Central Park, Apple TV Plus’ first official cartoon, is a surprising gem plucked from the dusty shelves of abandoned network TV.
After Fox passed on the show, which had been developed for the network by Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard, Apple won a bidding war over Netflix and Hulu to bring Central Park to life. On May 29, this magical musical animated sitcom will introduce its eccentrically wholesome New York family (they live in a mini castle) to Apple TV Plus subscribers searching for a guaranteed hit of warmth and hilarity.
Each of the 25-minute episodes follows the Tillerman family as they fend off hotel heiress Bitsy Brandenham from turning Central Park into a collection of condos. The family live in a small medieval castle, originally designed to hold shovels and dead people, nestled in a park teeming with tourists and the homeless.
Dad and stressed park manager Owen mostly spends his time dealing with the schemes Bitsy (who has notes of Edna from The Incredibles) comes up with to drive people away. Meanwhile, the rest of the Tillerman family go about their everyday lives in exceptionally absurd and irrational ways.
There’s mom Paige attempting to kick-start her journalism career with a “real news” story, which ends up involving stalking politicians to their fancy spas and interrupting their fish pedicures. There’s teenager Molly, whose cartoons about herself as a superhero descend into obsession over kissing a nameless boy who flies a kite in the park. Cole, possibly the weirdest of the lot, is a young fellow who loves all creatures, from Bitsy’s oppressed dog Champagne to the rat his mom sets traps out to kill.
While the good-hearted but insane family support each other in their endeavours, Owen is drawn into Bitsy’s plots involving councils, mayors, contracts and the world of bureaucracy. Yet creator Bouchard’s nose for the wacky, honed through writing about another oddball family in Bob’s Burgers, never lets the minutiae drag.
He’s assisted by the brilliant Josh Gad of Frozen’s Olaf fame, whose chops in Broadway hit The Book of Mormon shine through the catchy, self-aware musical numbers, which are possibly the best part of the cartoon.
That’s in large part thanks to the first-class voice cast, including Gad who, along with co-writing the series with Bouchard and Nora Smith, plays busker Birdie, self-described as “almost like a priest.” He serves as a narrator, stitching the Tillermans’ stories together with his direct-to-camera explanations and occasional interactions with “best friend” Owen, all to the tune of him plucking his violin like a guitar.
He’s joined by Kathryn Hahn (mom Paige), Tituss Burgess (son Cole), Stanley Tucci (Bitsy, of course), alongside Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr. as Owen and Frozen co-star Kristen Bell as Molly. The latter duo take on the biggest, best and surprisingly uplifting songs of the show. You’ll be singing about “owning it” in your respective line of work for days.
A special mention has to go to Helen, played by yet another Hamilton star in Daveed Diggs. Helen is Bitsy’s assistant who’s hoping Bitsy will write her into her will and then swiftly bite the dust. Helen’s quietly tortured state, involving tweezing Bitsy’s chin hair and making as many deadpan and creepy remarks as possible, is another layer all on its own that balances the goofy spirit of the other characters.
While Bitsy’s threats have yet to see the park in any real peril after the first four episodes, Central Park is more concerned with celebrating the weird and weirder characters of a New York teeming with tourists who want to put vests on squirrels. You know what you’re going to get with Central Park: the sweet escapades of an eccentric family, who occasionally break into raps about statutes and flowers. All of it soars.
Central Park arrives on Apple TV Plus May 29.how to sign up.
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