Music TV shows can be tricky. Good first seasons can quickly give way to stale second and third ones, stretching a gimmick beyond the point of being entertaining. The team behind central parkfortunately, seems to do the exact opposite.
When the series began in 2020, it often felt like a collection of promising ideas that didn’t quite gel. Songs too often came across as stunts, rather than storytelling devices that commented on a character’s state of mind or moved the action forward. And the characters were often compared, negatively, to those of co-creator Loren Bouchard’s other family-centric animated comedy, Bob’s Burgers. While season two ameliorated those issues, season three finds the Tillerman-Hunters & Co. in their best shape yet.
Let’s start with the music, because it’s the most immediately impressive element of central parkthe most recent release. The original songs, with many writers from past seasons, are tighter, livelier, and they simply sound good. While the majority of the tracks fall into a typical musical theater style, singing and jazzy, the third season also sees our lively New Yorkers dive into genres like country and K-Pop. While the past musical endeavors of central park often felt lightheartedly and almost improvisationally, this season’s songs are full of harmonies, layered melodies and counterpoint anchored by vocal performances from Broadway veterans like Daveed Diggs, Titus Burgess and Leslie Odom Jr.
Thanks in large part to these improved songs, the other characters feel fuller and more lived-in. Kristen Bell is also back in a regular capacity as Paige’s sister Abby, who at the age of 34 moves from Oshkosh, Wis. to the Big Apple with bright eyes and a bushy tail, to finally pursue her dream of becoming an actress. . Aside from the obvious reason (i.e. Bell is actually of the same race as her character this time around), the role of naively optimistic foil writer Kathryn Hahn’s clever and now-successful writer suits Bell much better. Beyond that, the neuroses of Paige and her husband, park superintendent Owen (Odom), are grounded in reality, giving the cast a chance to experience emotional moments. The kids Molly (Emmy Raver-Lampman) and Cole (Burgess) deal with some of their tougher issues this time around, but they’re still handled with a sense of humor and still come across as won over by the storytelling.
Secondary characters also continue to benefit from the less plot-driven approach that began last season. Stanley Tucci’s Bitsy Brandenham and Digg’s long-suffering maid Helen have always been highlights mingling with the family, but this season puts them almost entirely on their own adventures. Yes, they’re still here and still intriguing, but most of their shots follow the cartoon tradition of hatching and resolving in around 24 minutes, which lends itself to a more colorful version of animated NYC.
Even Josh Gad’s busker-narrator Birdie, a bone of contention in early episodes of central park, is best used. While slightly less boring, his inclusion at least makes sense this time around (if you’re going to include a narrator in a musical, they’d probably have to sing almost exclusively), and he ultimately goes beyond telling us things that we will find out anyway.
As The audiovisual club noted in his review of central parkthe second season, the show improved when it stopped focusing primarily on Bitsy’s manic obsession with developing Central Park and shifted its focus to creating characters and their stories. Fortunately, season three continues this upward trajectory with more standalone episodes. central park is already an animated musical held by an extremely impressive cast. Frankly, he doesn’t need – and can hardly stand – other gadgets. The show has all the pieces, and in season three, it’s better than ever to put them all together.