Despite an impressive pedigree and a marketable cast, new Apple TV+ show Central Park seems primed to annoy as many people as it will please.
You must put up with an awful lot of very trendy singing and songwriting, and an overly precious approach to character and plotting, to get to the meager delights within.
Central Park review
The one thing Apple TV+ hasn’t tried is having its own flagship animation. Most networks with one thrive beyond the competition’s wildest dreams. It seemed smart to hire Loren Bouchard, creator of popular Fox animated comedy Bob’s Burgers — one of the few shows to reach the stature of its lineup mates The Simpsons and Family Guy — to help create Central Park, which debuts May 29 on Apple TV+.
The problem is that, in addition to co-creator and former Burgers writer Nora Smith, they also hired Josh Gad, lately the voice of inescapable cartoon snowman Olaf from the Frozen films. Gad is a fine actor and can be charming in small doses. Unfortunately, Central Park delivers a dose of Gad and his sensibility so big it proves lethal.
The animation looks exactly like in Bob’s Burgers, except the eyes are wider. And that’s a problem when Gad’s narrator Birdie will not stop looking at you. Birdie breaks the fourth wall to narrate the story of park ranger Owen (voiced by Leslie Odom Jr.); his wife, Paige (Kathryn Hahn); their son, Cole (Tituss Burgess); and their daughter, Molly (Kristen Bell).
There isn’t much in the way of a season-long arc for anyone beyond their squabble with a billionaire named Bitsy (Stanley Tucci), who lives in a penthouse that borders the park with her live-in assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs).
Paige wants to cover more serious stories at her job at a paper that’s loosely modeled on amNewYorkMetro, but the show has no idea really what it’s like to be a journalist. More convincing is Molly’s headlong rush into love with a classmate (Eugene Cordero). However, that relationship hits a lot of expected beats. Cole simply doesn’t serve much purpose.
The show’s very much just about life the way Bob’s Burgers is, only it’s not very funny. And then, of course, there’s the singing …
All singing, all dancing…
The music and singing in Central Park comes right out of the contemporary Broadway school. Any of the songs here could be rejects from Hamilton (the presence of Odom and Diggs certainly suggest that’s the target audience), Dear Evan Hansen or Fun Home.
If you like, or can tolerate, new musical songwriting and the earnest delivery of such — all refashioned to provide exposition for city council meetings, park garbage and dog care — you’ll enjoy this. Everyone else, I think, might not be as charmed, despite the wealth of talented voice actors amassed.
The overwhelming sense, from the animation to the lyrics to the dialogue, is one of utter perfunctoriness. Central Park plays very much like:
- The company knew an animated show was needed.
- Focus groups said they liked animals, Hamilton and this cast.
- Songs had to be sung because actors love singing.
- So here is this show.
No passion or personal touch from any creator is detectable in the four preview episodes available to the press. Many streaming services’ greatest asset right now is that people are more starved for things to watch than ever. When this is all over, however, the shows we watched to kill time and the shows we remember will be two very different things.
Watch on: Apple TV+ (subscription required)
Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the director of 25 feature films, and the author of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.