The musical, animated Apple TV+ comedy features delightfully catchy tunes and an all-star voice cast, including Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Josh Gad, Stanley Tucci, Kathryn Hahn, and Leslie Odom Jr.

By Kristen Baldwin
May 15, 2020 at 09:00 AM EDT
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A yearning ode to garbage collection, an upbeat number about a multitasking mom, a funk-flavored jam called “Poops I’ll Pick It Up.” With their new animated musical comedy Central Park (premiering May 29), creators Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith (Bob’s Burgers), and Josh Gad (Frozen) apply brainy, Broadway-style whimsy to the daily dramas of life. The result is a show that has a good heart, and you can dance to it, too.

Leslie Odom Jr. voice-stars as park manager Owen Tillerman, who lives on the grounds with his journalist wife, Paige (Kathryn Hahn), son Cole (Tituss Burgess), and daughter, Molly (Kristen Bell). Owen is deeply devoted to his patch of NYC greenery and is usually disappointed at his family’s lack of enthusiasm for things like “Graffiti Removal Week” and “Hot Lips Turtlehead Day.” Fortunately, he’s got a cheerleader in Birdie (Gad), a troubadour/omniscient narrator who keeps close tabs on the Tillermans — as well as the park’s petite nemesis, a wealthy crone named Bitsy Brandenham (whose sneery, gravelly squawk comes courtesy of Stanley Tucci). The Tillerman kids have their passions, too: Molly, a shy and awkward artist, channels her longings into drawing a comic-book superhero, Fista Puffs, whose hair is a weapon. Cole acts as the guardian of the park’s animals, from the garbage rats to Bitsy’s lonely shih tzu-doodle, Shampagne.

Each episode layers sincere, character-driven stories with the latest twist in Bitsy’s villainous plan to build condos in the park. And the music! Bell’s soprano soars on “Weirdos Make Great Superheroes,” a wistful ballad penned by Sara Bareilles. And Odom turns Owen’s anxious rap about public speaking into a laugh-out-loud delight. (“Eye contact/ smile / eye contact / smile / yeah!”) Burgess dials down his natural panache to give Cole a quavery charm, while Hahn infuses Paige with all the brassy confidence Owen lacks. Exec producer Gad, perhaps realizing that a little of his childlike rasp goes a long way, keeps Birdie on the fringes of the action, popping in for witty exposition and perfectly timed asides.

Central Park was originally developed for Fox, but its switch to Apple TV+ is likely a blessing. This show feels less like an Animation Domination placeholder and more of a piece with the charming lit-com weirdness of a show like Dickinson. Even the poet herself might be tickled by a song that rhymes “son and daughter” with “dirty hot-dog water.” B+

Central Park premieres May 29 on Apple TV+

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