Comfort Watch of the Month: Central Park on Apple TV+

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Comfort Watch of the Month: Central Park on Apple TV+

Comfort Watch of the Month is a new column dedicated to the happiest television shows available on streaming. Each month, I will give a full rundown on why a different series should be your go-to comfort watch, breaking them down into three categories: Family + Friends, Conflict, and Love. At the end, these shows will be given a score—not a numerical value, but a comfortable feeling or situation that they evoke.

The creators of these shows infuse love and care into their projects. They feature characters we can relate to, or we aspire to be. They give us hope in humanity, belief that everything will turn out okay if we’re all just a tad bit kinder. They’re still well-made, but unabashedly sweet, never afraid to make you cry—but happy tears only. They put a big, cheesy smile on my face. Maybe they can do the same for you.


Three months before Ted Lasso swept the hearts of dads (and basically every other subset of people) in America, Apple TV+ released a different comedy, an animated show from the mind of Bob’s Burgers creator Loren Bouchard. Along with Nora Smith and actor Josh Gad, Bouchard designed another offbeat family, the Tillerman-Hunter’s, the main characters and the inhabitants of Central Park. Leaning on Broadway influences and acting staples within their cast, the series (which concluded its second season on April 8th), mixes together original songwriting and witty musical numbers within each episode, all of which land under the 27-minute mark.

The show got off to a rocky start, as Bouchard originally cast Kristen Bell as Molly, the biracial daughter of Owen (Leslie Odom Jr.), the park manager. After initially defending his decision, the team switched course after Season 1, casting Hamilton (a musical with a large imprint on the show) alumnus Emmy Raver-Lampman in the role, correcting a mistake that slightly marred the animated series before it had the chance to pick up wider traction.

Since then, the creators and their cast have doubled down on sweetness. They’ve devoted everything to the sentimentality of this family, focusing not on their issues, but on the ways the Tillerman-Hunters lift each other up. With a deep bench of voice actors and guest stars, including Catherine O’Hara, Christopher Jackson, John Early, Stephanie Beatriz, and the late Ed Asner, the adult animated show allows its cast to belt out love-laced anthems. Songs written by Fiona Apple, Sara Bareilles, Meghan Trainor, Cyndi Lauper, Aimee Mann, and Rufus Wainwright, amongst others, help fuse together different genres throughout each episode.

Central Park rides on the likability of its characters, and has the biggest heart of a series you’ll see on streaming—even though it naturally has and will continue to alienate audiences averse to musicals. If you are one of those folks, still give it a shot. The landscape for comedies remains vast; new ones come and go with the snap of a finger or the wave of an executive’s hand. But somehow, Bouchard’s series continues to gleefully exist, following the adventures of family that’s just happy to be in each other’s company, a group of people committed to loving one another through math tests, first periods, and every other miniscule and major event that happens in one of the world’s most famous green spaces. The Belchers would be proud.

Family + Friends


The family lives in Edendale Castle in the heart of the park, spending most of their time dealing with the ins and outs of just existing as a family in this extremely specific place. Owen’s wife, Paige (Kathryn Hahn), writes for a local paper, and their kids, Molly and Cole (Tituss Burgess), run around Central Park drawing comics and playing with rich dogs, respectively.

As the family handles various personal and professional issues, songs coincide with these events and apply to each of them separately and together. In the first season premiere, Owen sings a ballad, “Own It,” towards turtle doves, while Paige hopes to write about real, hard-hitting news, and Molly and Cole try to be brave in the face of grown-up circumstances. And that’s an encapsulation of the family, with Owen constantly dealing with random park mishaps, Paige working on bigger and better stories, and the two kids exploring their childhood and teenagehood in the hopes of becoming mini-adults.

Owen and Paige provide their son and daughter with the best advice they can, and the family’s experiences consist of laughter rather than tedious fights. Most times, Central Park simply wants to show a family getting along and finding ways to display their love. Corniness is a staple of the Tillerman-Hunter’s world, but they don’t mind. They welcome the cheesiest of cheese and the most over-the-top moments along with the smallest ones, because all together, these elements create a family with unending acceptance and support. To them, that’s what’s most important.



The pressure in Central Park stems from Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci), the owner of a hotel bordering the park, who hopes to buy Central Park and develop it into real estate. Along with her assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs), she attempts to hatch a convoluted plot to wrestle away the space to increase her legacy and win over her family, acting out of pride and ambition rather than evil. Other than that, the problems are minimal. The Tillerman-Hunters concern themselves with missing blooming flowers, poor math scores, or unforeseen build-ups of garbage. Their problems possess an ephemerality, a transience, with the knowledge that most of these difficulties will be resolved by the end of each episode. The writers use setbacks as teaching tools instead of plot mechanics.

The rest of the worries come through larger themes of life and death, and how we attempt to deal with the passing of those around us. Birdie (Gad), the narrator and local busker, goes through this in the emotional apex of the series thus far, a vignette titled, “A Thing on Strings.” Over the plucking of a violin in an instrumental track, Birdie goes to the park each day to play for any and all who can hear, settling into a routine with an elderly, wheelchair-bound woman and her caretaker. It shows the impact of a single person—the simple, wide-ranging effect of someone’s smiling presence—and essentially, the cyclical nature of all things. The opening and closing of doors, the beginning and ending of relationships, the joy that people can bring one another. Merely calling the sequence astonishing would be doing it a disservice.



At the heart of Central Park is the love between Owen and Paige, the kind of love that people talk about in old movies. They want to see each other succeed to the nth degree, to be happy above all else, with selflessness on constant display. Two moments stand out above the rest, both in the second season, in which Bouchard and his team amp up the delight.

During Episode 2 of Season 2, “Mother Daze,” Owen sets up an elaborate mystery for Paige to solve, ending in a plaque on a Central Park bench engraved with, “There was no crime, but there is a treasure. Her name is Paige Hunter, the best mom ever.” She repays the favor by proposing to her husband decades after his botched proposal, getting down on one knee and creating a moment for them to remember.

Love abounds in the animated series, with Molly having a sweet, pre-teen relationship with Brendan, a local kite-flying rich kid. When he finally comes over to the castle for dinner, after a host of pizza-related mishaps, they finally sit down to eat, faults on full display. “Things can be messy and still go well,” say Owen and Paige. To them, and to Central Park, love is imperfect. It’s smudged. It’s chaotic. But that’s what makes it so special.

This sustained messaging of warmth and tenderness permeates through all of the episodes, regardless of whether they contain romance. Beginning an episode of Bouchard’s show feels like returning to a place that’s overflowing with love, a well that won’t dissipate over time. There’s a fullness to the relationships depicted traversing across this (very) big patch of grass, a comfort in the stability of this marriage, the stability of this family unit, and the stability of their offbeat, yet still straightforward life.

The series hits a loving high in the middle of its second season, though, with the episode “The Shadow,” a one-off focused on Bitsy and her childhood. It’s 27 minutes on the supposed “villain” of this world, a background of someone unnoticed and forgotten. Returning to crack an old case of a hotel burglar, an insurance agent (played by an incredible Henry Winkler) goes to Bitsy’s hotel and tells a story of how he always remembered her, as they dance through the freeze-framed park in a dream sequence, reminiscent of the recent The Worst Person in the World.

It’s undeniable in its sweetness and the breaking down of a seemingly cold heart. For in this constructed world, love isn’t reserved for a select few. Each person is noticed. It becomes impossible to hate the show’s only antagonist, and even more impossible to hate the show at all. It’s a series built on love; what else can we ask for?

Comfort Score: Like sitting next to the fireplace watching your favorite cartoon while your parents set the table for dinner and you’re already in your pajamas by 7pm.

All 26 episodes of Central Park can be streamed on Apple TV+, with each episode ranging between 22-27 minutes. Watch the first episode for free here.

Brooklyn-based film and TV journalist Michael Frank contributes to several outlets including The Film Stage, RogerEbert, AwardsWatch, and now Paste. He believes Juliette Binoche deserved an Oscar for Dan in Real Life. You can find him on Twitter.

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