this for a new audience that shouldn’t need to know anything about the series to love this.”

That being said, Hower said there are a bunch of surprises (“Easter eggs”) in store for hardcore “Zoey 101” fans.

“I’ll give you an example,” she said. “Chris [Massey] was telling me how he came up with his [‘Zoey 101’] catchphrase ‘Drippin,’ so we were like, ‘Oh my god, you should have an album called ‘Drippin’!’

“When Zoey’s car breaks down I was like, ‘Can we find that old car that her father drove [in the series] and put that in? So we threw that in … it’s little things that a real fan would laugh about.

“I wanted to elevate this world,” she said. “These characters came from a private school and they’re LA kids so I pitched it as ‘The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’ meets ‘Crazy Rich Asians,'” Hower said. “It should have a larger-the-life feel.”

Fans might get more of a chance to laugh even more should “Zoey 102” spur a sequel series, since Hower said both options (a movie or a series) were considered during the development process before Paramount CEO Brian Robbins gave the movie a green light.

Hower said that the cast bonded so strongly that, when the “Zoey 102” premiere was cancelled due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, they took matters into their own hands.

“These guys have now all flown themselves out [to LA] and we’re all here going to watch the premiere together,” she said.

“That’s unusual.”