It’s good to be back.
The world isn’t in a much better place – but I really wasn’t expecting it to be. But I did find a show – that was light and fun to bring my mood up. And it’s a musical!
Central Park is a show focusing on the Tillermans- a mixed-race family of four- who live in Central Park. The dad, Owen, is the park’s manager – mom, Paige, is a reporter, for a tiny weekly newspaper. Kids Molly and Cole are dealing with the normal issues for kids their age.
The show’s main conflict has the family going up against business entrepreneur Bitsy Bradenham – who wants to buy the park and put up condos. Meanwhile, the family also has other work, and romantic conflicts to deal with as well.
Birdie, a busker, narrates the tale. He knows how the story will end – but he can’t tell anyone – but he often interacts with the Tillerman family, anyway. It’s implied there is some much bigger going on in this world – as there are other narrators as well.
And again, it’s musical. There’s like 3 or 4 songs per episode – as it’s by the same creative team responsible for Bob’s Burgers which had the occasional (and awesome) musical episode, this lets them explore different genres of music and different animation styles.
The story itself is fun – and the inclusion of the semi-omniscient narrator role adds a unique twist to how the story is told and may have larger implications as the series continues.
Diegetic Music and Omniscient Narrator
Musicals are always interesting – because most of the time, singing and dancing aren’t happening. But like in Steven Universe: The Movie, this show heavily implicates this universe follows the Musical World Hypothesis meaning it’s absolutely normal for people to randomly burst out into song and dance…
It helps that the music in the show covers a nice selection of different genres – and some songs do seem to be taking place inside the characters’ heads like “I’m in a Perfect Relationship” and “Weirdos Make Great Superheros.“
A lot of Molly’s songs also include a style change, where the characters are drawn like her comic books instead of in their normal style – which I think is a hint to tell us it ’s more of a thought process.
But others clearly take place in the real world, like “Imperfectly Perfect,” because the characters actually comment on how they couldn’t harmonize at the end.
Considering the show also a near-omniscient narrator – who has specific rules to follow or be fired from his job, the musical world idea makes sense. Many times when shows or movies have narrators, it’s done pretty poorly. Especially if the narrator is one of the main characters.
Then, I know, I don’t need to worry about their safety. And when there is a third-person narrator- it’s often, frustratingly, used to explain events because either the movie is for children, and they believe they need to spell everything out or it’s badly written, and they realize they need some way of explaining things.
Birdie is how you do a narrator, right. He doesn’t over-explain things. He’s only there to provide nudges, introduce characters, and provide a little bit of context. Not to mention he’s an actual character – who the Tillerman family, at least the parents, know who he is and don’t mind much when he tags along for adventures.
Birdie also genuinely cares about the family – and he wants them to succeed. He’s given a genial personality, so we not only want the Tillermans to succeed but Birdie as well. And Birdie is fascinating because: how does one become a narrator? Is musical talent a pre-requisite? Who tells the narrators who to narrate and how do they know the future?
I know this is a silly thing to harp on, but for whatever reason, the implications fascinate me that there is this greater force in the universe – not necessarily controlling things but ensuring that things go according to plan…
I suppose it’s possible that the narrators aren’t completely human. They know what’s happening to an extent and don’t need to be around the story characters to do so, but do need to observe. It doesn’t seem like they need sleep… But who knows?
Family Dynamics and Character Relatability (At Least for Me.)
This show doesn’t place a lot of emphasis on domestic squabbles. Owen and Paige’s marriage is healthy, the kids are happy, and when they do disagree, they make up quickly. And the story isn’t about that… Unlike other fictional sibling pairs – Molly and Cole don’t ever have moments where it seems like they hate each other.
Sure, she teases him and hates his smelly shoes – but she’s never purposely cruel. And yes, he annoys her – sometimes on purpose – but that’s just the job of a little sibling. I should know – I’m one. I always appreciate a healthy family dynamic in fiction. Sometimes, it gets exhausting. Like, you know, you aren’t obligated to stay with toxic people just because you’re related, right?
The Tillermans are all willing to support each other -Owen assists Cole in a scavenger hunt in the park – even though he despises how the series’ and actual locations don’t match up, the kids happily help their mom track down a city council member, and everyone assists Owen in the finale to catch a demon fish.
But mostly, I love how down to Earth the main characters are. I rarely relate to the parental characters as much as I do to the kids – but man, Paige’s struggles as a reporter at a tiny weekly newspaper – that hit me.
Aside from the fact that Paige usually only covers fluff pieces despite working at what appears to be a three-person paper – it hit everything head-on. The tedious and too long committee meetings, hunting down sources (though I wouldn’t confront someone in a bathhouse), the phrase “hyper-local…” It almost makes me miss it.
And I love how Molly isn’t portrayed in the same uncomfortably awkward way shows do now with many teenage girls. She makes her own comic books, that aren’t just about dating. And she doesn’t necessarily struggle with fitting in because of her interests – sure, it doesn’t appear like she has many friends but she isn’t bullied either.
Also, the boy she likes likes her back. So while her story does focus on romance, it’s clearly about that first relationship and it’s adorable. Even if she did nearly kill him, during their first kiss.
Like Bob’s Burgers – but maybe…better?
Bob’s Burgers is still a comfort show for me. I don’t need to pay too much attention to it and it always makes me happy. But, watching Central Park also made me aware of the things I don’t like about Loren’s other work.
Tina has honestly, become more unbearable to me as time has gone on. It’s probably just Flanderization – as the show just started its 11th season – but having her completely baffled on how to play a simple rhythm game takes a lot away from her as a character. Linda also… frustrates me at times.
I like how calm the Tillerman family is in relation and how…mostly, the Tillermans’ issues are fairly realistic – if exaggerated. And honestly, it seems a lot more reasonable that a park, even Central Park, would be in danger from a corrupt billionaire than it would be for somebody like Mr. Fischoeder to occasionally be kind to the Belchers.
The characters just seem genuinely kinder to each other for the most part, and the motives and plots seem more reasonable than just a bunch of kids getting into trouble randomly. I know I shouldn’t be comparing the two (and I’m sure there will be a crossover at some point) but I think the show has a fundamentally different message.
I don’t know where I’m going here – the shows use the same art style, the same type of awkward monotone voice acting, the anxious characters, even the families that have similar dynamics (the frightened, immature, chubby son who gets attached to non-human objects and the older socially awkward and boy obsessed daughter) along with the father who is trying to keep everyone together.
They’re not the same exact characters, but they still share voice actors and themes…so I can’t help but compare the two. I honestly thought that I wouldn’t like this show as much – so it surprised me that the premise works – and that I’ve watched the series fully through like 2.5 times this week.
How do you solve a non-problem like Bitsy?
Bitsy is a wonderful villain. She wants to BUY Central Park – not even really for the money, but due to spite. Everything about her – from her height to her hair, to her petulant childish personality, hits all the right notes and balance – so that you utterly despise her but make her VERY entertaining.
Visually she’s not very intimidating and while she’s mean…most of what she does is ridiculously petty that you can forget how much of a threat she can be. And that’s great. One minute she’s blowing raspberries whenever her maid bends over and the next, she’s talking about building a TGIFriday’s right where the Tillermans live.
We’re forced to take her seriously because her schemes to mess with the park, are actually pretty realistic and effective. Of course, messing with the garbage management system is going to screw with the park. I imagine the statistics Birdie gives us are pretty accurate, so I don’t even want to imagine what would happen in real life.
She’s just so ridiculous that I want to see what she does next and how. And what I find really funny
is the most people in-universe don’t like her – so I don’t know even know how the people of NYC would react when they found out her true plan.
Even if she did buy the park, I can absolutely see New Yorkers not reacting well to having their beloved park taken over by condos and hotels… I still don’t get why she’s set her sights on Central Park so much – as opposed to like Bryant Park – but that’s not important. She’s trying to do something so outrageous, it’s like she came straight out of Captain Planet.
I love that.
I didn’t originally realize, that Stanley Tucci voices her. Which is a good thing in my book. I don’t want to recognize a celebrity doing voice acting… The whole point of voice acting is that the voice isn’t supposed to be recognizable.
It annoyed me that the Mayor’s VA is the same as Bob Belcher’s. I’m so used to hearing the voice come out of schlubby Bob that to hear it coming from the guy who is supposed to be the mayor of New York City.,
Race and Voice Acting
You can’t talk about the show without talking about the voice actor controversy earlier this year. Kristen Bell voices Molly in Season 1, and since the character is mixed-race, many people argued the roll should have gone to a voice actor of color.
I’ll be honest – I do think we need more diversity and more opportunities for people of color in animation to tell their stories. …In the past, I’ve been of the mind that it doesn’t matter who is voicing a character, especially since plenty of female VAs voice male characters and vice versa. When you’re watching a cartoon, you shouldn’t be thinking of the person behind the character.
But in this day and age, when voice actors are much more visibly part of the production process (and rightfully so), I recognize the importance. Of course, Kristen Bell is an excellent singer but there’s no reason why she HAD to play Molly. There are plenty of other voice actresses of color who could play the role and who should have the opportunity to voice somebody who is a POC.
And we should expand the pool of voice actors of color – Cree Summer can’t voice every female black cartoon character. We should have more options. And besides, Emmy Raver-Lampman is an extremely talented singer.
I’m excited to hear how she brings Molly to life.
And that’s the scoop.
Year of release: 2020
Length: 10 episodes; 22-26 minutes
Creators: Josh Gad, Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith
Executive Producer: Josh Gad, Loren Bouchard, Nora Smith, Halsted Sullivan, Jon Liebman, Marc Gurvitz, Robin Schwartz, Sanjay Shah
Producer: Kevin Larsen
Editor: Kris Fitzgerald
Voice Actors: Kristen Bell, Tituss Burgess, Daveed Diggs, Josh Gad, Kathryn Hahn, Leslie Odom Jr., Stanley Tucci, Emmy Raver-Lampman
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