It took half of the season, but 'Central Park' finally figured out a natural way to combine the two halves of its story.
- 🎤 The various plots are all well written and fleshed out.
- 🎤 Solid songs as usual.
- 🎤 A daffy and absurd commentary on modern journalism.
- 🎤 It took way too long to get the Tillermans and Bitsy on the same storytelling path.
- 🎤 It's difficult to see why the stories have been so sequestered in previous episodes.
- 🎤 This may be too little, too late.
This post contains spoilers for Central Park.
Check out our last review here.
Throughout the second season of Central Park, there’s been a fairly common feeling to each episode. The animation and music remain buoyant and fun, and the various details about the Tillerman family -- especially father Owen (Leslie Odom, Jr.) and daughter Molly (Emmy Raver-Lampman) -- have been well built out and funny. And also, the use of the narrator (Josh Gad) has been wanting at best, and the way that Bitsy Brandenham (Stanley Tucci) and her assistant Helen (Daveed Diggs) have been utilized has felt especially frustrating for being so disconnected to the rest of the action. The fifth episode, “Down to the Underwire”, has finally attempted to fix at least one of these creative issues, coming a little too late.
Partly, that’s because it’s taken five episodes this season to give Molly’s younger brother Cole (Tituss Burgess) something of a spotlight. Following up on a thread from the first season, Cole continues to fetishize and adore Bitsy’s little dog Champagne, to the point where he and Helen have made a secret arrangement to allow Cole to walk the dog once a week in Central Park, with Bitsy none the wiser. The arrangement hits a snag in “Down to the Underwire” -- when Bitsy inadvertently leaves a key to her private file cabinet and Helen tries to take it for herself, she leaves it behind while on the walk with Cole and Champagne, leading them on a mad dash through the park to find the key before Bitsy realizes both Helen’s devious attempt at accessing her information, and Cole’s connection to Champagne.
Meanwhile, Paige’s journalistic aspirations run into a potential snag of their own (and one that is sadly very timely to anyone paying attention to the modern state of journalism). She and her editor Marvin (Tony Shalhoub) are shocked to see Bitsy at their office, with Paige correctly deducing that Bitsy wants the owner of the paper (Patti LuPone) to sell to her, primarily to get revenge on Paige for writing a hit piece during the previous season. Lucky for Paige, LuPone’s newspaper owner knows Bitsy all too well, with the two of them having competed in a track-and-field race as children and Bitsy tripping her opponent’s way to an eighth-place ribbon. When they redo their race around the newspaper’s bullpen, Bitsy loses and is forced to give up her bid to buy the paper.
And finally, there’s the other frantic race against the clock, and the one that inspires the episode’s title. Molly is horrified that Paige has to go into the office, primarily because she needs to go bra shopping so she can move beyond her training bra. (As Molly sings, she’s got a “bra-blem”.) Owen steps up to accompany her to the store, only to have his innate awkwardness get the best of him as he tries his feeble best to steer Molly to the right purchase. Everything ends fairly neatly within the 25-minute installment: Molly is able to find the right bra, one that’s her (but not quite her); Helen is able to retrieve the key in time, thanks to Cole’s quick thinking and willingness to place said key in Champagne’s fecal matter to create a believable alibi; Paige’s job remains her own for now; and Cole realizes he might need to be a bit more like a normal kid, giving himself a week off of obsessing over Champagne.
In a lot of ways, “Down to the Underwire” is the best episode of Central Park’s second season, with just one nagging thought in mind: it would have been nice if we’d gotten a full episode doing a more effective job of incorporating the entire cast of characters (well, except Gad’s narrator, but clearly, the boat has sailed on that one) earlier in the season. As much as Bitsy and Helen could have fully separate stories from the Tillerman family, “Down to the Underwire” makes it clear that there’s a very easy way -- really, two very easy ways to tie them to the our heroic quartet. Cole’s fixation on Champagne has gone pretty much ignored through the first half of the season, when it could easily have connected him once more to Helen. And though we’ve seen Molly’s beau Brandon (related to Bitsy), there’s been no further connection and little throughline.
This is perhaps the good kind of problem to have when you’re working with a high-concept ensemble comedy -- there’s too many talented actors and intriguing characters to service all at once. But Central Park does have that problem and it’s a little vexing that only five episodes into the new season is the show attempting to work around it. Five episodes in, it’s easy to look back at where the season has gone so far and pick apart some of the odder creative choices. Many of them hinge on Bitsy and Helen; the basic character traits they had in the first season are still present, such as Bitsy being unfeelingly wealthy and cruel, and Helen’s put-upon nature balancing with her desire to get her hands on as much of Bitsy’s wealth as possible. But where the previous season had the recurring plot of Bitsy wanting to buy Central Park, there’s been a random assortment of choices she’s made throughout the year. With three episodes remaining in the season, it is of course possible that Bitsy’s secretive plans for buying up land, or writing a memoir, or buying up Paige’s newspaper may tie into the next three episodes. (The latter scheme seems most likely, and most creatively intriguing.) But why wait so long to pull the trigger on those ideas?
Central Park, as you might hope considering the pedigree involved, remains very charmingly animated and the songs are both well integrated and memorable. (Molly’s song about her “bra-blem” is especially enjoyable, both musically and visually.) As the back half of season two begins, though, the problems this show faces continue to be so far apart from the musical and visual choices that those aspects aren’t automatically good enough that you can look past the missteps. “Down to the Underwire” is unquestionably the season’s strongest episode, but it only serves to highlight where the show needs improvement or faces the inability to grow beyond its initial premise.
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