Central Park review: Amazing new Apple series borrows from Bollywood in the best way possible
Central ParkCreators - Loren Bouchard, Josh Gad, Nora SmithCast - Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, Josh Gad, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr, Stanley Tucci
Elaborately choreographed musical numbers, family drama, and a moustache-twirling villain -- Apple’s new show isn’t a Bollywood song-and-dance spectacle (despite the repeated spotting of a sardarji), but an animated sitcom from the creators of Bob’s Burgers. Central Park is a delightful addition to the fledgling streamer’s uneven roster of content, and also its most unique.
For instance, it’s a show that truly embraces its identity as a quirky musical and makes no attempt to pander to a wider audience. Instead, Central Park focuses on being the best version of itself that it can possibly be for those that will appreciate its gloriously nerdy antics.
Featuring the Tillermans, a family that lives inside New York City’s Central Park, the series can be enjoyed by both children and adults alike. While the kids will no doubt find themselves tapping their feet along with the brilliant musical numbers, adults will appreciate the larger themes — corporate greed and real estate scams, and the indefensible class-divide that plagues multicultural cities such as New York.
So, while Molly and Cole Tillerman navigate high school and the traumas of teenage, their parents, Owen and Paige must deal with matters such as governmental corruption and corporate malfeasance. Owen is the lead caretaker of the park, while Paige is a reporter with a nose for news.
When word of a Trumpian hotel heiress’ grand plans to take over Central Park and construct condos on the land reaches their ears, the Tillermans must unite to save their home, a landmark that has been a refuge for millions of New Yorkers for decades.
Narrated by the show’s co-creator Josh Gad, who plays the park’s troubadour Birdie, Central Park opens with a remarkably confident bunch of episodes, especially for a first season. Four were provided by Apple for this review, and two will be released on launch day.
Gad and co-creators Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith have had the wonderful idea to invite guest composers to score each episode. And despite the obvious risks, the result ends up feeling part of a larger whole. Sara Bareilles’ episode two power ballad, Weirdos Make Great Superheroes, is a show-stopper, one that perfectly captures the oddball energy of the awkward Molly Tillerman.
But its musical achievements aside, the show also plays with ideas of gender and race in an interesting manner. At a time when Scarlett Johansson was forced to drop out of a movie in which she’d have played a trans woman, and paraplegics took offence to Bryan Cranston playing a wheelchair-bound man in The Upside, a white woman plays a mixed-race teen, a black man plays a white woman, and a middle-aged man plays an elderly lady in Central Park. This sort of casting would no doubt have been frowned upon had Central Park been a live-action show. But it makes the most of the freedom animation affords creators.
Ultimately, all that matters -- all that should matter -- is that Stanley Tucci sounds like he was born to play an old white lady, while Kristen Bell brings a palpable warmth to her portrayal of the artistically inclined Molly. But it’s Daveed Diggs as Betsy’s clinical assistant Helen who steals every scene that he is in. It is a hilariously written character, but Diggs’ performance is so delicately detailed that it’s hard not to pay attention in the few moments that Helen is on screen. A quick cutaway to her interviewing a potential dog-walker for Betsy’s pet pooch Champagne is comedy gold.
But it’s just one sparkling moment in a show that is positively brimming with them. Being on Apple TV+ might restrict its exposure, but at least everyone with an iPhone should definitely tune in.