Central Park on Apple TV+: A pure delight
Ivan Radford | On 30, May 2020
Parks. They’ve become one of the most important commodities in our post-coronavirus society – a vital space for people to be able to meet up at a distance, a neutral ground where a sense of community still exists. Ice cream, squirrels, bins, trees. Central Park, the new animated sitcom from Apple TV+, is a love song to all of them, to the place parks hold in urban life – literally.
From the creator of Bob’s Burgers, Loren Bouchard, the show is a full-on, unabashed musical, a show that isn’t afraid to sing its ambitions and emotions loud and proud. Within the opening episode alone, there are multiple song-and-dance numbers, at least one of which will be stuck in your head for days. By the time you reach Episode 4, the show has grown into a rapturous showstopper that turns its feeling of joy up to 11.
Our guide to the series is its very own narrator (Josh Gad), who gives us the lowdown on every character we meet – usually by creeping through their gardens and peeking in the window, while whispering that we should be quiet. Gad (Frozen) and Nora Smith (Bob’s Burgers) are co-writers on the series, and Gad is in his element, able to be unashamedly sentimental and warm, while constantly interrupting his dialogue and lyrics with rambling asides and self-aware quips.
He introduces us to Owen (Hamilton’s Leslie Odom Jr.), the park manager who loves the park more than anything. His wife, Paige (Kathryn Hahn), is a journalist for New York’s “no. 1 most-left-on-the-subway paper”, and longs to write something substantial. His kids, Molly (Kristen Bell) and Cole (Tituss Burgess), get through life, the former with a hint of sarcasm, the latter with a glow of bright optimism.
The sheer calibre of voice cast is a clue to how good the writing is, giving each eccentric New Yorker a subplot or moment to make an impact, from Owen singing about he “owns it” to Cole falling in love with a dog. And that’s before we even get to the scene-stealing addition of Stanley Tucci, who is glorious as Bitsy, the hotel tycoon who plans to privatise the park and turn it into a string of condos and profitable properties.
Bitsy arrives at the end of Episode 1 and, while her plots never quite come to fruition, she’s a perfect foil the kindness and cheerfulness evident elsewhere, even though she’s absurd enough to be laugh-out-loud funny. Tucci is audibly having a ball – and, with songs from Sara Bareilles as well as Kate Anderson, Elyssa Samsel and Brent Knopf, who can blame him?
Bringing all these figures together is their music, which not only gives people to express their thoughts and feelings but also drives the story forwards. They’re matched by a simple animated style that’s deceptively stuffed with visual gags, even when you’re not busy admiring the winding, witty lyrics. “The name’s not that clever, but screw it, whatever!” sings Gad, in his narrator’s opening number. The same is true of the show, which wears the purity of its premise on its sleeve; one of the most feel-good shows of the year, it’s a tribute to the value of parks in our lives that will leave you longing to find your nearest green space. Just make sure you do so sensibly and while keeping your distance.
Central Park is available on Apple TV+, as part of a £4.99 monthly subscription, with a seven-day free trial. For more information on Apple TV+ and how to get it, click here.