Season 1 of Central Park landed with an almighty splash when it debuted on Apple TV+ last May. As we headed into the worst of the global pandemic and all struggled to adjust to being shut inside, Central Park’s upbeat love letter to New York, family and musicals was an undeniably fun rest-bite. At the end of a working week, stuck in my tiny flat, diving into the world of Central Park was a great way to ease those worries.
And so we come to season 2. The world is different but, as Ted Lasso also showed, still in need of some uplifting fiction.
Creator Loren Bouchard took everything he’d learnt on several seasons of Bob’s Burgers and created a show that was sometimes bursting at the seams with plot, music, colour, zippy dialogue and more. If anything, that was the one criticism of season 1 - it sometimes felt like it was doing too much.
What is immediately apparent in season 2 is that the writers and animators have really focused in on what is important about the show. Namely, the Tillerman family at the centre and the hilarious double act of Stanley Tucci and Daveed Diggs, as Bitsy and Helen, respectively. While some plots in the first season would drive a lot of character arcs, this season, it’s often a plot development that will spark off a change or development in a character that then informs the rest of the plot. The characters in this show are its strength, and they’re now firmly each episode.
No more is this more obvious in the quite brilliant third episode, which centres on daughter Molly, her confidence issues and the constant struggle to be her ‘true self’. There’s not any huge plot arc, it’s pure character development, and it’s brilliant. The episode also features the first focus on Molly since Kristen Bell stepped back from the role of the mixed-race character, stating, ‘Playing the character of Molly on Central Park shows a lack of awareness of my pervasive privilege.’ The role was recast with Umbrella Academy star Emmy Raver-Lampman making the show a family affair with partner Daveed Diggs. If you had any doubt of her credentials for the role, those would have disappeared by the end of the episode. It’s a wonderful performance, both vulnerable and with strength, each at the right times. This is also topped off by a quite stunning, emotional solo that will give you chills.
This episode almost entirely takes place inside the black and white sketches of Molly’s superhero comic she draws. It’s one of several significant steps forward for the animation ambitions of the show. Musical numbers get more extensive and cover more ground with the camera - there seems an astonishing amount of backgrounds in each episode - and the directors seem keen to try different styles of animation quite frequently. Along with the comic book sketch style that appears, there is a visually striking ‘black light’ style during one song and a dizzyingly choreographed, drinks-centred style during another.
I’m still astonished by the quality of the songs, too. They cover the full spectrum of musical styles and emotions and having at least three songs per episode doesn’t seem to reduce the quality. Most Broadway shows would kill for these songs and Central Park seems to have a bottomless well of them.
On the down side, our narrator, Birdie (Josh Gad), is still a little hit and miss for me. He’s sometimes enjoyably silly, but at other times can outstay his welcome. He’s entertainingly meta one moment but then over-explain things the next. Something to work on for season 3, maybe.
This all leads me to say; if you were a fan of Central Park season 1, you’ll fall in love with season 2. It’s more of what was great about the show, but with a better focus on things like character and efficiency of plot, as well as a more creative push on the animation style. Get ready because Central Park is here to send you into the weekend with a spring in your step and one or two songs bouncing around your head!