Central Park was one of Apple TV+’s big-ticket shows and the streaming platform’s first adult animated series.
Owen Tillerman (Leslie Odom Jr.) is the park manager of the famous park. He lives within a property in the park with his family. His wife, Paige (Kathryn Hahn), is a journalist for a small newspaper, his daughter, Molly (Kristen Bell) is an aspiring artist, and his son, Cole (Tituss Burgess), is obsessed with a dog. The Tillermans unwittingly clash with the hotel owner/property tycoon Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci), who wants to buy Central Park and turn the green space into condos and retail spaces.
Central Park was created by Josh Gad, Loren Bouchard, and Nora Smith. Bouchard was the creator of Bob’s Burgers and Smith was a producer on that show. The influence of Bob’s Burgers on Central Park was obvious. Central Park had a similar art style to Bob’s Burgers and like Bob’s Burgers, Central Park focused on a family who lived at their workplace. H. Jon Benjamin, the star of Bob’s Burgers even appears in a recurring role as the Mayor of New York.
The family unit was one of the great features of the show. They were a loving if chaotic group. Owen was good at his job but he was neurotic, and Paige showed competence as a journalist but her paper’s lowly status made access difficult. The kids were a fun presence. Molly was the smarter of the pair who a crush on a boy, so tried to avoid embarrassing herself. Molly had a snark to her, like Louise Belcher from Bob’s Burgers. Cole was a sensitive soul, although not so bright. Often the family paired up for storylines, like Owen and Paige having to travel to Brooklyn during a surprise audit, Owen and Cole going on a treasure hunt, and Paige and Molly going into Bitsy’s hotel for journalistic reasons.
Whilst Central Park had long-running stories like Bitsy’s scheme to try and take over the park and Molly’s romance, most of the episodes worked as standalone stories. If Central Park was broadcast on traditional TV it would be easy for a new viewer to follow. The structure of many episodes was Bitsy comes up with a plan to help her get one step closer to owning the park, and a secondary standalone story. It was similar to how Disenchantment structured their series – by having the overarching story in the background.
Central Park’s unique selling point was it was a musical. All the episodes had a few musical numbers and many of the cast members worked in the musical genre. Josh Gad was known for roles in Frozen, Beauty and the Beast, and Book of Mormon, Odom Jr. was in Hamilton, Burgess has appeared on Broadway, and Kristen Bell was Anna from Frozen. People who have written songs for the show include Alan Menken, Fiona Apple, and Meghan Trainor. For fans of Broadway-style music should be happy with the songs in the show, although some stick in the mind better than others.
The show also brings in guest stars. Examples include Fred Armisen (Big Mouth), Audra McDonald (The Good Fight), and Stephanie Beatriz (Brooklyn Nine-Nine). My favorite was Andrew Rannells and that was due to him working with Gad, so we got a Book of Mormon reunion.
However, the role of Birdie (Gad) was an issue. Birdie was a busker who also operated as the narrator. It seems like the writers had to find a way to shoehorn Gad into the series because his purpose was to tell the audience information about how the park runs and sometimes interferes with the story. He just seemed surplus to the story. The information could have been told in more organic ways.
Although Central Park was classified as an adult animated series, it was tame compared to many Netflix shows. There was little swearing, no violence, and only a few rude jokes. It has a TV-14 in the USA, but children younger than that age could watch it without much fuss. The humor, language, and situation were more in line with shows like The Simpsons and Futurama.
For Apple’s first foray into adult animation, Central Park was a good start. They have a light and breezy show which makes a change from the darker, heavier, and more controversial rivals.