The Apple TV+ animated series from Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith of Bob's Burgers and Josh Gad is a full-on musical, and a legitimately good one, says James Poniewozik. "New York City needs its parks in any summer, but never more than now. Shared spaces of play, sun, respite and peace (and yes, conflict and judgment) are reminders in a time of distancing that we are all in this together," he says. "Likewise, Central Park is the show we need right now, even if its makers couldn’t have anticipated how and why. It arrives Friday on Apple TV Plus, and it’s as well-timed as the Mister Softee truck on a 95-degree scorcher. This weird, warm, joyful animated sitcom about a park manager and his family, living in Manhattan’s teeming, landscaped backyard, would be a cool treat at any time. In pandemic season, it’s more: a fun, full-throated tribute to public space and the people (and dogs and rats) who share it."
Central Park is a delight that's also sometimes a misfire: "Like (Loren) Bouchard’s beloved animated hit Bob’s Burgers, Central Park is ultimately a fairly simple show about a family of strange, sweet people who are all trying to do their best in the world," says Kathryn VanArendonk. "But it’s also got a hefty amount of associated premise — probably more premise than is strictly necessary — and at times seems to trip over its own silly, ornate trappings. With some time to work out the kinks, though, it has the potential to become an extremely endearing show."
Central Park will make your heart sing: "Central Park was originally developed for Fox, but its switch to Apple TV+ is likely a blessing," says Kristen Baldwin. "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.'"
Central Park needs time to develop into a stronger series: The Apple TV+ series "is an ambitious endeavor that is both very pleasant and and still finding its equilibrium within its first four episodes," says Shannon Miller. "The series benefits largely from a handful of key voice performances and sharply executed musical numbers, which have a way of overshadowing much of the rest of the story rather early in the series. Adopting the structure of a full-length stage musical over the course of a season proves to be a challenge: Because the initial episodes presumably set up a much larger encounter that will occur later in the story, this setup period can feel especially slow in parts, or even unnecessary. But the moments that do work are tremendous enough to render the experience enjoyable and serve as a launching pad for a stronger result somewhere down the line."
The pleasures of Central Park are inverted from what you might expect out of Bob’s Burgers: "The songs are a joy, while the comedy is a bit on the thin side," says Alan Sepinwall. "Some of this owes to the heavier emphasis on plotting, and some on the fact that the regulars are all very broadly defined in the early going, when character-based comedy of the type Bouchard specializes in benefits greatly from both the writers and the audience developing a deep understanding of who everyone is and why they behave a certain way."
Central Park is ambitious to a fault: "Central Park is well-built, it’s well-sung, it’s well-made, but it’s also got too much going on for its own good, as some of the eccentric charms and comfortable pacing that makes Bob’s Burgers so damn easy to watch are lost to a near-constant sense of urgency," says Ben Travers. "Keeping the multiple serialized arcs moving forward takes time and commitment, but Central Park doesn’t want to cut any of its other big ideas to make room. (Perhaps because there are three total creators: Bouchard, Gad, and Nora Smith, as well as two more executive producers, Sanjay Shah and Halsted Sullivan.) On the one hand, it’s exciting to see such talented professionals really go for it, especially when they’re unwilling to turn in bloated episodes or settle for remixing their past hits; on the other hand, these early episodes aren’t yet on par with Bouchard’s best TV — and they’re far from his weirdest."
There are pieces of musical brilliance in Central Park, and they speak to the potential of the series: "It’s these moments of wonderfully realized musical theater that transcend the living-vicariously-through-Wikipedia slog and give a glimpse of what Central Park might be once all the pieces are working together," says Petrana Radulovic. "The first four episodes of any show’s first season won’t be its best, but there’s enough pure joy in Bouchard’s series to keep tuning in. It’s a show that feels more like musical theater than an animated comedy, but in its best moments it blends the two and shines."
Central Park is the Hamilton and Frozen mashup you didn't know you needed: "Even when the show is threatening to tear down one of the most iconic parks in America, there’s a wholesome low-stakes focus to the entire saga," says Kayla Cobb. "Bob’s Burgers has always excelled at giving the hum-drum struggles of life, from buying turkeys to school lock-ins, the emotional heft they hold in people’s real lives. Central Park takes that focus and elevates it to a season-wide exploration. For example, Cole’s big drama is wanting a dog that doesn’t belong to him. Though this desire is objectively a little ridiculous, it’s the catalyst for most of the show’s suspense as well as a deeply painful emotional struggle almost every kid and most adults can understand. Central Park, much like its predecessor, understands people."