The minds between Bob’s Burgers bring a goofy, well-crafted animated musical to Apple’s streaming service.
Musical TV shows haven’t exactly had the best track record. Viva Laughlin and Cop Rock were infamous duds. Glee had a massive first season before the hype cooled off. Galavant and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend were both critically acclaimed but also struggled to grab big ratings. Who knows if Apple TV+’s Central Park will break the curse, but for now its cheekily enjoyable nature surpasses the worst examples of musical TV.
Central Park comes courtesy of creators Josh Gad and Nora Smith, as well as Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard. The show follows the exploits of Owen Tillerman (Leslie Odom Jr.), who works as the manager of New York City’s Central Park, and his family, including wife Paige (Kathryn Hahn) and two kids, comic book fan Molly (Kristen Bell) and Cole (Tituss Burgess). Yes, this is another animated sitcom about family life. But Central Park has some tricks up its sleeve to give it a unique personality.
For one thing, the Tillermans have a villain to face over the course of the show. Unbeknownst to the Tillermans, wealthy entrepreneur Bitsy (Stanley Tucci) is plotting an elaborate plan to sell off Central Park. There’s also an array of park inhabitants, including a narrator played by Gad, to help push each episode’s plot along.
The expansive cast helps keep the show feeling fresh, but it does have its drawbacks. Both the large cast and the many plotlines juggled per episode leave individual installments of Central Park overstuffed. Future episodes should flesh out a smaller amount of plotlines rather than try and cram every member of the cast into each episode.
On the other hand, the writing fares better when it comes to the characters. Right from the start of Episode One, Central Park nicely establishes distinct personalities & motivations for each member of the cast. Paranoid Owen, determined Paige and especially the fun rapport between Bitsy and her assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs) are all well-formed from the get-go. It quickly becomes immensely amusing just to watch these people bounce off one another in comedic conversations.
These characters owe much of their distinctiveness to Central Park’s stellar voice work. Odom Jr. especially impresses with how endearingly he renders Owen’s genuine passion for everything related to keeping Central Park running smoothly. The only downside in the principal cast is having Bell, who’s white, portray Black daughter Molly. Though the cast is apparently aiming for colorblind and genderblind casting, Bell playing a young Black girl still registers as more uncomfortable than Diggs, for instance, playing an elderly white woman.
Though sometimes too overstuffed for its own good, Central Park is much like a stroll through a park on an Autumn afternoon.
Meanwhile, there are plenty of winners to be found in Central Park’s various musical numbers. Central Park isn’t one of those musicals that feels self-conscious about being a musical; no Greatest Showman-esque pop songs masquerading as musical numbers nor self-deprecating jokes about characters breaking into song are found here. Instead, Central Park’s first four episodes embrace the idea that characters can break into grandiose musical numbers at any moment.
This is a much more old-school type of musical, as evidenced by how the very first episode employs an All-Skate musical number in the form of the exceedingly catchy “Own It”. The lyrics for the assorted tunes are penned by a who’s-who of guest songwriters that range from Sara Bareilles, Rafael Casal & Utkarsh Ambudkar and even Cyndi Lauper. This means Central Park delivers well-structured and cleverly written lyrics over humorously ludicrous topics. Dog poop and opposing views on rats, for example, are two examples of the kind of silly subjects explored in Central Park’s musical numbers.
As a cherry on top, the musical bits see Central Park frequently deviating from its standard visual style. The best of these deviations is Molly’s recurring comic book doodles, as her self-reflective tunes are accompanied by the amateurish artistry of a middle schooler, complete with a lined-paper background. Almost as enjoyable are the overdramatic pieces of colorful lighting in the musical number “Manager to Manager”. Who knew two managers searching for trash-related legal loopholes could be filtered through such visually vibrant means straight out of a 1980s music video?
Though sometimes too overstuffed for its own good, Central Park is much like a stroll through a park on an Autumn afternoon. It’s nothing revolutionary, but pretty delightful nonetheless. Even when you get through its tenth poop joke, there’s a sweetness to Central Park that’s as endearing as its voicework and creative musical numbers. In other words, Central Park is far more of a Crazy Ex-Girlfriend than a Viva Laughlin.
Central Park premieres on Apple TV+ on May 29th, airing with weekly episodes.