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regular-article-logo Sunday, 21 April 2024

Central Park, the animated show, has lessons for every city around the world

If telling a good story wasn’t enough, the creators have delivered a fine musical, one in which the characters break out into a song every few minutes, traversing genres

Mathures Paul Published 03.09.22, 01:22 AM
Molly (voiced by Emmy Raver-Lampman), Owen (voiced by Leslie Odom Jr.), Paige (voiced by Kathryn Hahn) and Cole (voiced by Tituss Burgess) in Central Park, premiering September 9 on Apple TV+.

Molly (voiced by Emmy Raver-Lampman), Owen (voiced by Leslie Odom Jr.), Paige (voiced by Kathryn Hahn) and Cole (voiced by Tituss Burgess) in Central Park, premiering September 9 on Apple TV+. Pictures: Apple

Central Park, one of the finest animated shows in recent times, is about to begin its third season and I can’t help but remember John Lennon’s connection with this unique stretch in New York. In early 1976, he and Yoko went into a self-imposed lockdown to find reasons to look forward to in their next chapter. Lennon had become a homebody who spent his time happily playing a white piano in a room overlooking Central Park. He would play the Beatles and then his songs. Life culminated in the 1980 album Double Fantasy that perhaps found the man at his most uncomplicated. Perhaps Central Park had something to do with the feel of songs like (Just Like) Starting Over, Woman and Dear Yoko.

Created by Josh Gad, Loren Bouchard and Nora Smith, the Apple TV+ show has a large heart matching the magnanimity of Ted Lasso. Central Park has had its share of infamous moments but so has Hyde Park. The open space in New York is ageing but it still blooms with flowers and remains a symbol of the great escape that every city dweller wants and needs.

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The loveable villain

Every season of the show finds business entrepreneur Bitsy Brandenham (voiced by the very talented Stanley Tucci) looking for new ways to own Central Park, so that she could replace it with high-rises and shopping arcades. All her visible traits make Bitsy the perfect villain — she unknowingly abuses her dog Shampagne, takes her assistant Helen (voiced by David Diggs) for granted, and ensures everyone at her service in Brandenham Hotel hate her. Yet, there is something delightful about Bitsy. She can be unabashedly offensive but you can’t hate her.

Keeping Bitsy in check is a family of four. Paige Hunter (voiced by Kathryn Hahn) is a reporter at a local newspaper who is always after the next scoop but she always has time for her family. She finds support in her husband Owen Tillerman (voiced by Leslie Odom Jr), who is the manager of Central Park and he treats the space like a piece of heaven. Their children are Molly, who likes drawing comic books, and Cole, an emotional boy who wants Bitsy’s dog. They somehow get in the way of Bitsy’s plans and stop her from taking over the park. Helping the family is Birdie, the busker, who knows everything that’s going around the quiet zone.

If you ask me about the central character, I will root for Paige because she, in a way, represents the designer of the park — Frederick Law Olmsted, who was a landscape artist and journalist. He was a man who could make people open up without having to take out his press card. Paige is a bit like him.

Bitsy (voiced by Stanley Tucci) with her dog, Shampagne

Bitsy (voiced by Stanley Tucci) with her dog, Shampagne

A musical like no other

Without giving away anything from the third season, which begins streaming on September 9, let’s look at how the second season ended and had enough lessons for people around the world. After years of chasing to get possession of Central Park, Bitsy finds an easy solution. Buy out the mayor of the city and make him undertake one terrible final step before he turns in his papers. The mayor agrees with Bitsy and gets things done… or so she thinks. If the mayor can be bought by Bitsy, he can also be bought by Bitsy’s rival — her brother, who always had an eye on Brandenham Hotel that overlooks the park. Where does she find help? In the family of four, of course.

If telling a good story wasn’t enough, the creators have delivered a fine musical, one in which the characters break out into a song every few minutes, traversing genres. In fact, if you are not interested in the show, you can simply listen to the soundtrack and be very happy.

The show came into our lives when the pandemic hit us, making everyone long to be back in open spaces. The second season refined the storyline and the music to make viewers long for a third season, which is arriving in a week. All we can say is, the family of four kicks off the season on a very happy note.

To many New Yorkers, Central Park is where they have first felt grass under their feet and became aware of the importance of open spaces. Our parks, our open spaces have a similar lesson to offer but are we listening, are we keeping these spaces clean? The great thing about parks is that an individual cannot own it but together we can look after it for generations to come.

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