The animated show from the creators of Bob’s Burgers continues to be utterly delightful and surprisingly creative.
Believe it or not, there’s a highly charming animated musical sitcom called Central Park currently airing on TV. The lack of marketing for any streaming program, and especially ones airing on the widely ignored pit of “content” that is Apple TV+, means that Central Park fell through the cracks of pop culture in its first season last year. The lack of any kind of notoriety for Apple TV+ programming not named Ted Lasso makes it unlikely the show will suddenly explode into a phenomenon for its second season. But at least the cast & crew behind Central Park are still delivering enjoyable half-hour doses of song-filled entertainment.
The main characters of Central Park, the Tillerman family, live in a house in the titular New York City location. Owen Tillerman (Leslie Odom Jr.) works as a park manager, his wife Paige (Kathryn Hahn) is a reporter, while his two kids, Molly (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Cole (Tituss Burgess), get into whatever antics tickle their imagination. Serving as a foil for the family and anyone else in the city is wealthy businesswoman Bitsy Brundenham (Stanley Tucci). In between fawning over her dog, she’s concocting a scheme that endangers Central Park itself.
Though it airs on a streaming service, Central Park takes its storytelling cues from classic broadcast television in that each episode can stand on its own two legs. Rather than individual installments blurring together, Central Park finds fun hooks, like a citywide blackout or Mother’s Day, to center everyone’s stories around for an episode. Going down this route makes Central Park an aberration in the world of heavily serialized streaming animated storytelling but it also makes it an enjoyable show to watch.
Part of what makes the program work as well as it does is because of the smartest thing it cribbed from Bob’s Burgers, another animated sitcom created by Loren Bouchard. Specifically, it’s evoking that show’s mixture of amusing grade-school bathroom with actual characters you can invest in. Make no mistake, though, rude humor abounds in the trio of episodes that open Central Park’s second season. Every other sentence seems to include the word pee or poop and even elderly Bitsy Brundenham regularly references flatulence.
Not every one of these gags lands, but the ones that do are funny enough to make it understandable why Central Park returns to this well regularly. Plus, it’s not like it’s the only place the show generates gags. The witty wordplay in the musical makes a great thoughtful comedic counterbalance to the bathroom gags. Meanwhile, the line deliveries from performers like Hahn and Daveed Diggs can make even the most throwaway pieces of dialogue hysterical. The only jokes that don’t click are the gags from narrator Birdie (Josh Gad), an extraneous character in season one who only feels more superfluous this go-around.
It’s not all fart and butt jokes on the second season of Central Park, though. Much like the Belcher family on Bob’s Burgers, the Tillermans are capable of making wacky crude jokes without losing sight of this being a family that loves each other. A concluding song from “Mother’s Day,” for instance, is all about how Paige will always be there for her kids. It makes time to inspire laughs, particularly in a recurring gag about how Cole is always inexplicably sleeping on Molly’s bed. But there’s also something surprisingly touching in the show’s refusal to lend even a hint of cynicism on this mom’s enduring affection for her youngsters.
Similarly effective on a poignancy level is season two’s third episode, “Fista Puf Mets Out Justice.” Here, Central Park deviates from its normal visual style to spend much of the episode in the black-and-white comic doodles of Molly. This allows the story to use the exploits of Molly’s thinly veiled superhero version of herself to reflect on her real-world struggles. It’s the high point of this initial batch of episodes for a multitude of reasons, particularly in the smart writing choice to make Molly’s insecurities stem from an awkward but not especially traumatic field trip.
The witty wordplay in the musical makes a great thoughtful comedic counterbalance to the bathroom gags.
Speaking from experience, those seemingly mundane slip-ups’ can haunt your mind, and hinging the plot of “Mets Out Justice” around that kind of incident is a thoughtful move. The exploration of Molly’s internal struggles in the world of her drawings allows the artists of Central Park to smartly utilize the visual hallmarks of comic books. The use of panels throughout the episode as well as the sight gags that occur when in-comic characters start interacting with their surroundings are especially inspired.
All of the creativity on display here proves as exciting to watch in terms of visual ingenuity as it is thought-provoking on a character level. Plus, centering an episode on Molly allows the character’s new voice performer, Emmy Raver-Lampman (taking over for Kristen Bell), to show establish herself. Rather than doing a simple retread of Bell, Raver-Lampman’s vocals lean into the notion of Molly as somebody who paints over her vulnerable interior with a vibrant exterior. She can play both sides of this young girl quite well and sounds great when it comes time for Molly to sing.
Speaking of sing, the tunes on Central Park remain highly enjoyable, even if some, like a tune primarily sung by Gad about a blackout, feel more obligatory than others. It’s especially a treat that the show continues to hire famous songwriters to pen several of the musical numbers. A particularly excellent closing tune in the first episode entitled In The Dark is written by none other than John Cameron Mitchell, in only the third ever instance of him penning something that he didn’t also direct.
Such is the power of Central Park that it could lure Mitchell out to write up a silly yet well-crafted tune The Origin of Love. With songs this fun as well as such sharply realized animation and voicework, Central Park’s second season is already off to a fantastic start. It’s hard to say if the show’s worth getting an Apple TV+ subscription, but even in the crowded landscape of adult-skewing cartoons, Central Park is very much worth watching.
Season 2 of Central Park premieres on Apple TV+ June 25th.